Martin Smith – A Brilliant Yet Little-Known Designer

Martin Smith – A Brilliant Yet Little-Known Designer

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Car designing sounds like a very romantic profession. But, even though it seems all fun, hardly any automotive designer would say that it is easy to build cars.

The most daring designers are considered Giorgetto Giugiaro, Marcello Gandini, Ian Callum, Walter de Silva, Chris Bangle. Even if you do not care about the history of your beloved car, you have undoubtedly heard at least one of those last names.

But this time, we want to tell you a story about the way less famous designer. Meet Martin Smith - a talented car designer who is responsible for creating models loved by millions of drivers.

Got interested back in early childhood

Martin Smith knew from a young age that he wanted to become a car designer. As he was in the middle school sitting at his desk, he found the courage to write a letter to the chief designer of Mini brand, Alec Issigonis. He had a somewhat naive and sincere goal of asking what he might need to become a car designer.

To the young Martin's surprise, Alec Issigonis not only wrote back but also shared some tips that later helped Martin choose the right path. First, the British studied engineering at the University of Liverpool and then studied automotive design at the Royal College of Art, where he received his master's degree.

First experience

At just 23 years old, a young and ambitious British took a job in a sports car mecca called Porsche. As part of a large community of Porsche professionals, Martin was assigned the task of overseeing the development of the Porsche 911 RSR.

Audi Quattro
Audi Quattro
© Audi
Audi 100
Audi 100
© Audi

A few years later, Martin Smith packed his suitcase and moved from Stuttgart to another German city, Ingolstadt, where Audi's headquarters were located. His skills were revealed in this company, where the British worked for 20 years.

He has created models of great acclaim: the legendary Audi Quattro, Audi 100 (C3) and Audi 80 (B3). It was Martin Smith who convinced then Audi executives to take aerodynamic features into account, resulting in the sleek, round shape of the Audi 80 and Audi 100.

Luck followed everywhere

Martin Smith left the Audi headquarters in the late 1990s when he changed from one German brand to another. After completing the interior design work on the first generation of the Audi TT, in 1997 he moved to Opel where he was entrusted with the position of chief compact car designer. It may not sound like much fun, but Martin has helped another manufacturer to transform his bland and dull face radically.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
© Ford
Audi 80
Audi 80
© Audi

Martin has contributed significantly to the existence of models such as the Speedster, and the dynamically-looking concept in the Astra H and Insignia. The two latter models went into serial production while being very similar to those concepts that attracted the most attention.

Audi Avus Quattro concept
Audi Avus Quattro concept
© Audi
Audi TT
Audi TT
© Audi

Naturally, Martin's attitude and work ethic caught the attention of competitors. He decided to accept a tempting offer from Ford executives in Europe and said goodbye to his colleagues from Opel. His colleague from Opel, Stefan Lamm, followed him to Ford. That's how Martin and Stefan joined Chris Bird, a former Martin colleague who moved to Ford from Audi in 1998.

Opel Astra H vision
Opel Astra H vision
© Opel
Opel Speedster
Opel Speedster
© Opel

As a result, three highly talented professionals began working on a brand new design language for Ford cars, which later became known as New Edge. More sport-ish, more dynamic and more emotive look was very quickly adapted to the Ford S-Max, Ford Galaxy, Ford Mondeo and other Ford models.

Ford Galaxy
Ford Galaxy
© Ford
Ford Mondeo Turnier
Ford Mondeo Turnier
© Ford

Martin Smith, who has worked in the automotive industry for decades, announced his retirement as a chief car designer in 2014. His place was taken by Joel Piaskowski, who seems to have a slightly different perspective on what a Ford car should look like.

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