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Robert Cumberford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert Wayne Cumberford
Born (1935-08-04) August 4, 1935 (age 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationDesign Editor Automobile
Editor Auto & Design
Editor Air Progress
Automotive stylist
Design Critic
GenreAutomotive journalism
the Jaguar E-Type is elegant, extremely phallic and a great middle-aged man's compensation[1]... the ultimate automotive expression of phalliform perfection. [2][3]
— Robert Cumberford

GM's Road Not Taken
In his award-winning 2013 article, Cumberford reviewed the restoration of GM's 1955 Motorama LaSalle II Roadster, a concept car scheduled to be destroyed but which survived until its restoration began in 1990.[4]

Cumberford likened the Roadster to a harbinger of GM's future. While the Roadster concept showcased important new technology – including an aluminum block, double overhead cam, fuel-injected V6 – the technology went unrealized. GM instead emphasized styling over engineering advancement for the decades that followed – and didn't bring "an aluminum block, fuel-injected, overhead-cam V-6 into production until 2004."[5]

Cumberford described the Roadster as "a signpost to the many wrong turns that led to the bankruptcy of what was in 1955 the largest business entity in the entire world (GM)."[5]

Robert Wayne Cumberford (born August 4, 1935) is a former automotive designer for General Motors, author and design critic – widely known as Automotive Design Editor and outspoken columnist for Automobile magazine.

Examples of Cumberford's critiques:

  • The Dream cars of the 50s: "myths created to make people dream about the future."[6]
  • The $2,500 Tata Nano: "perhaps the most significant car since the Ford Model T was introduced 100 years ago."[7]
  • The Jeep Cherokee: "One of the 20 greatest cars of all time."[8]
  • the NSU Ro80: “A handsome, modern-looking car with much cleaner lines than anything of the time.”[9]
  • The Jaguar E-Type "Elegant, extremely phallic and a great middle-aged man's compensation,"[1] and "the ultimate automotive expression of phalliform perfection." [2][3]
  • The Ford Five Hundred:"It's a pretty good trick to make a brand-new car look old, bland and boring right out of the box. No doubt it's a good car, but one fundamentally uninteresting visually."[10]
  • The 2016 Acura NSX: Its "very hard to mess up the styling of a mid-engine sports car... but Acura has managed it."[11]
  • The Tesla Model S: "I would happily own one."[12]
  • The Tesla Model 3: "It is an excellent design."[13]

On the automotive industry, Cumberford wrote in 1998 that "a lot of automotive enthusiasm is based on what is undoubtedly immature excitement over excess."[14] In 2014 he wrote that there is "no foreseeable future for the Italian coachbuilding firms,"[15] referring to the storied design houses of Bertone, Zagato, Ghia, Pininfarina and Giugiaro.

On prominent automotive figures, Cumberford described Alec Issigonis, who received a knighthood "in recognition of his engineering genius,"[16] as "not terribly innovative in a mechanical sense."[17] He wrote in 2004 that intensely controversial car designer Chris Bangle is "a man with the courage of his convictions and of solid character, and he is worthy of our admiration for that alone." [18]

Noted automotive cartoonist Stan Mott described Cumberford as "an intellectual automotive enthusiast."[19] Automobile editor Jean Lindamood Jennings said Cumberford "is highly opinionated, as every working car designer in the world today knows, sometimes painfully," adding that his design reviews have become "wildly popular."[1] At the 2013 LA Auto Show, Jennings said Cumberford "tends toward a certain cantankerous crustyness just shy of curmudgeonly."[20]

Cumberford won the 2013 Best Article of the Year Award from the Motor Press Guild for his article, "GM's Road Not Taken" about the LaSalle II Roadster, published in Automobile magazine in March 2013.[21]


Cumberford grew up in Southern California, the son of a Texas-born housewife and a Scotsman from Chile who worked for L.A.'s streetcar company, the Los Angeles Railway.[19] He began sketching cars at age 15 and developed a strong interest in aircraft design as child,[1] later saying that he preferred aircraft design to automobile design.[1]

He had wanted to study aeronautical engineering on scholarship at Caltech but attended instead the Art Center of Pasadena,[22] then known as the Art Center School, working in a grocery store and cleaning the classroom floors to help pay tuition.


