Chasing Perfect: Interview with Car Expert Frank Stephenson

Chasing Perfect
“Chasing Perfect” is a new documentary about car expert Frank Stephenson. The movie chronicles his career creating iconic car designs.

“Chasing Perfect” is a new documentary about car expert Frank Stephenson. The movie chronicles his career creating iconic car designs. For the past thirty-three years, Frank Stephenson has incorporated his meticulous and spectacularly creative process across a spectrum of motor vehicle companies. Frank led design teams at Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, MINI and McLaren. He is responsible for the shape of the MINI, Fiat 500, Ferrari FXX, McLaren P1 and more.

In “Chasing Perfect,” Frank reveals the sources of his inspiration and creative process behind each, giving viewers a unique insight into his unrelenting chase for aesthetic perfection, and his unique vertical move into electric aircraft design with Lilium Aviation.

The film is now available on all major VOD platforms, courtesy of 1091 Media. Frank recently granted an exclusive interview where he discussed the film and more.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you decide to enter the design field and why did the automotive industry hold such appeal to you?

Frank Stephenson (FS): The truth is that I don’t think there ever was a moment when I decided to enter the design field. It’s always felt like something I was born to do. I guess it could be compared to having a kind of sixth sense or an ability to do something rather easily that others might find difficult. And if I wouldn’t have been “allowed” to do it, I´d never feel complete. When you make yourself open for things, the universe has a way of creating opportunities. Then it’s your decision to take action or not. I really believe we make our own luck. The automotive field appealed to me for a variety of reasons. First, I grew up in a car loving family and relatives, so I was immersed in the car culture from a very early age. Second, I love science, art and engineering – cars combine all three of those subjects. Third, automotive design is futuristic, it’s all about creating aesthetically appealing and innovative solutions, and bringing these to the masses. That feels good.

MM: What typically inspires you?

FS: My biggest inspirations come from nature and biology. The reason for these is because they provide us with the most intelligent and successful design solutions available. Beautiful function and beautiful form blend together when nature needs to develop a “winner”. The results are never trendy nor subjective. Simply put, nature inspired design “wins”.

MM: How did you get to work with some of the biggest car companies in the world?

FS: Well, the road to the top is never smooth. The biggest companies have the advantage of being able to cherry-pick their employees. They typically will seek out candidates for positions of responsibility based on a proven track record. On the other hand, an ambitious employee has to also be looking and open for better career opportunities. This has been my template for the path I’ve taken, although instead of bigger companies, I would call them impactful companies. A positive can-do attitude with positive results will always get you far.

MM: Of all your car designs, which is your favorite?

FS: My own favourite design has to be the quite limited Maserati MC12. It encapsulates my love of road-going race cars. I had the awesome opportunity to design an ultimate endurance racing machine and its homologated road version, while working with an incredible team of race and road engineers to develop both.

MM: What’s your all-time favorite car overall?

FS: Without a doubt my all-time favourite is the Jaguar E-Type, Series 1, FHC. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous work of art, sculpted to be aerodynamically efficient. In my opinion it’s one of mankind’s best industrial and timelessly iconic designs

MM: How did the idea for a documentary about your life and work present itself to you and what was your reaction?

FS: I was approached by Lionsgate UK about the potential film doc project a couple years ago and my reaction was obviously one of surprise and delight. I think that any person who receives such an acknowledgement of their work and their passion for it, as well as having the chance to pass on the lessons of their life experiences and mindset in an educational way, must feel very flattered.

MM: What was the filming process like and what’s your favorite part of the movie and why?

FS: The filming process was mystifying for me to say the least. Most of us have no idea what goes on “behind the scenes” to make a film that will appeal to a wide segment of viewers. It’s easy to behave and speak in a corporate way that addresses a very niche and industry focused audience, that’s what most of us to every working day of our lives. But to loosen up, dress down, relax and behave as if there’s nobody watching…that’s tough! With no pre-determined lines or script, everything you say has to come from the heart and you need to shoot from the hip as they say. But it’s given me the understanding that there is no better way to present yourself to others than to just be yourself. I worked with a fantastic team of professionals who made every part of the filming seem like a piece of cake, so much so that it caused me to worry that we would be turning out a film with no real message. But when I was able to see the final version, I have to say I was indeed blown away. I´d watch it again! My favourite part was sitting on the bridge of my alma mater, Art Center College of Design, with one of my professors from 30 years ago, Stewart Reed, reminiscing together about what it takes to “make it” and realising the long road it’s taken to get where I am today, a road paved with all kinds of obstacles and the struggles to always keep a positive mental approach no matter how difficult it all gets.

MM: What are some of the newer design projects you are getting into?

FS: My new design projects all revolve around 4 central pillars, they lead to improvements in our world through the use of innovation, biomimicry, technology and environment. To this end, I’m currently working on the safest ever infant car seat, new directions in timepieces and eyewear, as well as smart architecture, smart home design, and smart products. I’m also currently designing what can be the next step in mobility, the flying taxi. It’s called an eVTOL jet, electric vertical take-off and landing jet. These will take us from here to there quickly, quietly, comfortably and efficiently. Eventually they´ll become autonomous flying machines and the preferred way of travel for our future generations.

MM: What are your ultimate career goals?

FS: just what I love to do. Perhaps the best answer to that would be that I aim to leave behind an approach to design that never accepts the status quo, that there´s ALWAYS a better way.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

FS: Sure, and this one goes for all the budding creatives out there. Find your passion and make it your day to day life. Then find a way to balance all that energy for your passion with something else that you love because achieving an equilibrium is so important in life. Remember that success in anything is directly related to how much you want it and how much effort you’re willing to give it. There will always be someone better at doing something than you, learn what you can from them and always set your goals high, very high. Your mind will give up before your body so don’t ever give up on your goals. Always stay focused!