The first exhibition devoted to Australian car design to be held in an art institution has opened in Melbourne. Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car runs until 12 July at the National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square. There are 23 rare, beautiful and iconic cars on display, ranging from the earliest steam and petrol-driven vehicles to the latest concept cars. Through more than a century of motoring, Australian innovations, racing cars and muscle cars are showcased like never before. So let’s take a look at these beauties.
Some of our best known cars like the Valiant Charger E49, the HQ Monaro GTS and the XA Falcon GT Hardtop are displayed, but many of the exhibits will only have been familiar to enthusiasts. Even then, some of this machinery has very rarely been on view. Concept cars like the Holden Hurricane, GTR-X and EFIJY are joined by racing cars like the Elfin Streamliner, the Molina Monza, the Ausca, the Maybach and Chamberlain.
Then there’s the Repco Brabham BT19 in which Jack Brabham won his third World Formula One championship in 1966. It was designed by Ron Tauranac, the long-time business partner of Jack Brabham. Tauranac designed many successful racers including the Repco Brabham Formula 1 cars that won the World Drivers and Constructors Championships in 1966 and 1967. All the Brabham cars were named BT, for Brabham and Tauranac.
More than a car show, the automotive art also tells a story of creativity, ingenuity and improvisation that brings the designers responsible for our automotive heritage into clear view. Designer Phillip Zmood was the first Australian head of design at General Motors Holden. His outstanding contributions include important roles in the Holden Torana GTR-X concept car, development of the Monaro, the HQ model Holden and the Commodore.
From Lewis Bandt in the 1930s who designed the first ute at Ford in Geelong, to Richard Ferlazzo and the Holden EFIJY concept car of 2005, Australian car design has an impressive history that needs to be told. One good reason for celebrating this story is the impact it might have on our future. As Australian car manufacturing winds down, it’s car design that holds the key to our continuing role in the global automotive industry. Australian designers are designing for the world, with recent examples including the new model Camaro for the American market and the Ford Ranger, another car designed but not sold in Australia.
A team at Holden recently designed the Buick Avenir concept car shown at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show. A full-size clay model of the Avenir greets visitors at the entrance to Shifting Gear. And the new Ford GT also released at Detroit 2015 was designed in America by Australian Todd Willing, now head of Ford’s Asia-Pacific design team at Broadmeadows.
Opportunities for smaller boutique Australian design studios in niche markets also hold out hope for continuing success. There is potential for the high-end, low volume car market that Australian designers and engineers can play in. And even major manufacturers are turning to independent studios to better understand customer preferences and local conditions.
Car enthusiasts and those who have not had much interest in cars will come away from Shifting Gear appreciating the artistry, beauty and style of these creations. But importantly, everyone should also come away with a better understanding of Australian design expertise and the role it can play in the future.