Home » Here’s My Final Design Of A Modernized Classic British Roadster: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas

Here’s My Final Design Of A Modernized Classic British Roadster: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas


It’s always a minefield when a car designer is tasked with updating a much-loved and well-remembered classic vehicle – just ask Mini-designer Frank (who did it not once, but twice). With the EV Station Wagon I showed a few weeks back, I wasn’t basing it on a specific vehicle – so it wasn’t beholden to certain brand-specific graphics or identifiers. However the latest project to come out of the top secret Autopian design studio, located in a filthy broom cupboard stacked full of obscure tail lights, is a bit different.

Working my broken crayon nubs (I asked Torch for some new Crayolas, but Tracy spent all the budget on lawn ornaments Utes) over some scrap paper, I gave you a few “thumbnail” sketches of a new Austin Healey to mull over with your tea and crumpets. Normally, when a new model is released, the OEM might show some “design sketches’”– amazing images that look like a slightly stylized version of the actual car.

Don’t be fooled.

These are done after the actual design is finished as part of the marketing story and build up. They’re drawn over a fully visualized 3D model with a designer flourish, and take a lot of work. You would never do development sketches to that standard, simply because of the amount of time and effort it takes. Our actual thumbnails sketches are the workings out on the back of an envelope – the rough notes of where the design could go.


Ideally you want to capture the feel of the original car while updating it. I had envisioned going in a slightly blockier, more faceted (i.e. more edgy and blocky, with straighter flatter surfaces) direction for our Healey. However most of you felt that we should stay truer to the source material and stick with curves and the oval grill. It’s a tricky needle to thread – carry over too much and you end up back where you started. It’s always a balance between what to leave out and what to leave in. The Dodge Challenger is a masterclass in how to get this right – really it’s only the lighting and the general shape that call back to the 1970 car.

One of the classes that transportation design students take at Art Center as part of their Viscom (Visual Communication) studies involves being given an animal or a cartoon character and turning those into a car – something that allows Hot Wheels to turn out those Star Wars cars because a lot of their designers are Art Center grads.


Another class that all car design students must take is “Stance the Shit out of It 101,” which includes a field trip to the flourishing country of Stance Nation. We’re taught to over-wheel our designs or face a spanking by matron.

I had labored long and hard in the broom cupboard trying to make wire wheels work, decided they didn’t and looked too old fashioned, and slapped another wheel on. Consensus was our Healey should have wire wheels, which illustrates some of the tensions that arise during the design process. So I came up with the diamond turned alloy design you see above which mimics the pattern of a wire wheel.

Generally, this is how it works in the studio. In the initial sketch phase a designer will just stick a generic wheel on their sketches, the actual wheel designs to be used coming much later. Coming up with wheel patterns is time consuming; it’s the sort of thing designers do if they have a spare afternoon – knock out a couple and leave them in a “wheels” folder on the server to be used as and when.

As you can see our unapologetically ICE Healey has offset frenched-in exhaust openings which were popular, and I really like. They would be a nightmare to productionize, as exhausts have a massive operating envelope – i.e. the amount of clearance they need around them to allow for movement (as exhausts are not rigidly attached) and heat expansion. So some visual trickery might be required – maybe painting the muffler and visible pipe black so it blends into the opening.

So there you have it. Is our Austin Healey something that makes you want to stock up on mustache wax, silk scarves and say ‘tally ho!’ as you head to the local hostelry for a pint of warm beer and an afternoon spent watching a baffling sport called Cricket? Let me know in the comments below, and remember matron is watching.

Now comes the part where we figure out where to go next! Which one of these is most exciting to you?


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55 Responses

  1. Y’know, I have to strenuously disagree with you on the Challenger. They’ve done well to update the design from what originally came out, and it fits in today’s world remarkably well, but when it came out it was absolutely disgusting. It was as if they took the original Challenger sectioned it about a foot up from the ground, added 6-8 inches of material all around, then dropped the rest of the body back on top of that. Considering all the side impact stuff and other assorted stuff they had to pack into the sides of the car it makes sense that it looked that way, but that doesn’t mean it looked good.

    The version you linked above is great, no doubt about it, but the original new-retro design was horrible.

    1. I’m confused the article is about a newer version British roadster and all comments are about a challenger. Yeah that is compatible like a mini and a ram diesel. Please people read the whole damn article. You may not be worried about looking like a jalopnik moron but the rest of us don’t want to choke and puke on your totally off topic ignorant takes.

      1. Despite reading the whole article, I didn’t have anything to say on the roadster design.

        Honestly, the worst thing I saw at Jalopnik was people being asses to each other in the comments (yes, that was worse than articles that had nothing to do with cars) Considering that David and Torch want this place to become a community, that type of posting isn’t really compatible with a sense of community. So how about you take your comments on who is a moron and who has ignorant takes and go think about it for a while?

