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Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer

 
Old 01-12-2015, 06:35 AM
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Cool Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer


Michelle Christensen wanted to get into the automotive design program at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. So admissions officers asked her for a portfolio of car sketches.

She had none.

Christensen had designed prom dresses in high school. She didn't even know car design was a career until her 2nd year of community college in Cupertino, Calif.

------------
FOR THE RECORD:
Acura designer: An article in the Jan. 11 Business section about automobile designer Michelle Christensen misspelled the last name of architect Zaha Hadid as Haddad. —
------------

Apparently she's a quick study. Now 34, Christensen has designed the new Acura NSX, a Ferrari-fighting supercar making its world debut Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"The design had to enhance the function of the car," says Michelle Christensen, who designed Acura's 2nd-generation NSX. "It forced me to grow as a designer." Above, a mock-up of the revamped supercar. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

"It looks fast even when it is parked," said Acura General Manager Mike Accavitti. "It is the ultimate expression of the Acura brand."

Cars weren't completely foreign to Christensen when she started a night school class in car design in 2002. As a teen, she hung out with her father in the garage of their San Jose home, watching him tinker with hot rods and muscle cars and eventually learning how to do the work herself.

"I developed a passion for mechanical things," said Christensen, who now lives in downtown Los Angeles. "I like the noise of an engine and the way cars smell."

This 2nd-generation NSX — Acura sold its predecessor from 1990 to 2005 — will produce an entirely different noise from the roar of a 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle, which has been Christensen's dream car for decades.
lRelated Top autos of 2014 stood out for their superb execution

The new NSX will be an all-wheel-drive hybrid. A twin-turbocharged, mid-mounted V-6 engine sits behind the 2-seat cockpit and powers the rear wheels. 2 electric motors, one mounted near each of the front wheels, add additional power and control. A 3rd electric motor is integrated with the engine to supply extra power.

The car is expected to produce 500 horsepower, though Acura hasn't given official figures. The price won't be announced until it goes on sale next year, but is likely to fall in the $120,000 to $180,000 range. It will serve as the "halo" vehicle for the upscale Honda division, Accavitti said, meant to imbue the entire brand with a performance image.

Christensen understands that great design takes more than a great image, said Tisha Johnson, a car designer at Volvo Car Group in Sweden who once taught at Art Center. Designers have to craft a compelling story to sell the design language to those with the power to greenlight ambitious projects, she said.

Although she may have started with no portfolio, Christensen's early car drawings earned her an internship at Volvo's Camarillo studio, Johnson said.

John Krsteski, an Art Center instructor and manager of Hyundai Design North America in Irvine, also saw Christensen's skills develop. He understands why Acura hired her in 2005, then gave Christensen the task of styling its sexiest, most sophisticated car 3 years ago.

He recalled a performance car concept for Chrysler that Christensen created as an Art Center project.

"She nailed it," Krsteski said. "Michelle showed a solid design sense of proportion and profile in the overall stance of the car."


Krsteski would have liked to hire Christensen for Hyundai, but by then she already had a good relationship with Honda.

Honda recruited Christensen during her last year at Art Center. She also had interest from Chrysler, but that would have required a move to Detroit, not ideal for a California native.

There was another powerful reason to stay in California. Within days of entering the Art Center's car design program, Christensen met fellow student Jason Wilbur, now her husband. They started work at Honda on the same day. He heads Honda's Advanced Design Studio, not far from the couple's downtown apartment.

She is the first female exterior designer at Acura but doesn't believe that gender makes much difference in car design. "Even the guys here will talk about shoes," she said.

Christensen also was given the Women on Top Award by Marie Claire Magazine as an up-and-coming female professional.

Christensen says her life pretty much follows a set pattern. Workout at the CrossFit gym, work and sleep. On the weekends, she participates in CrossFit competitions, plays golf and hikes.

Before the NSX, Christensen worked on Acura's ZDX, a low-slung crossover the automaker scuttled last year. She also contributed to a refresh of the Acura RLX sedan.

The NSX was the 1st project she headed, and it proved an entirely different challenge.

