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Putting a Fresh Face on a Ferrari

Slide Show >>

When David Imai imagined the Ferrari of the future, he thought of bobsleds and jet-fighter cabins. But he was also inspired by the classic Ferraris of the 1960s that seemed to crouch low and hug the road. These sources provided the inspiration for Fiorano, the Ferrari concept designed by the 26-year-old Imai and two fellow classmates from the masters program at England's Coventry University.

Last month, this project earned a top award in Ferrari's student competition, New Concepts of the Myth, winning the team an internship with the famed auto maker's design department. "It's sort of overwhelming," says Imai, one of 49 students from 13 countries who participated. Working in groups of up to three, each team created a one-quarter-scale model of its vision, reworking the classic 8- or 12-cylinder cars.

Everything from fanciful wraparound windshields to bubble-shaped roofs could be seen in Ferrari's showroom in Maranello, Italy, where the entries went on display this fall. The only thing the cars had in common was the distinctive black-on-yellow logo and a certain Ferrari essence. "They all respected the theme of Ferrari," says Donato Coco, Ferrari's new chief designer. "It was great to see the enthusiasm of young people for the brand."

FRESH IDEAS. The Fiorano team was one of four to walk away with an award. According to the judges, the winning designs were those that most successfully expressed a new idea yet retained the brand's traditional personality. They also cited the Fiorano for its balance and proportion, two elements Ferrari emphasizes in its cars.

"New Concepts of the Myth" was conceived in conjunction with Pininfarina, the renowned Italian design house that has been creating Ferraris since the 1950s. In 2003 the Ferrari leadership came up with the idea of a student contest to stay ahead of the innovation curve. Not only could the company gain inspiration for the Ferrari of the future but it could also generate buzz about the car's image.

"We wanted to let the world know that Ferrari and Pininfarina are modern companies always looking for new, fresh ideas," says Ken Okuyama, chief designer at Pininfarina. The jury included not only Okuyama and Coco, but Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, Piero Ferrari, and Sergio Pininfarina -- the same group that picks real Ferrari designs for production.

CAPPING IT OFF. The contest began last January when Ferrari invited four prestigious art schools from Britain, the U.S., Italy, and Japan to submit entries. American aluminium-maker Alcoa jumped on board with funding to create the physical replicas (and it awarded a prize of its own, for excellence in designing for aluminum). The jury members even traveled to see the models in mid-production and offer advice on key Ferrari concepts such as proportion and subtle detailing.

Imai recalls then Ferrari design chief Frank Stephenson's visit to Coventry University. The students were struggling to create accurate rear taillamps and took a cue from Stephenson (now design chief for Fiat), who once used beer cans to represent the exhaust on a model car. The result: taillights made of Coke bottle caps.

The judges chose the winners on the basis of vision, functionality, use of modern technology, and, most important, "Ferrari-ness." Two of the other winning cars came from the Turin Institute of European Design and one from the Tokyo Communication Arts School. The prize is a three-month internship for all team members at either Ferrari or Pininfarina.

EXCLUSIVITY COUNTS. But bragging rights also went to a second team from Coventry University, whose "Ferrari F Zero" was voted most popular on the Internet. Ferrari posted pictures of all the models and generated more than 22,000 visitors to the contest's Web site over the course of several weeks.

Though Ferrari and Pininfarina have termed the competition a success, they have no plans to repeat the event any time soon. "We need to maintain our exclusivity," says Coco. "After all, even the World Cup can't happen every year."

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