DETROIT – What do the men and women who design cars drive? A recent Saturday morning at Pasteiner's Auto Zone Hobbies provided some answers.
Pasteiner's is a meeting place for car lovers of all types, but automotive designers have a strong affinity for the smallish store and its parking lot. That's true in large part because the owner, Steve Pasteiner Sr., spent his career creating Buicks and Chevrolets, achieving assistant chief designer status. After calling it quits, he opened the store, offering an abundance of automotive books, magazines, models and car-folk camaraderie.
"It was almost a selfish thing," said Pasteiner, 79. "I needed a place to go after retirement."
So did his fellow automotive stylists — the people who doodled cars while the teacher thought they were busy completing lessons and grew up to design cars in the studios of Detroit's Big Three and for other carmakers worldwide. Every Saturday morning, many of them drive their favorite rides in for the weekly "Parking at Pasteiner's" event, where they display their machines, renew acquaintances and pay homage to Pasteiner.
While Pasteiner had a very productive career at General Motors, he upped the ante after leaving, creating beautiful automobiles at his own design and prototyping business, Advanced Automotive Technologies — not merely sketching the machines but rendering them in fiberglass and metal.
Among his favorites is a station wagon-like version of the 1953 Corvette that was inspired by GM's Corvette Nomad concept car. He built 14 copies, sold 13 and kept one. He also constructed a "Road Warrior" cruiser, on a Jeep chassis and dropped in a hemi engine.
But his most admired creation may be the Helldorado, a hand-built, one-off Cadillac sports car. Constructed on a steel-tube space frame, the gull-wing coupe is powered by a midmounted Cadillac V8. The styling is extreme and delightful, with rally-inspired center-mounted headlights and flanks that form an aerodynamic wing.
"My Helldorado is the car you dream about as a kid," Pasteiner said. "I've been fortunate enough to have made good on that dream."
Kip Wasenko, a Pasteiner's regular, is a retired designer who spent 40 years with GM. As design director for Cadillac, he created the first of the brand's heralded "art and science" automobiles and styled the Cadillac that raced at Le Mans.
Wasenko is inspired by the automobiles of Italy.
"Art is such an important part of Italian culture," he said. "Going all the way back to the 1930s, Italian design has consistently been more advanced, more beautiful."
His love of Italian design plays heavily in his pride and joy, a 1970 Ferrari Type L Dino 246.
While many of the Pasteiner's regulars are retirees, Darby Jean, 28, designs cars for Chevrolet's Performance Division. She commutes to work in a 2015 Silverado pickup. But on weekends she drives a '99 Mazda Miata race car in the StreetMod class of the Gridlife Track Battle series.
"Racing influences what I draw," she said. "I know what works well on the track; that influences the ideas I put on paper."
Chris Young is one of a growing number of Black Americans working in automotive design. A car guy from the time he fell in love with Matchbox models at age 10, Young owns a dozen cars. Among his favorites are a Porsche 928, a Jaguar XJ6L Series II and a pair of Lotus creations: a '64 Elan Series 2 26R and its progeny, a 2005 Elise.
"Most of my cars hark back to a time when cars reflected the big personality of the designer, rather than the work of a committee," Young said. "All my vehicles remind me that cars should be special."
Jon Albert designed cars for 32 years and taught design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. He developed a fondness for British sports cars at an early age when he was given an MG TF toy car.
"I've always had a thing for well-designed cars that are classic anachronisms, a breed of vehicle whose design is so sound that it transcends time," Albert said.
Carolyn Peters worked as an interior designer at GM in the 1980s. She owns a '69 Corvette Stingray, equipped with a modified and extremely potent version of Chevrolet's 427-cubic-inch engine, and a black '69 Dodge Super Bee. The Super Bee is a pavement-shredding beast thanks to a 440-cubic-inch engine that produces 512 horsepower.
Her husband, Tom Peters, has a similar automotive patriotism. A former director of design for the GM Performance Car Studio, he was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2019.
"American cars from the '60s give you a feeling that you can get away with anything," Carolyn Peters said. "I try to bring that feeling of excitement and energy to my design work."