The Ford designer that drives a Ferrari

Time 8:46 am, September 22, 2010

martin-smithYOU’RE a high-flying Ford design director, created the Kinetic look, penned great cars like the latest Fiesta and Mondeo.

You are responsible for the look of all cars that hit European and Asian roads.

But now you’ve got to buy a car of your own – what on earth do you spend your money on? Well, isn’t that obvious? A Ferrari of course!

At the launch of the new C-MAX, Car Dealer was given a lesson in car design from one of the very best, Ford’s Executive Design Director Martin Smith.

The former Opel and Porsche designer – based in Cologne, Germany – is responsible for a team of 350 Ford artists in the UK and Europe who have transformed the look of the marque’s cars in the past decade.

Over dinner, he promptly dissected rivals’ ranges, lashed out at ‘ugly’ cars and revealed his favourite models – including some he’s even shelled out his own money on.

So what Ferrari has he got? ‘It’s a Ferrari F430 Scuderia – in red,’ he told us. ‘I bought it just as everyone was changing to the 458 – I couldn’t afford one of those – so saw it as a good time to buy, and bought the cheapest and the best I could find.’

'I couldn't afford a 458...'

'I couldn't afford a 458...'

But that’s not all – Smith, 61, also has an Austin Healey he rallies as often as he can and a classic Jaguar. But what’s his company car?

‘I’ve got a Focus RS500,’ he reveals, but not a black one like all the rest… ‘Mine’s green with white wheels. I took it to the line and got them to upgrade a standard one with the RS500 parts – it takes about an hour. I absolutely love it – 350bhp and fabulous to drive.’

So what about cars from other manufacturers? Well, Smith, born in Sheffield, was surprisingly open about the ones that come up. Here’s a quick summary of those brands that did:

BMW – ‘They’re getting better. The 5-Series is a good car, but not so much the 7.’

Audi – ‘A bit generic, but they’ve got a good range. I love the A5 Sportback and the A7 looks great.’

Porsche – ‘The Panamera? Ugly. It really is an ugly car. The 911 is a great car, but how do you improve it? That’s a challenge.’

Aston Martin – ‘Any Aston will look great in 30 years. The Rapide is stunning. I saw one yesterday here and loved it.’

Bentley – ‘The new Continental is exactly the same as the old one. People will ask what has changed when they see it.’

Volkswagen – ‘VW launched the Jetta in the States recently and it has been panned. People have said if you want a stylish car they should look at a Mondeo. The Jetta is ugly. US buyers don’t want simple design like that, they want stylish.’

Skoda – ‘I like the Yeti. It’s a nice shape and unique. Skoda is simple and honest and they do well with it. I like the Roomster too.’


Those hoping for the rebirth of the Capri might be a little disappointed though – Smith was cagey as to how successful a rebirth would be.

‘You have to be very careful when you bring something back to life,’ he said. ‘Mini has been successful but how do you improve on that car again? That’s when it gets difficult.’

One of Smith's designs, the Fiesta is one of his proudest achievements

One of Smith's designs, the Fiesta is one of his proudest achievements

So where does the inspiration come from for Fords now? ‘My team work very hard looking at what other makers are doing, studying trends and fashions,’ explained Smith, whose wife also works for the manufacturer in the interior design team.

‘If you think I go for a walk along the beach and stare at a tree and get inspiration from that, then you’re wrong – that’s not how it happens.

‘We have a team that go to furniture fairs, art fairs – architecture plays a part too as does sports clothing and fashion.’

Smith – obviously an avid petrol head – answered most of our questions with surprising honesty, but when it came to future product plans for the Blue Oval he clammed up and gave answers like a politician.

However, there was one car he was happy to talk about – the next one on his ‘To Buy’ list: ‘I want a Citroen 2CV,’ he said, but not any old one…

‘I have a house down here in the south of France and think a 2CV would be perfect: A 1956, two-window model in grey, with blue seats.’

It’s worlds apart from his Ferrari, but we got the distinct feeling that if the right one came up, he’d pay a premium for it… if you’ve got one, we can put you in touch.


James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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