Birds-eye view of visitors studying a 2023 Acura ARX-06, staged indoors.
Visitors to Design Invitational study a 2023 Acura ARX-06.

feature / alumni / transportation-design
June 11, 2024
Writer: Mike R. Winder


On Saturday, June 8, ArtCenter College of Design pulled out all the stops for "Beyond Supersonic," a celebration that marked the 20th anniversary of the College's South Campus and also welcomed several new learning spaces to the institution, including the brand-new Mullin Transportation Design Center--the new home of the College's world-renowned Transportation Design program.

Outside on Raymond Ave., which was closed to traffic for the day’s festivities, thousands of visitors walked among vehicles carefully curated for ArtCenter's third annual Design Invitational car show, whose theme this year was a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the College’s Transportation Design program. More than 50 vehicles were on display—37 of them designed by alumni—and were lined up along both the east and west sides of the street.  

A black-matte painted 2024 Tesla Cybertruck, designed by alum and Trustee Franz von Holzhausen (BS 92) and alum Sahm Jafari (BS 17), parked on a street in front of a power plant
A 2024 Tesla Cybertruck, designed by alum and Trustee Franz von Holzhausen (BS 92) and alum Sahm Jafari (BS 17)

Among those vehicles were the 1986 Corvette Indy, designed by alumnus Tom Peters (BS 80); a 1966 Ford Bronco, designed by alumnus and Ford’s first African American designer McKinley Thompson Jr. (BS 56); a 2024 Lucid Air Sapphire, designed by alumna Jenny Ha Kim (BS 14); a 1974 Meyers Manx SR, designed by alum Bruce Meyers; a 1990 Toyota Sera, designed by alum and former chair of Transportation Design Stewart Reed (BS 69); and a 1993 Ducati M900 Monster, designed by alum Miguel Galluzi (BS 86). 

Other crowd pleasers on display were a 2024 Cybertruck, designed by alumnus and new Trustee Franz von Holzhausen (BS 92) and alumnus Sahm Jafari (BS 17); and the 2014 life-size Darth Vader Hot Wheels car, designed by alumnus Bryan Benedict (BS 94), who also designed the Hot Wheels toy the car was based on. 

Alum Jin Kim (BS 01), standing with a Trail Dust-colored First Edition of the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser he designed
Alum Jin Kim (BS 01), standing with the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser he designed

During the event, auto reporters Ed Justice Jr. And Dave Kunz walked up and down Raymond Ave, interviewing designers about their vehicles.

The two chatted with alumnus Jin Kim (BS 01), designer of the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser. "I always loved cars, but I had no idea there was such a thing as a car designer," said Kim, standing next to the Land Cruiser. "There's a Korean TV drama called The Asphalt Guy, I'm sure a lot of Korean designers around my age can relate. It was about a car designer. The older brother was a car designer. The younger brother was a race car driver. And that really opened my eyes. Car design! Oh, I can do that! That's how I became interested in car design." 

When asked about the philosophy behind the redesigned Land Cruiser, Kim said it all came down to bringing the vehicle back to its roots. "Bringing it back to the market, we definitely wanted to make sure we brought back a proper Land Cruiser. So even before we started sketching, we probably spent more time doing the research, learning about the history and philosophy of the Land Cruiser, and really trying to pinpoint what is the essence of the Land Cruiser?" said Kim. "So we went to Colorado and went on a hardcore off-road with some of the biggest enthusiasts, hung out with them for several days and really tried to understand, 'What makes a Land Cruiser a Land Cruiser?' To us, what it came down to was the purity of the product. Everything was designed with functional purity. There's a reason for everything. That became our design principle."

Ed Justice Jr. interviews alum Nathan Malinick (BS 18) next to the silver-colored 2022 Hennessey Venom F5 supercar he designed
Ed Justice Jr. interviews alum Nathan Malinick (BS 18) next to the 2022 Hennessey Venom F5 he designed

Justice and Kunz also caught up with alumnus Nathan Malinick, designer of the Hennessey Venom F5. "I had a wonderful experience at ArtCenter," said Malinick. "I had always wanted to come to this school since I was 12 years old. I knew I wanted to come here and design cars like this. This was absolutely my dream."

Gesturing to the Venom F5, Malinick continued, "When you design a car like this, it’s not a car that anyone needs. We talk all the time at work that anything over $40,000 is a purely emotional purchase. And so our job is to create a car with the highest level of desirability, not something that everyone needs or wants, but that they have to have because they see it and there’s that emotional connection. We try to pair that emotional connection with the performance." 

That performance aspect, explained Malinick, is what drove the design. "Our design philosophy is the art of reduction. So you have art and beauty, which we’re very passionate about preserving, and then you have this scientific performance aspect to everything we do. The best cars generally come from the best stories. My boss, John Hennessey, had a desire to create the fastest car in the world and go over 300 mph. That’s why this car is sitting here today. So it’s a singular-focused vehicle. And these days that’s a rare thing to come across, but it’s really resonated with people and it’s doing really well so far."

President Karen Hofmann and alum Bob Gurr (BS 52), both wearing sunglasses, stand behind a bright yellow-colored 1967 Autopia Mark VII which Gurr designed
President Karen Hofmann with alum Bob Gurr (BS 52) and the 1967 Autopia Mark VII he designed

The two reporters ended their afternoon of interviews with alumnus Bob Gurr (BS 52), who designed Disneyland’s Autopia vehicles as well as the park’s iconic Monorail. On designing the latter, Gurr said, “[Walt Disney] showed me a picture of a German train and said, ‘That’s not so good looking. Bobby, I want you to get started on ours right away” and he walked off. He left me with a piece of paper and a pencil, and I could do anything I wanted. You could never get a job like that!” 

"But that's what Walt would do," continued Gurr, shifting to speaking about the Autopia vehicle he designed. "He trusted somebody would come up with something kind of cool. And I took off like a shot. I designed the outside, the inside, all the mechanical structure, all the running gear, all the driveline. I was involved in the shops with the manufacturer. And I was a test driver. And all of this in 8 1/2 months! The way Walt would work is he'd turn everybody loose. You trusted him, he trusted you, and good design would win." 

Gurr then spoke about how ArtCenter prepared him for working with Walt Disney. "I had a terrific teacher at ArtCenter, Strother MacMinn. I learned so much from him about cars in the '20s, '30s and '40s. You have to understand good classy design to design something today. And when you look at that little [Autopia] Mark VII body, that little yellow car, to have a car that stands alone with nobody around it, the proportions are correct! To put a small child in it, it looks useful. But you could put two big adults in that car! See, even in a little amusement car, these are the important things that I was taught at ArtCenter, over 72 years ago."