      1. Nope. The version you linked, the Hellcat, has those flared wheel arches. A couple other options also have it and it does a huge amount to break up the slab sides of the body. The front and rear bumper refresh in ’15 help the view from those ends, but the side view of the stock V6 body is still a travesty.
        Looking at the actual numbers, I’m surprised its gone almost a decade and a half without some change to the sides. Not completely surprised because Dodge, but still.

        1. Well, I didn’t put the link in, but the wide body is still the same ‘06 Challenger. The body in white hasn’t changed.

          You don’t change the sheet metal these days until a new model comes out. It’s too cost prohibitive. They’ve got no need to update the Challenger – it’s selling more now that it ever has done since it’s introduction.

    2. Another reason for the current Challenger’s thickened body is that the LX platform it sits on positions the occupant’s hip point (h-point in the biz jargon) about 2″ higher than typical of sedans at the time. The idea was to get a small bit of higher up visibility that SUVs have and a lot of buyers like. I’m not 100% sure if the Challenger lowered the occupant’s h-point, but even if so, it probably wouldn’t be very much before platform issues would arise.

        1. It’s the design discussion, offering an example; it’s not like the discussion went off the rails like a corporate zoom call. I think the challenger comparison is relevant

    3. 70 Challenger owner here; the new one viewed by itself looked like what it should have been all along. Side by side the loss of lowness really hits though. They managed to resurrect so much of the feel, it could not be as low and still be as menacing today.

  2. I’d like to see the grill a bit bigger, it’s giving a kissing fish look that small.

    Also, the blue is too modern a hue. A render in British racing Green would be great.

    Frenched exhausts can be done, banish the bean counters from that review meeting!

    1. BRG would have been too on the nose I think. This is the danger, get all those touch points in and you’ve essentially got the same car you were supposed to be updating.

      The accountants don’t got] to the meetings, but the program leader does and he controls the budget. Normally when they want to push something through it’s the designers who get left off the invite list…..

  3. You should stand up and take more spankings from matron. And enjoy them! Because there’s too much tire and too much wheel, even if matron demands large wheels and tires. I do love the diamond milled spoke design, but I would’ve made the full surface of the wheels deeply concave, for more contrast with the similar classic Pontiac Snowflake rims of 78-81.

    Love the front. Like the rear. Both are too bulbous and plain, missing details. Maybe round turn signals on both ends, but definitely in the rear, and round or at least oval taillights. I would add some creases suggestive of bumpers and bumper overriders to improve the visual interest.

    Between the tires, I don’t like it so much. Well, actually not at all. The original was a very shapely but somewhat slab-sided car. The classic Austin Healey two tone paint job seems to have been an expert camouflage element to hide that fact and enhance the beauty of the car. This throws all that out the window in favor of a Hot Wheels style that doesn’t look mature at all, much less Austin Healey mature. There’s way too much fender flaring here where there should be virtually none at all.

    But I do like the overall concept and that you put it out here for discussion. It’s interesting to see a variety of views on how to remain faithful to a classic while still modernizing the design.

    My opinion, worth exactly what you paid for it.

    1. I understand what you’re saying. The original Healey had most of it’s shape in profile (as did a lot of older cars). It worked in those days because cars were much smaller, and there was generally a lot more movement in the wheels and chassis which necessitated a lot of clearance between the body and the tires.
      If you tried that with modern volumes you’d end up with something that looked very slabby and heavy. Part of the reason for flaring wheelarches is to avoid that and introduce subtle tension into the larger surfaces, so they look taut and lean. Modern cars have much better wheel and body control which allows smaller wheel arch gaps (which are unsightly) and bigger wheels to help the stance (I.e. how the car sits on the road). It’s important, especially for a sporty car, that it appears planted and not knock kneed and under wheeled.

      1. I find it interesting that you say you were going for taut and lean. To me, the original, with its nearly flat sides, looks very taut and lean. The redesign looks obese. I don’t see anything subtle or athletic in curves more extreme than Kim Kardashian.

        Also, I disagree that wheel arch gaps are unattractive. I understand that’s the trend of the last twenty years or more, but I’m not on board.

        Wheels are supposed to be dynamic. Take away the arch gap and the wheels look severely constrained and static, which results in a design that doesn’t look very capable at all.

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I feel very flattered to have received a direct reply.

