Inside My Design Mind: Boris Jacob, Chief Designer for Opel GT Concept

by Jeff Link
- May 25 2016 - 5 min read
Boris Jacob during the design process of the GT Concept. Courtesy Opel.

Take a ’60s-era mini-Corvette, give it the dark mystique of a superhero’s roadster, remaster the body to make it as lithe and seamless as a seal’s, and voilà! It’s the Opel GT Concept.

The German automaker, responsible for General Motors’ operations in Europe, unveiled its seductive sports coupe at the Geneva International Motor Show to gushing reviews and a coveted spot on Motor Trend’s Best Car list.

The car riffs on Opel’s Experimental GT, which was introduced in Europe in 1965 and was the first concept car of its time to go into production. But while the tightly sculpted three-cylinder GT Concept finds inspiration in its predecessor, it is anything but retro, says Boris Jacob, chief designer of Advanced Concepts at Opel/Vauxhall. (Vauxhall is Opel’s British sister brand.)

Will the car ever see the road? Company officials haven’t decided. But Jacob, chief designer in the design department led by Vice President Mark Adams, was happy to share his thoughts on the GT Concept’s design and its place in Opel’s history.

opel gt concept car front
GT Concept car. Courtesy Opel.

How do you redesign such an iconic car without losing its luster?
The common design theme you can find in both the new GT Concept and Experimental GT is an exciting but very pure, sculptured design. Opel wants to innovate, not repeat itself. The GT Concept is absolutely not retro. What we cultivate is the excitement our designers felt in the early ’60s when they were pioneering modern car design in Europe. Today, we feel the same appetite for exploring and innovating as they did then.

Even if you find one or two cues that recall the original GT, like the steering wheel or central dual exhaust, the GT Concept is very avant-garde—like the Experimental GT was in 1965. It has been designed as an uncompromising sculpture on wheels, keeping a distinct graphic identity while at the same time removing any clear distinction between glass and metal sheets.

Thanks to Autodesk Alias, as well as all the latest tools in virtual design and the latest generation computerized milling machines, we enjoy a rich diversity of ideas that speed up the creative process and help us pursue the 21st-century notion of modern car design.

opel gt concept car sculpture
Design process sculpture of the GT Concept car. Courtesy Opel.

The GT Concept keeps the curvy profile of the original, but it definitely points to the future. You swapped side mirrors for cameras in the front wheel arches and used transition glass between the doors and windows. What inspired these choices?
When you look at most of the concept cars of recent years, they tend to be overdecorated with many add-ons—a lot of chrome, for instance. We are going the opposite way and looking for purity. The GT Concept renounces everything that disturbs the form. Door handles and rearview support are completely integrated in the shape of the car. And there is only one cut line: for the doors.

Plus, the GT Concept is very compact and, thus, optimized for urban areas. Its dimensions, its design execution, and its innovative materials and technologies are inspired by megatrends such as urbanization, individualization, and technological enhancements. All of this is calling for new solutions and approaches. Driven by the digitalization of all areas of life, mobility is currently undergoing a fundamental change.

Can you tell me about your design philosophy and the design process at Opel?
The Opel GT Concept was designed in Rüsselsheim under the direction of Mark Adams. Mark has defined Opel’s design philosophy as “sculptural artistry meets German precision,” and he ensures there is continuity in the further developments of this philosophy. Our design philosophy is not merely about functionality, though, but bringing out the emotional aspect of our cars.

opel gt concept car side view
GT Concept car. Courtesy Opel.

A lot of competitors back then had their own design language. But they never lasted. We want to create consistency. A design philosophy is something sustainable and enduring. It can be valid for 100 years. That’s what we want to get across.

So we took specific models from Opel’s history and asked ourselves, “Could the Opel GT from the ’60s be described as ‘sculptural artistry meets German precision’?” The answer was yes, it could. So we pursued it. The Insignia was our first modern-day production car that carried these values. But it is also easy to imagine how cars could continue to follow this philosophy in 2060 and still be contemporary.

The German magazine Auto Bild reported rumors that the GT Concept is a prelude to a production-bound coupe that will replace the Astra GTC. Is there any truth to that? Will the GT be seeing the road anytime soon?
We’re obviously extremely excited by the overwhelming reaction we have received so far. But we have not decided if we’re going to build a production version of it yet. But what I can reveal: Regardless of whether we build a production version or not, our future models will be influenced by this stunning car.

opel gt concept car interior
GT Concept car. Courtesy Opel.

In general, concept cars can be compared to haute couture—they are both about showing a vision. They give you more freedom to create, more freedom to explore; the more you explore, the more you discover. Many of those discoveries can be integrated in future production models.

Look at the Monza Concept from 2013. We are not building it, but it was the guiding light for the development of our new Astra and will continue to influence future Opel models. There will be no Monza lookalike, but each new Opel has some of the DNA that was created for the Monza: a lightweight, efficient design with next-generation, connected infotainment systems. The Monza has shown the way; the Astra already delivers. It is very important to understand this aspirational function of our concept cars—demonstrating yet-to-be realized possibilities.

How do you think advances in new materials or new manufacturing techniques within the automotive industry will impact the future of automotive design?
Be it robotics, 3D printing, new fabrics, or manufacturing techniques, all of those things will give us new opportunities. Think of 3D printing: Some components in the interior of the GT Concept, for instance, are 3D printed. The more enhanced and economic these kind of solutions become, the better we can offer customized solutions.

Redshift’s “Inside My Design Mind” series explores the personal insights from leading designers across industries.

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