Cumberford eventually dropped out of school, but inadvertently started a writing career when a rendering of a pogo stick he'd designed in the style of a Jaguar was shown to John Bond, editor of Road & Track – and Cumberford was invited to write a review to go with the rendering.[19] He had already designed two automobiles, the Parkinson Jaguar Special and the Ken Miles Flying Shingle.[19] In 1954 at age eighteen, his race report on the 12 Hours of Sebring was published.[22]

At age 19, Cumberford sent 118 renderings personally to GM's Harley J. Earl,[19] who hired him as a professional car designer. At GM, he worked on six models[23] of the Chevrolet Corvette including the 1956-57 four-headlamp facelift model[1] as well as the 1955 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and 1957 Buick Special.[23] At GM Cumberford also worked the company's layout standards for instruments and controls.[24] And at GM he purchased his first car, a Volkswagen Beetle, moving soon to a Porsche 356.[19]

Leaving GM, Cumberford studied philosophy for one year at UCLA,[22] drove across Mexico and then the United States in a VW Microbus, subsequently moving to Mexico and working as a freelance design consultant to various industries.[19]

In 1959, he was design assistant to noted automotive and industrial designer Albrecht Goetz. In 1962 and 63, Cumberford was chief designer[24] with the racing team Holman Moody.[23] In the early 1960s, Cumberford would also have a series of satirical renderings along with a fictional story published in Motor Trend featuring his and childhood friend Stand Mott's work – forecasting possible designs for the much discussed forthcoming "small Chevrolet," what would become the Corvair.[25]

1967 Italia by Intermeccanica - exterior design by Robert Cumberford
1967 Italia by Intermeccanica - exterior design by Robert Cumberford

He has lived in France, Mexico, and Switzerland – and has designed automobiles (including the Saab 850 and Renault Arquitectonicaro)[23] race cars, trucks, aircraft, boats, and hovercraft[22] with his companies Cumberford Design International (with offices in New York, Mexico City and Northampton England)[23] and Cumberford Creative – working in the suburbs of Paris from 1996 to 1999[23] on projects for Renault and Citroën.[26]

In 1986 Cumberford began contributing to the then new Automobile magazine at the request of editor David E. Davis, joining the magazine in its sixth issue[22] with his column By Design, which was expanded to two full pages in 2006.[1] He was the European Editor for Air Progress, magazine,[27] continues to contribute to Automobile and Design magazine, and is a noted author – participating in a wide spectrum of forums, design competitions and events related to the automotive, aeronautical and design industries.[19]

Cumberford authored the 2006 book Auto Legends: Classics of Style And Design;[28] the 2001 book Chris Bangle: BMW Global Design and the 2008 book Cars, the latter printed in Italian. He contributed to the 2013 book Automotive Jewelry, Volume One: Mascots, Badges. [29]

Cumberford was keynote speaker at "The Italian Avantgarde in Car Design" as part of the September 2002 exposition on Italian design in New York,[30] and moderated the 2007 Classic Car Forum at the Pebble Beach Concours with Moray Callum, Andrea Zagato, Shiro Nakamura, Ed Welburn, and Ian Callum.[31] He contributed to the catalogue for the North Carolina Museum of Art 2013 show "Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed."[32]

As a judge, Cumberford participated in the 1988 Automobile Quarterly Car Design Contest;[33] the second annual (2003) World Automotive Design Competition and Design Forum hosted by the Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS);[34] the Best Design School 2003;[35] the 2005 Canadian International AutoShow;[36] and the fourth annual (2005) World Automotive Design Competition.[37]


In 2013 Cumberford won the 2013 Best Article of the Year Award from the Motor Press Guild for his article, "GM's Road Not Taken" about the LaSalle II Roadster, published in Automobile magazine in March 2013.[21]

His work in Automobile magazine has won numerous International Automotive Media Awards, including: 2000, (Gold) for his article on Bob Gregorie;[38] 2005, article about the 1935 Stout Scarab;[39] 2007 for his article "Best of Show";[40] 2010, for the By Design column (Silver);[41] and 2013 (Gold), for the By Design column.[42]