  4. Where would the front turn signals go? I feel like on a retro design, they should be separate from the headlights. That’s a detail I liked about the first few new Mini Coopers and the Fiat 500

    1. ALL indicators should be separate from the headlights. The worst ones are those where they are on the *inside* of the headlight assembly (yes, I’m looking at you Nissan). Indicators should be able to, you know, visibly indicate something. Especially when it’s dark and the damn headlights are on.

  5. IMO, which no asked for, is to get rid of the 2 tone paint and add the bulge to the hood. Then I can fully get behind this modernization.

      1. Oooh I see the design interns have opinions! How nice ????

        Seriously though, you’re both right and both wrong. If this was selected by the Chief Designer, then those are the sorts of things that get worked out as the design progress. It’s a little hard to really show hood detail in this type of sketch, so you’d either sketch a different view, or screen shot the data (if it got to model stage) and then sketch a load of different power bulge treatments to find one that worked.

        With regard to colour, that’s the remit of the Color, Materials & Finish team (although the Chief Designer has the final say). Again colors are not nailed down until much further along. It’s likely two tone could be an option (it’s not hard to do).

      1. The Charles Eames quote is one of my favorites regarding design.

        My favorite: “Weniger, aber besser” — Dieter Rams
        (translates from German as “Less, but better”)

  6. I must say, I wasn’t too keen on the sketches but I like what I see here in this article.

    Someone talked about BRG for the color – I have to admit I personally think that on a big Healey blue is precisely correct. The two-tone look is attractive and if you match the interior with the lighter color of the two-tone paint it’s a sharp combination.

    Very much liking your contributions, keep it up!

    1. I mean, that and the big sedan would surely have to be body-style variations on the already-done big wagon, just as it was in the old days?

  7. Regarding what to do next:

    I’d love to see some new concept of an outdated car style that makes it fresh and desirable again.

    Like maybe the convertible land yacht? Give me a modern take on the 1958 Chrysler 300D convertible, perhaps?

  8. I’m not an expert but the version you put out looks like a toy or something from cars. In my opinion it sucks, is a piece of crap give me the old version. You do not have the skills necessary to design cars. I hope my harsh criticism keeps you from wasting time from ever even attempting this again. Really you don’t have the talent.

  9. I was going to let this rest, but I kept looking at it and wondering what was so very off about the redesign.

    Then I thought about what makes the original Austin Healey so elegant and timeless, why it enjoys nearly unanimous acclaim for being a brilliant design. So I studied the original again. Specifically the profile, the front, and the rear views.

    What I found is that the profile has a seamless beauty because the entire shape of the car is composed of only three major arcs. One from the front of the car all the way to the leading edge of the rear fender. A second forms the rear fender itself. And the third arc merely connects the two. Elegant!

    The front and rear have similar simplicity. The bulging headlight pods with simple, small marker lights below form the corners, and a soft arc forms the shape of the hood between them. A classically simple grille in front. This is very functional and not busy or fussy.

    The rear is also very much designed in a similar form around functionality, with a little flair added by usually putting the taillights in their own mini-pods mounted on the rear fenders, depending on what year car we look at.

    The redesigned car completely discards the elegance of the 3-arc profile view, and in doing so, discards the essence of the Big Healey. The front remains the most faithful to the original, which is why that’s the part that I like best. The rear again discards what makes the original so attractive and substitutes something still attractive, but only loosely related.

    In summary, I think the redesign would need another round or two of revisions before being called an Austin Healey.

    1. What we’re doing here is really shortcutting a lot of how it works in real life. In reality designers when given a brief they spend weeks or even months doing sketches, having reviews, and sketching again with direction from managers until a couple of final directions are picked to go through to the next stage (modelling).

      So in reality, you are correct in that these would be put up for review, and then revised, and so on. We’re just having some fun here, and hopefully it gives a small insight into how car designers work and what goes on inside the studio. It’s not possible with this medium or in the timeframe we are operating in to really reflect the actual real life process.

      1. This discussion makes clear the point that good design takes time, and usually takes a team of designers.

        We all love the story of great designs that came from just one person, in one moment of inspiration, but it is rarely true.

        1. It’s usually the chief designer who gets the credit (but not always – Volvo were very good at crediting Ian Kettle – also an RCA grad – with the design of the XC40, and he now works at Tesla) but they are really the overseer. It’s the younger, junior guys and girls who come up with all the sketch work.

          One of the reasons good design is not created in a vacuum is because it takes fresh eyes and a different perspective to edit and refine. Quite often the person who came up with idea is a bit close to it and unwilling to alter it too much – this is why I always tell my students to pin their work up so their peers can see it, and they can learn to take direction and criticism.