Christensen had to make a pretty car, but also ensure that the exterior enhanced the NSX's performance. Every curve had to serve a purpose, such as producing aerodynamic down force to push the car toward the pavement to improve traction and cornering. The vehicle needed large but graceful vents to feed the twin-turbo engine and cool the brakes.

"The design had to enhance the function of the car," Christensen. "It forced me to grow as a designer."

The result had what Christensen terms "emotional surfaces" that demand attention and imply movement. At the same time, she wanted an aggressive stance.

"That comes from my background as an American woman who grew up with hot rods," Christensen said.

There were practical considerations, too, such as leaving enough space in the trunk to fit 2 carry-on bags or 1 set of golf clubs.

"As a designer, I used to fight that," she said. "Now that I play golf, I understand."

Christensen also took some cues from the previous NSX, including a black roof and tail lights that span the entire width of the rear deck.

Finding other automotive inspiration elsewhere was easy, said Christensen, who commutes to Acura's design center in Torrance in a Honda Pilot.

"Since we are in L.A., we have supercars crawling everywhere," she said, including Ferraris, Bentleys and even an occasional Lamborghini in her building's parking garage.

Elsewhere, Christensen draws inspiration from a touch of fashion design — the shoe business — and architecture.

She's an admirer of Zaha Haddad, the Iraqi-British architect whose buildings employ honeycomb structures, curves and flowing lines to exude movement. Haddad's design for the King Abdullah Financial District Metro Station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, resembles a cruise ship gliding over the sea.

Cars, it turns out, are not so unlike buildings.

"You have a skeleton," Christensen said, "that you have to wrap up with a beautiful form."

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Old 01-12-2015, 01:19 PM
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She did good on my ZDX, she did FANTASTIC on the NSX.
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Old 01-12-2015, 01:52 PM
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"...even the guys here will talk about shoes". ooookay...
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Old 01-12-2015, 04:54 PM
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She gives me high hopes to join the brand some day. She misspelled a last name and started out without a portfolio. I'd love to meet her and design a new Acura together.
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Old 01-12-2015, 05:47 PM
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Now that surprised me! I thought she had left after the ZDX but guess it wasn't super long. I am curious about the part where they state that she was part of the RLX refresh...Is that a hint that a refresh is about to come out? Or did they mean she had a a hand in the RLX design? Hummmm

Regardless, she nailed this one and I will add that she is quite easy on the eyes as well
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Old 01-12-2015, 10:48 PM
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Originally Posted by weather View Post
Now that surprised me! I thought she had left after the ZDX but guess it wasn't super long. I am curious about the part where they state that she was part of the RLX refresh...Is that a hint that a refresh is about to come out? Or did they mean she had a a hand in the RLX design? Hummmm

Regardless, she nailed this one and I will add that she is quite easy on the eyes as well

+1


You know, I was on the bandwagon of ZDX haters when it was in production (I cheered when it was axed). Over the years my tastes have changed, and the ZDX grew on me a lot - I appreciate for what it was, and I'm actually bummed that it's no longer in production.


So, because of that, I retract whatever negative opinions I had on Christensen's design. I didn't realize she worked on the new NSX (I thought she moved to GM?)


Is it perfect? Not quite - I don't like the 4-in-1 exhaust tips. I'd prefer the single big one (but on a positive note, HEY LOOK, NO HIDDEN EXHAUSTS!) I don't like the Jewel-Eye cluster + LED DRL...I think the Jewel-Eye looks cleaner as a stand-alone cluster (like in the concept photos). I think the side intakes could be larger, more aggressive.


With all that said, you know what, I think she did a fine job on the final version. She integrated the beak, but kept it to a minimum (come on, that's no small feat!). I love the front and side profile stance. And the rear? I like it (apart from the exhaust mentioned above).
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Old 01-13-2015, 05:18 AM
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Her jacket in the picture hints (perhaps) the new NSX will also come in Imola Orange. Hope so! That was the most spectacular color of the first NSX, even tho she didn't have anything to do with that.

(she loves all kinds of shades of orange, she came up with the orange shade for the civic a while back... that didn't go well - lol)

PS. Timmy... would love to meet her too one day, not sure about designing an Acura together tho... since there are so many other things we could be doing

PS2. originality is what people get high marks for and here I see old ideas of other super cars copy/paste inside/out. There are hints of Lexus, R8, 458, even Aston Martin. So, good try, but not original.

