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Meet Jan Baedeker

The Co-Editor of Our New Book Talks Shop about Concept Cars

Posted by Gestalten—09/2017

Take our new book Fast Forward for a deep dive into the history of futuristic cars from the 20th Century through the present. Co-edited by Jan Baedeker of classic-car magazine and marketplace Classic Driver, the showcase covers a broad range of designers and engineers to offer a full survey of the fast-paced field. We spoke to Baedeker ahead of the book’s release on the past, present, and future of concept cars—read more below, or browse Fast Forward in English or in German

The book traces concept cars from 1930s through to the present — what qualities and characteristics have remained the same?

Concept cars have always given designers the possibility to experiment with new technologies, styles and ideas without the constraints of financial feasibility and industrial mass production. Whether you look at the rolling art-deco sculptures that were built the 1930s, the futuristic road rockets from the 1950s and 1960s, or the wedge-shaped UFO supercars from the 1970s, their designers came up with new and surprising forms that reflected the zeitgeist of their eras— all of society’s the hopes and dreams—and that changed the general idea of how the cars of the future would look. Today, designers seem to have a harder time reinventing the wheel. The high complexity of car production and the economic pressure on the brands to succeed with each new model leaves little room for experimentation. 

Where does your personal fascination with cars stem from? 

My father was very passionate about sports cars, especially Alfa Romeos, which he bought from Italy and restored. He died when I was very young and I never knew him, but somehow I inherited his love for automobiles. When I was a boy and my mother and I went on holidays in her old Beetle convertible, I always had a camera on my lap, just in case a Lamborghini or Maserati would show up. I remember sitting on the carpet for hours, studying the lines of my toy cars and drawing them from every angle. The Matchbox version of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s wedge-shaped Maserati Boomerang concept, in particular, left a lasting impression on me.

Classic Driver was founded before the internet made it to the mainstream. How has the internet impacted the industry?

Yes, Classic Driver was founded in the spring of 1998, just a few months before Google went live. Back then, internet connections were slow and you had to wait ages for a stamp-sized photo of a car to appear on your screen. But a lot’s changed since then—the collector car scene has moved online, multi-million dollar cars are traded on the web, and the most creative minds in the automotive world operate independently online. The internet has also made it possible for startups like Tesla to outperform the biggest automotive brands on the planet with clever online marketing and innovative, user-friendly products. I believe that if any designer will be able to completely rethink the automobile today, they will be an outsider with an entirely different mindset. The next Ferdinand Porsche or Ettore Bugatti might just be working on his first 3D-printed prototype in a garage in the outskirts of the Silicon Valley, New Delhi, or Shanghai.

What could today’s engineers learn from the concept cars of the past? And what could the engineers of the past learn from today’s trailblazers?

I think that today’s automotive designers and engineers still like to invent things and try new ideas just as their colleagues did in the 1930s or 1960s. What’s changed is the business culture at the major car companies: it’s become increasingly difficult to greenlight projects that have no immediate projected sales and don’t relate to anything previously done. Distribution and marketing is everything. Even concept cars often need to be as close as possible to the later production cars and completely in line the brand’s identity. Slowly, companies will hopefully start to understand that giving designers and engineers less pressure and more room for creativity is the only way to sustain success.

Overall, what do you envision the future of cars to be like?

As the architecture of an electric car can be completely different from a car with a bulkycombustion engine, a heavy gas tank and a complex gearbox, designers will soon start to use this freedom to dream up with new shapes that have little to do with our current cars. On one hand, private and public transport will merge, especially in dense urban areas where people are more willing to share their cars to drive to work or to a concert autonomously. The design of these vehicles will be focused more on their interior spaces and how they are coexist with other cars and customers. On the other hand, the desire for beautiful, fast, exclusive, drivable, and privately-owned cars will last as well—and I guess that these cars will need to look even more exciting and eccentric than today’s supercars to grab our attention. In both fields, there is huge potential and demand for innovation and new ideas. In terms of transportation design, our time is probably the most exciting since the early days of the automobile—more than a century ago.

Images from Fast Forward, Portraits by Stefan Bogner and Rémi Dargegen