10 Questions with Brian Baker

Our industry moves so fast it is not always possible to get everything you wish to do, done.  And this has been the case with our series of 10 questions where we ask a designer about their career start, influences and to pass on a bit of wisdom.  I am pleased to say that this week I managed to get caught up over vacation and present a subject who has been become a personal friend over the years.

I first met Brian Baker while he worked in the GM Design Center.  Brian has the kind of personality that makes you want to stay in touch, even though it is difficult to keep up with his energy and the speed of his many projects. Brian counts on his resume an astonishing array of titles including National Development Consultant for the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, producer of numerous TV programs, faculty and teaching positions at numerous transportation design schools and countless speaking engagements.  If you ever want to lose an afternoon in the untold stories of the Detroit design scene, just ask Brian to take you through his recent presentation at the IDSA conference.

Man of the Week: Brian Baker

TSB: When did you know you wanted to be an auto designer?   BB: When In 3rd grade I felt happier in the middle of winter, crouched next to a cold brick building with a pad of paper drawing car ideas, rather than playing in the snow with my  friends.

Baker demonstrates the connection between things curvy

TSB: Where did you go to school and how did you decide which school to attend?  BB: I began at Indiana University’s Herron School of Art in Indy before transferring to CCS and then I sat next to my drawing board in the middle of a Detroit winter with a pad drawing car ideas,  I called my Dad and convinced him that I needed to go to Southern California and Art Center.  I had a great Dad who managed to get me interviews at Ford and GM as a high school student.  They recommended CCS, CIA and Art Center

6 wheels – ’nuff said!

TSB:  What was your first job after college? How did you get it?  BB: I dragged out my decade pan of education long enough for the Auto industry to recover from the early 80’s slump.  GM, Ford and Chrysler all extended offers at the college.  In retrospect I realize that this was a n amazing luxury afforded to me by being at an amazing college.

I got my job by being the kid from Indianapolis that built the full size Indycar for the year 2020.  I got advice and tires from racing legend Dan Gurney.  I parked my racecar outside the window where the interviews were to take place.  I made certain I was the first interview of the day.  I started into my portfolio when Chuck Jordan and Henry Haga stopped me.  Chucksaid “who’s is that? Pointing at my race car.  “He said forget the portfolio,  let’s go look at the car.”  The rest was pretty easy.

Working with the team on a scale model in the studio

TSB:  Are there any major lessons you learned in that first job?  BB: I learned that the power of a giant can be coaxed to help you achieve your dreams.  It can also snap your neck .

Baker poses with the production Chevrolet SSR

TSB:  What are your favorite cars and why?  BB: 1967 STP Turbine racer,  1966 Lamborghini Miura1937 Tatra 771971 Buick Riviera, Chevy SSR Concept:  All of these represent design at the extremes.  Some asymentry, Flawless proportions, Dorsal Fins, Boatails that defied convention and my own design

A classic boattail Riviera

TSB:  Where do you get your inspiration?  BB: My vehicle designs always have some reference to a classic from the past.  Often not retro but reminiscent of the proportions for the classic car era.

Chuck Jordan poses with one of his designs, a 1975 Opel Manta GT/E

TSB: Are there any other designers you admire?  BB: Sure:  Any designer with a vision that they are able to maneuver through the process to make it to the show stand at an international show.  This is a magic that I managed to do only 2 or three times in 25 years.  This is truly an art form.

A Corvette concept at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show

TSB: What is the most recent vehicle you worked on (that you are allowed to talk about)? Can you tell us a little about the process and end result?   BB: I worked on a C7 Corvette program.  We did a series of scales that were intended to showcase the next styling.  They were to be debuted at racing venues and entered in a GTP class.  This was intended to give the Corvette a pre production pedigree for the track before the first C7 were produced.  My design played the Stingray Racer up to fit the GTP catagory.  Providing a race pedigree befor the car was ever built.

Google’s self-driving car being “driven” by a blind man

TSB: Can you tell us what are the biggest challenges facing designers in the future?  BB: Instant online surveys, Government overregulation, the insulation of the driver from the physics of driving, manufacturing techniques that can support bad ideas just as easily as classic designs

Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang

TSB:  Are there any last parting words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring designers?  BB: I’ll share what Lee Iacocca said to me just before I graduated.  He said “Kid there are going to be days…Don’t let the business guys get you down!

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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One Response to 10 Questions with Brian Baker

  1. Rob Hayes says:

    Great article, its interesting to get a glimpse of how the guys who designed the cars we love think , even better how they thought at the time and which cars they admire. Brians favorite cars are interesting a few big dollar exotics ones and The Boattail Riviera my own passion, You can see a bit of it in the C7 I would have expected to see the influence for the boattail design the 63-65 Vette on his list also, I invite any of the readers here who share the passion for the Boattail Riviera, and if you could pass it on to Brian – to come see and take part in the Boattail Registry & library at http://www.boattail-riviera-by-riviera.com.

    PS nothing better than spending an afternoon talking cars .

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