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Old 01-13-2015, 07:30 AM
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A little nervous that Christensen has a hand in the MMC of the RLX for North America.

I haven't quite forgot her ZDX just yet.

:-)
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Old 01-13-2015, 08:46 AM
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The ZDX is a copy of the BMW X6 adapted to the 4th generation Acura design language (the one that comes with the "beak" lol). The X6 is the most useless BMW ever, according to Jeremy Clarkson, and he is right on that one. It was designed by Pierre Leclercq in 2005.

Apples to apples and oranges to oranges, call them as I see them. Sorry ZDX fanbois, you are driving the poor man's X6.
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Old 01-13-2015, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Tonyware View Post
The ZDX is a copy of the BMW X6 ....
According to her, she drew it spur of the moment on a napkin at a meal with American Honda executives.

For whatever that's worth.

:-)
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Old 01-13-2015, 10:59 AM
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Michelle, if you read this...Good work.
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Old 01-13-2015, 11:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Tonyware View Post

Apples to apples and oranges to oranges, call them as I see them. Sorry ZDX fanbois, you are driving the poor man's X6.
And you are driving an expensive Accord...your point?
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Old 01-13-2015, 11:49 AM
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^ Yes. Sadly I couldn't find a grigio metallic Ferrari with SH-AWD.

OK, OK, I am going back to the "just body" thread to look for some shoe design ideas...

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Old 01-13-2015, 12:26 PM
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^You can get a Ferrari in any color you want..,and there is an AWD Ferrari available. now(FF)...too bad it looks like a delivery truck\BMX Z3 Coupe.
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Old 01-13-2015, 03:17 PM
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so you designed ZDX which was poorly accepted by the consumers complimented with extreme poor sale volume and then you design NSX?

i guess its true about corporate world: either be extremely talented or be a big failure to get promoted

in this case, it could be the latter
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Old 01-13-2015, 05:07 PM
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^ or be the only all American blue eyed blondie in a room full with Japanese businessmen (oh now I am bad!).
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Old 01-15-2015, 03:45 PM
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Not to minimize the effort of that design team, here are the top 10 designers according to jalopnik. Perhaps Michelle etc should take their inspiration from the old timers to realize that new designs MUST keep something from past ones and create a tradition in the process. So far, the new NSX doesn't really keep any design clues from the first generation, even though IMHO it should have (hint: rear spoiler!) .

The Ten Greatest Car Designers Of All Time

(not sure why Gordon Murray, i.e. McLaren F1 etc, isn't in the list)
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Old 01-16-2015, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Tonyware View Post

(not sure why Gordon Murray... isn't in the list)
Somebody's personal preferences, probably.

You know who I think ought to be in there?

Raymond Loewy

The 1953 Studebaker Coupe is one of the best looking American cars of all time, if you ask me.

:-)
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Old 01-16-2015, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by George Knighton View Post
Somebody's personal preferences, probably.

You know who I think ought to be in there?

Raymond Loewy

The 1953 Studebaker Coupe is one of the best looking American cars of all time, if you ask me.

:-)
Really?!?! BLECH!


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Old 01-16-2015, 04:04 PM
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Raymond Loewy, Flaminio Bertoni, Vittorio Jano, Ferdinand A. Porsche and others, plus a million unsung, and maybe obscure for their times, heroes.

Now, can we get the Imola orange into production, please?
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Old 01-16-2015, 07:25 PM
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This new NSX looks like a Dove bar of soap with some creases; looks way too soft

Shouldn't she be in the kitchen?

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Old 01-17-2015, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Drei View Post
This new NSX looks like a Dove bar of soap with some creases; looks way too soft:
It's funny you mention that.

I reminded an engineer just a few weeks ago that a used bar of soap is, after all, basically rather aerodynamic.

:-)

Something truly, completely aerodynamic can be a little ugly. The only thing that springs to mind that's completely shaped by the wind is a raindrop.

Not sure how a car shaped like a raindrop would go over, but it'd be efficient.
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Old 01-17-2015, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Tonyware View Post
Ferdinand A. Porsche
Not sure about that one. I think his designs were based on his ability to stuff people into them and have them covered by metal.

