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The Robb Reader: Frank Stephenson

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Frank Stephenson has designed automobiles as common as the Mini and as rare as the forthcoming P1 supercar from McLaren Automotive, where he currently works as the styling director. He also penned the BMW X5, the Maserati MC12, and the Ferrari F430. Stephenson, 53, was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. He has lived in Turkey, Spain, and the United States, and so he has a diverse vocabulary—both linguistic and aesthetic—that informs more than just his automotive designs. “I’m fascinated with combining art and science using advanced technology to design beautiful products,” he says. “It’s a rewarding challenge to imagine and create things that stimulate positive emotions.” – Robert Ross

You were a professional motocross competitor in your younger days. How do motorcycles play a role in your life today? And if you were to design a new one, what would it be like?

Motorcycling is a passion of mine that enhances my levels of positive energy. Racing motorcycles was so addictive in a good way: It was a great way to learn focus, discipline, and commitment, and that nothing less than 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time will get you to the top, and staying on the top is even harder. I’m still fanatical about riding bikes, although it’s more about enjoying country roads on early weekend mornings to blast away the cobwebs and feel the adrenaline from the speed and wind. If I were to design a new motorcycle, I’d definitely be thinking torquey electric power, super aerodynamics, extreme lightness, extensive use of 3-D printing—with CarbonMide and titanium aluminide composite materials—fully adaptable electronic suspension, two-wheel shaft drive, and lightweight photoluminescent paint.

Tell us about your wooden boat.

Riverbreeze is awesome. She’s a gorgeous, new-build, 30-​foot slipper launch—those exotic hardwood boats that were popular back in the early 1900s on the Thames River. They resemble Rivas, only they’re much sleeker in proportions. She was built by Peter Freebody & Co., in Hurley, U.K. She’s a custom build with a few modern touches. I never thought cruising nowhere in particular in no particular hurry could be so much fun.

Is there an area of design you would like to tackle but thus far have not?

Sure, there are lots. For one, I’d love to unleash some creativity on designing vehicles for a film set way into the future. How cool it would be to not have to comply with current legislations and have the freedom to design lustful vehicles of art and pure beauty.

Is there a particular classic car that has influenced you in some outstanding way?

The old-timer classics are just as important and alluring to me as the ones I envision being future classics. So many past designers were incredibly gifted artists and craftsmen, and they created works of such lust. But the one that has most influenced me is a gorgeously stunning creation that was designed by an aerodynamicist to be purposely and effectively fluid-shaped by the wind tunnel. As a result, he created a car that moistens my eyes by its sheer beauty: the Jaguar Series 1 E-Type.

Any thoughts on where advanced technology will be taking us in the future?

My feeling is that future technology will take us along a path that mimics the process we’ve witnessed in nature and that we’re likely to continue, where things tend to become less clunky, less machinelike, and more natural, in tune with how nature itself has solved the many problems it has encountered.