Designers share secrets about Aussie cars

Riley Riley

Shannons Design to Driveway series is an unprecedented look behind the scenes of Australian car design, told by the men and women who shaped and styled some of the most iconic and loved cars ever built.

Shrouded in mystery and under high security, the ‘Design Studio’ was always locked to everyone bar the design teams and most senior car-company executives.

The heroes of Australian motoring have always been the cars themselves or the race drivers who steered them to victory.

This original series from Shannons celebrates the men and women who have designed our local cars for nearly a century.

It is the one piece of our motoring history, that has remained largely untold.

For the first time, seven of Australia’s most influential car designers over the past seven decades come together to take motor enthusiasts on an exclusive walk into the archives of Australian car design.

There’s Leo Pruneau (Holden Chief Designer), David Ford (Ford Australia Product Planner), Dennis Nicolle (Chrysler Australia/Mitsubishi Australia Designer), Phil Zmood (Holden Chief Designer), David Hardy (Leyland Australia Designer), Graham Wadsworth (Ford Australia Designer) and finally Richard Ferlazzo (Holden Chief Designer).

Each of the featured designers, reveal exclusive images, designs and the original clay models from the ‘big four’ Australian car companies.

Each episode is hosted by motoring journalist and artist Warren Brown who retraces the careers of each designer, while motor historian David Burrell provides viewers with context during each episode.

“As a motoring enthusiast, I’ve always loved the legend of the Australian muscle car,” Burrell said.

“This series has something to surprise every motor enthusiast.”

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In Episode 1 we meet Holden’s Leo Pruneau, now 92.

When we ask Leo a question, you know you are going to get an answer.

His travels took him as a young man from Missouri in the United States to Melbourne, via London.

From selling Studebakers as a young man in the family business, then as a young graduate from the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles, to designing the 1965 Chevrolet Impala Coupe – Leo was destined to have an impact on the car world.

He designed the US Solaris, a design which would ultimately become the Holden HD and a style that influenced every GM model globally at the time.

When Leo arrived in Australia, fortunately he liked what he saw and when he got behind the design desk, something special was always going to happen.

Only Leo could create a luxury Holden Statesman Caprice inspired by Rolls Royce and Aston Martin, one with a hand-made front grille.

When Holden discovered they had 600 plus HX coupe panels left over, they wanted a quick and cheerful special package to get rid of them.

Instead, Leo raided the spare parts bin and some of the wheels and accessories from the GM world and produced the now highly collectible LE Monaro coupe.

Leo was never a guy who did things by halves.

When Holden decided to adopt the smaller Opel Rekord-based VB Commodore, it was Leo who styled the early Australian VB, VC, VH and VK Commodores – including the HDT Brock Commodore.

In his typical fashion, Leo speaks out on Peter Brock in this episode.

“With the VB HDT Commodore, everyone thinks Brocky did them,” he said.

“Peter never even saw the car until the covers came off.”

Watch as Leo reveals how after an afternoon visit from Holden race team boss Harry Firth, he created the legendary A9X styling with a bonnet-scoop design that he borrowed from Corvette.

Together with the A9X flared wheel guards, Holden led what was to become a huge explosion in modified customer vehicles — the launch pad for HDT and HSV customised vehicles.

Although Leo Pruneau retired from Holden in 1988, he said: “I could not get the gasoline out of my blood.”

And nothing has changed to this day.

You can watch Episode 1 which is now live. Here.

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LE Monaro coupe.
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HDT Brock Commodore
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Warren Brown sketches car.


CHECKOUT: Burrell books go in a flash

CHECKOUT: Leo drives the car he designed (and it’s a Camira)

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