:-)

"It used to be a Beetle...'til somebody stepped on it."
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Old 01-17-2015, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by lumpulus View Post
Really?!?! BLECH!
You barbarian! :-)
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Old 01-17-2015, 09:17 AM
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Here's a few other angles.

It might help, or it might hurt, but here's some more angles.

At a time that designs were stodgy and complicated, Loewy gave us a complete change in direction, a sort of Italian influenced idea of simple beauty.


.
Attached Thumbnails Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer-53_studebaker-commndr-strlnr-dv-14-mm-06.jpg   Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer-53-studebaker_starlnr_cmndr-dv_08-bc_01.jpg   Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer-53-studebaker_starlnr_cmndr-dv_08-bc_a01.jpg   Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer-1953_studebaker_commander_starliner_hardtop_aaca_01.jpg   Michelle Christensen: 2nd Generation Designer-1953_studebaker_commander_starliner_hardtop_aaca_03.jpg  

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Old 01-17-2015, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Drei View Post
...

Shouldn't she be in the kitchen?

I could fit an NSX in my kitchen but on its side. Question is why would I want to do that? Ah! Got it! To power the blender. Well, it all makes sense now. Get me the base model, please!
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Old 01-18-2015, 08:08 AM
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Cool AutoNews


The NSX supercar Acura unveiled at the Detroit auto show this week is drawing attention not only for its design, but also for its designer.

Michelle Christensen, exterior design project leader for the NSX, is the 1st woman to lead a design team working on a supercar. She joined the team for the production car shortly after Acura unveiled its NSX concept at the 2012 Detroit show.

Staying true to that concept was a key mandate for Christensen and her eight-person team. "They wanted an emotional, 3-D kind of feeling," Christensen told Automotive News at Acura's Torrance, Calif., design studio last month. "My priority was to keep that."

But the NSX's unusual powertrain -- a twin-turbocharged V-6 with an all-wheel-drive, 3-motor gas-electric hybrid system -- and a midstream switch to a midmounted engine opened new possibilities for the design team to give the car a more muscular profile, Christensen said.

The midengine layout was "1 of the most fun proportions to work on" as the team adjusted the design to keep the cabin low and within the wheelbase, Christensen said.

"It gave us the opportunity to punch more holes in it and make it more exotic," she said. "From a styling standpoint, we were really excited to take it to the gym and beef it up."

Christensen's earlier projects were hardly the kinds of vehicles immortalized on boys' bedroom walls. Before joining the supercar team, she worked on the now-discontinued ZDX crossover and a refresh of the RLX, Acura's staid large sedan.

The NSX, a long-awaited successor to the Acura halo car that was sold from 1990 to 2005, could change that. Although it has a smaller engine, it's a "badass little car" that will compete with the V-10-powered Audi R8, Ferrari 458 and Porsche 911 Turbo S, Christensen said. Acura said the NSX's sport hybrid powertrain will generate over 550 hp and herald the brand's return to its performance roots.

Christensen, a 34-year-old graduate of the famed Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., said that growing up working on muscle cars with her father in their San Jose, Calif., garage influenced her design ethos.


"The '32 Ford? There's nothing on that that's fluff," she said. For the NSX, "we wanted to take off any extra garnishes" in order to "simplify it and cut weight."

She said her interest in fashion also shaped the NSX's look, comparing the process of designing the car's exterior skin to draping couture over a mannequin. Like fashionable shoes, she said, cars are structures that are designed to appear to be moving, even when standing still.

"Shoes and cars are both these really complex shapes that need to wrap around a human element," she said.

Designing the heir to Acura's halo car was a lofty responsibility, Christensen said. "With a supercar, the potential is so much greater that everything is magnified," she said. "It needed to stand out."

"We really tried to treat it more like a sculpture," she said, with jewel headlights showcasing a "mean, aggressive, front-end personality" and a floating C-pillar. The decklid is a nod to the original NSX's heritage, with graphic taillights spanning the car's width.