Cumberford Martinique

In 1982, with backing from a computer company, Cumberford designed a flamboyant front-engine, rear-drive two-seater of which two examples were crafted as development prototypes – with body of cast and sheet aluminum; African Mahogany fenders; a 3.2-liter, in-line, BMW-sourced, six-cylinder engine; as well as steering and suspension components from a Citroën CX. Two prototypes were constructed in Stamford, Connecticut, with one displayed in a San Diego museum for a period and another kept in Cumberford's garage in France. With the two-seater appearing on the cover of Car and Driver magazine in April 1982,[43] the intention had been to market as many as 300 of the cars (as the – to Cumberford Martinque)[44] but only the prototypes were manufactured – with an overall investment of approximately $3.5 million.[19] Funding dried up after John DeLorean was indicted in a completely unrelated automotive scandal. Cumberford later drove one of the Martiniques from Austin, Texas to Pebble Beach, California in 1985,[45] and both still exist today.[46]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Robert Cumberford discusses design". 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Car designers, Manufacturers, Podcasts, Video, August 19th, 2007. 2007-08-20.
  2. ^ a b "The Jaguar E-Type Is Still an Object of Desire". The New York Times, PHIL PATTON. March 4, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "50 years of the Jaguar E-Type". Globe and Mail. September 10, 2012.
  4. ^ "Joe Bortz and the 1955 LaSalle II Roadster Dream Car". Chubb Collector Car Insurance, December 19, 2012, Jeff Walker.
  5. ^ a b "GM's Road Not Taken: La Salle II Roadster". Automobile Magazine, Robert Cumberford, March 1, 2013. March 2013.
  6. ^ Man and Machine: The Best of Stephan Wilkinson b Stephan Wilkinson. Lyons Press. December 1, 2005. p. 87. ISBN 9781599216799.
  7. ^ Million Cars for Billion People by Gautam Sen. Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd. October 11, 2014. ISBN 9789384027742.
  8. ^ Cumberford, Robert (April 2009). "20 greatest cars". Automobile Magazine. Retrieved 19 June 2014. Great designs never grow old, a truth no better confirmed than by designer Dick Teague's masterpiece, the Jeep Cherokee. Possibly the best SUV shape of all time, it is the paradigmatic model to which other designers have since aspired.
  9. ^ "Claus Luthe, Car Design Innovator, Is Dead at 75". The New York Times, DENNIS HEVESI. April 10, 2008.
  10. ^ "Ford Five Hundred called roomy inside, dull outside". Automotive News, Richard Truett, October 2, 2004.
  11. ^ "By Design: 2016 Acura NSX". Automobile Magazine, Robert Cumberford, January 26, 2016. 2015-01-26.
  12. ^ "Tesla Motors Model S…Armored?". 2012-11-06.
  13. ^ "Tesla Model 3's design praised by famed car design critic Robert Cumberford". Electrek. 2016-09-06.
  14. ^ Forward Drive: The Race to Build the Clean Car of the Future (First Trade Paper ed.). Sierra Club Books. June 26, 2001. p. 192. ISBN 9781136534102.
  15. ^ Robert Cumberford (March 28, 2014). "R.I.P., Carrozzerie Italiane: Why the great coachbuilders of Italy mattered, and why their era is over". Jean Knows Cars. Archived from the original on February 27, 2015.
  16. ^ "Sir Alec Issigonis". Automotive Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2015-12-11.
  17. ^ "Car and Man". Motorsport Magazine. January 1996. p. 73.
  18. ^ Driven: Inside BMW. Wiley. April 2, 2004. p. 193. ISBN 9780471269205.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Profile: Automotive Design Editor Robert Cumberford". Automobile Magazine, David Zenlea, March 30, 2011. 2011-03-30.
  20. ^ "BMW i8 Wins Automobile Magazine Design Award". BMWCCA. Automobile Magazine’s Jean Jennings was on hand at the LA Auto Show to deliver the Automobile Design Of The Year award for 2014, handing the crystal trophy to BMW design chief Adrian Hooydonk next to the production i8 hybrid. As Jennings pointed out, Automobile’s design editor, Robert Cumberford, tends toward a certain cantankerous crustyness just shy of curmudgeonly, but in citing the i8 as the magazine’s design-winner, he wrote, “BMW’s extreme expression of a possible and probable future for the automobile is a brilliant reality.”