  10. That’s a masterpiece from you! And I can also share these skills with anyone interested for Educational Purposes Alone:
    1. How to Reverse an ATM withdrawal transaction (reverse back the funds you withdraw into the cards account)
    2. How to REPEAT anybody’s previous payment/cash withdrawal transaction without their card/phone on any “Tap N Pay” (NFC) terminal they used with the “DKD” device; an NFC payment hacking device with video demonstration on how to use.
    3. How to use a simple software to retrieve >password of devices(All Operating systems) and logins details of accounts used on that device >deleted files, messages and call logs on that device.
    4. How to clone <a. door access cards <b. payment cards using it's track 1&2 (duplication of card) with a simple device and software.
    5. How to harvest social media and email logIn details with a simple software.
    6. How to use a device called "CaT" on all ATM machine cash dispenser.
    All with video demonstration on how to do/use them.

  11. Nicely Done. Really enjoyed reading your though process as well.

    Overall I really like it. My minor changes would be:

    Slightly larger grill. Looks a little too Retro Tbird/sad grouper. But…only slightly larger. Fine line there
    Still not a fan of the slotted tail lights. Inset round, maybe bullets. Two per side or maybe even 3. Call Torch.
    Switch the slotted headlamps for proper round lamps. Type doesn’t matter.
    Ply matron with some sherry and offer up a compromise. Same wheels but taller rubber and set inside the fender.

    But, even without those I think it’s a really sweet concept.

    And I read somewhere that the people who designed the new Challenger went to look at some classics and were surprised that they didn’t remember it looking like that in person, so they just went ahead and made the one they imagined. Might be true, might not, but I did drink a lot of 30 weight as a child.

  12. I really like the front view, the wheels, the two-tone paint scheme, and the Frenched exhaust. I’m not fond of the rear. A number of the small British roadsters like the Lotus Elite, Lotus 11, Costin Nathan, Triumph GT4 prototypes, and Ginetta G4, were all halfway to becoming streamliners. That rear has many elements that are not conducive to good aero, most especially the deeply slanted back, protruding wheels, and the fender flares. I get that the chassis hardpoints limit how narrow you can make the design. A Miata platform might have been a better pick than a Z4 platform, in retrospect. Given the limitations of the platform, it definitely tries its best to match the vision of a modern Austin Healey 3000 would be like.

    Still a really cool concept and I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject in the article and in the comments. Please make more.

  13. How much would this have to grow relative to one of the models it is inspired by to fit modern regs and amenities and such?

    I’m digging this series. Love to hear about the process behind design.

    Also, if you’re taking requests, I’d very much love to see an updated Neue Klasse type smallish angular executive car

    1. Well, if it’s on the Z4 platform about that size (I haven’t looked up the dimensions). Platforms are more about hard points underneath than external bodywork. In this case that would be base of the windscreen, dash to axle, h point, suspension pick ups.

  14. Just love the wheels. I really think they call to the original wire wheels, but keep the look contemporary.
    Personally, I think curves are more appropriate to the roadster. . Well done, and thank you for the time you’ve spent educating this heathen Texan on the finer points of auto design.

  15. I’m a huge fan of the wheels and frenched in tailpipe. The two tone paint works well too. I think it needs a smidge more grille opening and slightly larger headlight. The larger grille would help with the intercooler for the high reving, turbo inline 4 under the hood.

  16. Top job here, I’m really happy to see the BBS-style spokeys here, that’s the exact pattern I had in mind when I saw your first concept. I think smooth was the right call here, a Triumph might be better suited to an edgy design but bubbles are as modern as ever now with the Honda E being one of my favorite examples of a modern clean design

    1. I’m of the opinion the production Honda E is better than the concept, which I thought was overwheeled and a bit cartoony. It’s a very neat, well executed design, but I fear it’s too expensive and doesn’t have the range to move the needle much. I understand why Honda have done this, they’ve placed it as a product of desire rather than utility but I’m not sure that was the right call.

  17. I respect all the work you’ve done on this, and really appreciate the insights you’ve given into the design process.

    But I hate it. It looks like a child’s toy. The original looked fun, but still something a mature, grown-up person could drive without feeling ashamed.

    If I sat in your version I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the region of thinning hair on the crown of my head.

  18. Adrian, may I call you Adrian, thanks for not only another great design; but I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to explain the thought process of designing. A lot of times jobs like these are seen as easy and not taking much effort when that is the farthest thing from the truth. Getting a little peak behind the curtain really helps understand all the considerations one must take into account when doing this. Great job all the way around on this.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’ve written extensively about a lot of this stuff elsewhere, but really part of my motivation to start writing was explain what car design was really all about – I think a lot of people have a certain point of view that is a little misguided and I wanted to try and rectify that. It’s an easily misunderstood subject so I really wanted to explain the whys and wherefores.

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