Paper Jam | Fast Forward | Interview With The Author

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The latest automotive title from renowned book publishers Gestalten takes a look at the history of concept cars from their early presence in the 1930s through to the present day.

Fast Forward, The Cars of the Future, the Future of Cars takes a look back through concept car history and visits some of the top designers along the way to get their insights into the world of automotive aesthetics.

As fans of design ourselves, this book is a fascinating look at the more unique examples from car design history. Who better to chat with us about the new book than its co-editor,  Jan Karl Baedeker of Classic Driver magazine?

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FT: How did this project first come about?

JKB: The book was a joint project between Berlin-based publishing house Gestalten and Classic Driver, the online magazine I manage. Gestalten’s motoring editor, Maximilian Funk and I both felt that the automotive industry is currently facing some of the biggest changes in history. A few years down the line, most cars might be electric and autonomous, and these new technologies make it possible to completely change the shape of the car as we know it.

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Still, there are little signs of a paradigm shift in car design — it seems that the industry is lacking ideas. Under this impression, we felt that it was the right time to look back at the most visionary and innovative car designs of the past and search for clues as to which factors can trigger creativity and innovation in times of change.

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How would you describe this book? What are readers going to glean from Fast Forward?

It’s a compilation of the most daring designs in automotive history. The cars you find in the book are all very different on a stylistic scale — but what they have in common is that they all challenged the status quo. They were manifestations of futuristic, utopian, and eccentric ideas. And even if not all of them were commercially successful, they illustrate the spectrum of the possibilities of car design. Besides being a collection of extraordinary automobiles, the book is also meant as inspiration to question conventions and define the future with optimism and creativity.

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What was the process like, putting together such a book?

Simply put, you start researching and create a list that grows every day until you have hundreds of cars. Then, you go in the reverse direction and kill your darlings one by one until you have something of an essence — cars that represent the dreams and desires of their era, cars that inspired generations of designers, cars that changed the face of a brand, and cars that are considered to be iconic because of their boldness.

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There are so many concept cars being produced annually — how hard was it to choose the designers and projects that made it into Fast Forward?

Every car starts with a concept and a prototype, even if it’s just a hatchback for the mass market. We focused on the unconventional showstoppers — the bold and daringly designed visions of what a car of the future could look like. There are some key cars that needed to be included, such as Harley J. Earl’s 1938 Buick Y-Job, which is considered the first concept car in history, or Giorgetto Giugiaro’s wedge-shaped Maserati Boomerang, which influenced generations of designers.

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Of course, there are always some cars missing, but the book gives a good idea of the spectrum of possibilities the field of automotive design had to offer. We tried to feature the greatest design masters, as well as the most influential stylists from today, but, of course, you can’t include every brilliant mind that is out there — otherwise 304 pages would’ve never sufficed.

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Did you spend time with automotive designers at their studios? How varied were their views on current and future car design?

Yes, we spent a lot of time with designers in their studios — most were very welcoming, as the history of automotive design is where they draw a lot of their inspiration. I found it exciting seeing how much their design approaches differ and how critical they are to today’s design culture. Michael Mauer, the head of design at Porsche and the Volkswagen Group, thinks that the automotive industry needs to give designers more room to experiment with ideas outside of the box — unless they want to be overtaken by disruptive start-up companies that are not constrained by their own car-building tradition.

Ferrari’s chief stylist, Flavio Manzoni, has an even more universal approach: He looks for inspiration in many fields, such as art or architecture, and encourages his team to neglect all creative borders to overcome conventional thinking. It was also interesting to understand what fascinates them about the classic concepts, such as the Lancia Stratos Zero or the Ferrari Modulo, which we feature in the book — not so much their physical appearances, but rather the conceptual ideas behind them.

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What’s your view on the relationship between concept and production cars? Are they an integral part of the process, or just design showmanship by the car companies?

Car companies have always needed to constantly reinvent themselves. With the rise of consumer culture, buyers ask for faster, bigger, shinier, and more comfortable cars every few years. Concept cars that envision the potential future of a brand have always given manufacturers the opportunity to present themselves as forward-thinking and avant-garde. On a more basic level, they allow designers to try out new ideas without having to think too much about crash safety or production costs. These projects help the designers to think outside of the box — and quite often, some of the ideas can be rediscovered years later in the serial production cars of the same brand.

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How has the purpose of concept cars and the vision behind them changed over the last 80 years?

The purpose has not really changed that much. Concept cars and show cars still suggest to the buyers that a company is progressive, innovative, and creative. At the same time, it’s a simple way to try out something new and gather knowledge and feedback during the process. What has changed, however, is how designers see the future of the car — and how radically they are allowed to rethink the current formats of automotive architecture. The jet-shaped street rockets of the 1950s or the wedge-shaped UFOs of the 1970s were much more daring than most production-ready concept cars that are unveiled at car shows today. But I am confident that the major players will start trying out new ideas, as the competition from outside the industry grows stronger. In the end, no century-old brand wants to be excelled by a start-up that is founded in a garage by a handful of ‘nerds’ somewhere in Silicon Valley or on the outskirts of a Chinese megacity.

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Fast Forward, The Cars of the Future, the Future of Cars is available via Gestalten.

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