  21. ^ a b "Peter Brock captures the 2013 Dean Batchelor Award". MPG (Motor Press Guild), January 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-02-27.
  22. ^ a b c d e "Robert Cumberford Automotive Design Editor". Automobile Magazine. 2011-03-10.
  23. ^ a b c d e f "1982 Cumberford Martinique". Gatsby Automobile (French).
  24. ^ a b "National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, Legislative History 1985". US Department of Transportation. 1985.
  25. ^ "Testing a Small Chevrolet". Deans Garage, Gary Smith, October 2, 2013.
  26. ^ "Maior crítico de design automobilístico do mundo vem ao Brasil"., 11.03.2006. 2006-03-11.
  27. ^ "No Title". Sport Aviation. 23: 5. 1974.
  28. ^ "Auto Legends: Classics of Style And Design". Goodreads.
  29. ^ "Automotive Jewelry Volume One: Mascots • Badges". Coachbuilt Press.
  30. ^ "Italian Design Genius, Sensuality, Style and Substance". Italian Design Genius, 2002.
  31. ^ "Pebble Week at its best: legends of auto design at the Classic Car Forum". Hemmings Daily, Michael Lamm, Sep 9th, 2014.
  32. ^ "Race You to the Porsche Show at the Art Museum". Art News Robin Cembalest, 03/14/13. 2013-03-14.
  33. ^ "Car Designers To Judge Contest Today In Allentown". The Morning Call, 1988, September 8.
  34. ^ "Canadian International Auto Show - Automotive Design Competition and Design Forum". Car Design News. 2003. Archived from the original on 2015-02-27.
  35. ^ "Best Design School". Bloomberg News. June 2003.
  36. ^ "2005 Canadian International AutoShow". Autodesk, 2005.
  37. ^ "Fourth annual World Automotive Design Competition winners announced". Car Design News. 2005. Archived from the original on 2015-02-27.
  38. ^ "2000 IAMA" (PDF). International Automotive Media Awards.
  39. ^ Jean Jennings (February 2006). "Vile Gossip". Automobile Magazine. p. 13. Robert Cumberford has been with Automobile Magazine since Volume 1, Issue 1, in April 1986. He is highly opinionated, as every working car designer in the world today knows, sometimes painfully, from reading his design analyses each month. They have become so wildly popular that, as of this issue, "By Design" has expanded to two full pages and is now showcased in the front of the magazine in the Ignition section (beginning on page 16). No one-trick pony, our man Cumberford also happens to write beautiful prose on whatever suits his fancy, which happens to include a great many subjects. His gold was bestowed upon a magical bit of writing about the goofy 1935 Stout Scarab ("A Different Kind of Beetle," March 2005).
  40. ^ "2007 IAMA" (PDF). International Automotive Media Awards.
  41. ^ "2010 IAMA" (PDF). International Automotive Media Awards.
  42. ^ "2013 IAMA" (PDF). International Automotive Media Awards.
  43. ^ "Magazine Memories: The Big Buff Book Cover-Up, Part 2". The Truth About Cars, Ronnie Schreiber, July 7, 2010. 2010-07-07.
  44. ^ "Cumberford Martinique Is A Mongrel We Can Love". Jalopnik and Connecticut Post, Ben Wojdyla, 6/6/2008. Then, in 1982, former GM engineer Robert Cumberford, backed with money from a computer company, built the Cumberford Martinique, a flamboyant pontoon-fendered roadster that recalled a French Delehaye from the 1930s. It was powered by a BMW straight six, mated to an automatic transmission. At least one prototype was built in Stamford. Cumberford had high hopes that 300 of his Martiniques could be built per year, but the project never got beyond the prototype stage. He went on to become a columnist for Automobile magazine.
  45. ^ "Cumberford Martinique". Archived from the original on 2013-04-29. I've never bought a new car that gave as little trouble as Martinique 002, the engineering development car.
  46. ^ "Classic Cars For Sale - Hemmings Motor News".
This page was last edited on 19 December 2019, at 15:36
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