Hellbent on Designing Cars in Motor City - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Giuseppe Filippone, car designer
Detroit

I got up in the morning, played with my kids. Went downstairs and came up with some retro art ideas — the nostalgia for that sort of thing is still pretty good. While my paint was drying, I worked on some designs for rims. I’m trying to get back into the business as an original equipment manufacturer and designer. Reach out to people: a lot of asking, and not getting. It’s been slow.

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While a student at Art Center College of Design, Giuseppe created a project that was chosen for the New York Auto Show. The project was a taxicab — an homage to his Italian-immigrant father, who drove a cab in New York.

Source Diana Mulvihill for OZY

I first caught the bug in Brooklyn. My parents are Italian immigrants, my mother from Naples and my dad, Calabria. My parents, sister and I were in a two-room apartment. There wasn’t much to do for a kid like me, aside from playing handball, wrecking shit and tagging buildings. But there were cars all around me. My dad had a ’59 Cadillac, ’66 Grand Prix and an Alfa Romeo. They were all mythological cars to me and my friends. 

And then there was his taxicab. To me, that was an epic car. 

By the time I was a teenager, I was hellbent on becoming a car designer. In my fourth year in college, the final project theme happened to be the New York City taxicab, honoring its 100th anniversary. The best proposals would make it to the New York auto show. So I just gave it my all, and my instructors picked it.

My project was called the Connection Cab: It was about the city being a place of connection between immigrants and other people. And this New York Times guy, he wrote an article about the irony of my project being in proximity to a piece that was supposed to be a driverless taxicab. This guy was really seeing it as two sides of a coin: technology versus, not tradition, but human interaction. 

So after college, I went straight back home with my tail between my legs. I was plagued with self-doubt in a way. It’s difficult to talk about. 

I settled on selling cars, which was a poetic twist of fate and injustice in my mind: I’m selling the things I wanted to design. Just about the time I embraced this fact, I ran into this guy who buys a Mercedes. He asked for my résumé, said he was impressed and wanted to help me out. This happens all the time, so I didn’t think he was serious. But the guy knew Sir Jackie Stewart, the former Formula One driver. And four months later, I got a call from a recruiter at Ford: Well, we came across your portfolio. It has some rust on it, but we would like to give you a shot. Are you willing to come and do six months with us in Dearborn?

Thinking that I would never see the inside of a studio again, I could have been a fly on the wall there and been just as happy as a clam. After Ford, I went to Chrysler in Auburn Hills, also in the area. Coming to Detroit, it was the mecca. I decided to buy a house, and my wife and kids are here now. 

Detroit today is kind of what the Bronx looked like in 1973. Growing up, I always wished I was in the mid-’70s in New York. A lot of my dad’s friends were wiser than him, bought a few family homes. That was a time when things were rough and you had to have a pair of balls to set up shop in a place where people were like, You’re going to get killed. And now I’m getting to do what my dad should have done. The Midwest lets you make that jump. 

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