In between designs, the team took 40% scale models of the car to Honda's wind tunnel in Raymond, Ohio. The prototypes were adjusted to reduce turbulence and drag and increase downforce. Christensen and her team refined the exterior, creating a bigger signature side intake, as well as vents for the hood and front fender, to direct airflow across the rear.

"The side intake became a really important part of the car's profile," Christensen said. "Visually, we want it to stand up and kick ass."

You can reach Jaclyn Trop at [email protected]

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Old 01-23-2015, 01:54 PM
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Old 01-23-2015, 04:53 PM
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normally its some japanese nerds that design car lol
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Old 01-23-2015, 11:56 PM
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I'd love to meet her and design a new Acura CL if possible i think it would sell very well with a 3.7L awd system
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Old 01-25-2015, 08:31 AM
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Originally Posted by rush View Post
I'd love to meet her and design a new Acura CL if possible i think it would sell very well with a 3.7L awd system
The time's past and people are talking about SH-AWD being outdated compared to what's coming next.

It's all about Sport Hybrid like the NSX and RLX, and solid power turbos like the CTR and CLX.
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Old 01-25-2015, 08:33 AM
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Even the TLX GT is a 3.5, by the way. And the rear differential is a design unique to the GT because they're not developing road cars with the clutch pack LSD any longer, at least none that would handle the high HP you're going to be talking about.

The 4G TL 6-6 SH-AWD was a unique car. I think about it sometimes...that was a very nice car.

I wonder if the 5G TLX V6 is going to be the last conventional SH-AWD car.

0_o

And it's funny being able to talk like that. It's only with Honda, I think, that we can talk about vectoring all wheel drive systems being "conventional" in any way.
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Old 01-29-2015, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by George Knighton View Post
Here's a few other angles.

It might help, or it might hurt, but here's some more angles.

At a time that designs were stodgy and complicated, Loewy gave us a complete change in direction, a sort of Italian influenced idea of simple beauty.


.
I've seen the car in person many times, as I used to go to Antique car events with my Aunt's '53 Packard Clipper. The Studie's roofline height and windshield rake angle seem tacked on, and the sloping front end is all wrong as well, IMHO. I much prefer the '53 Vette and T-Bird designs. I never really liked the Avanti either(My Uncle had one)

Back to the new NSX...They hit a home run with this one, though I also like the Interim front engine design they tried before this one.
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Old 01-29-2015, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by lumpulus View Post
I much prefer the '53 Vette....
Ahh. I see. For the early '50's, those were certainly much more conventional designs, aggressive but normal.

People like Loewy, influenced by Italians, would win a lot of design awards but they didn't necessarily sell a lot of cars or win accolades among enthusiasts.

As many awards as he won, he wasn't able to turn Studebaker into a winning proposition, and his design immediately fell victim to the annual revisionists.

By the time you got to 1955, the very same car that was light and very sporty in 1953 had turned into a chrome-heavy monstrosity.

Agree with the NSX comments. Very good looking.
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Old 01-30-2015, 12:19 PM
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Wonder what Michelle thinks about this Type R render...?

Article link, carscoops: What About This New Acura / Honda NSX Type R Render?




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Old 02-01-2015, 08:30 AM
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The artist has chosen to maximize the grille, and I think that most artists would choose to minimize its visual impact, together with reducing the amount of black subject to road hazard pitting.
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Old 03-22-2015, 05:15 PM
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Had no idea she designed the new NSX.

Here are a few more pictures.

10 pictures and full article

.
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Old 03-31-2015, 06:10 PM
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Originally Posted by corrado85 View Post
so you designed ZDX which was poorly accepted by the consumers complimented with extreme poor sale volume and then you design NSX?

i guess its true about corporate world: either be extremely talented or be a big failure to get promoted

in this case, it could be the latter
That may be true, but for the record her ZDX design was cutting edge and ahead of its time. I think it was the beak and Acura's pricing that killed it.
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Old 04-11-2015, 02:27 PM
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Wow, great read!
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Old 04-24-2015, 06:22 PM
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The few people I have talked to said the car looks better in person. It is just as low as the original NSX and doesn't look that much like an Audi R8. Said the pictures are misleading. My only complaint is the front end. I can't wait to see one in person.


As of right now Acura of Omaha is suppose to get two...of course subject to change.
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