Get to know the Car Design News team. This week, it is our US correspondent, Karl Smith, who shares his early introduction to cars and what it’s like as a car design writer

Architect, artist and keen car design enthusaist, Karl Smith has been a staple of the CDN contributing team for over a decade. Get to know the man behind the byline in this week’s edition of ‘meet the writer.’ 

Karl Smith headshot

Karl Smith is based in California

How long have you been writing for CDN?

I have been writing for Car Design News for ten and a half years, since the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show.

How did you get into this field? Did you do anything before getting into car design?

I have been writing about design for over three decades – mostly architecture – but was interested in car design. The editor at CDN at the time, Owen Ready, put out a call for a reporter to cover the LA Show. I answered and, happily, I am still here.

My other job, a practicing architect, keeps me very busy as well. Both architecture and automotive design are my lifelong passions. Many see them as totally different design fields, but there is more in common between them than one might think.

When did you get an interest in cars?

Even as a small boy I remember being fascinated with cars and buildings and motorways.

These would become my life’s work, in a way. If I wasn’t designing them, I would tell their stories.

What was your first car / what car did you idolise as a kid?

Like many boys my age, I was fascinated with Corvettes and Mustangs. But other cars – mostly oddities on American roads – like the AMC Pacer, the Opel Manta, sold at Buick (!) dealerships here, the Mercury Capri and the odd Peugeot and Citroen, piqued my curiosity.


1981 Opel Manta

I also discovered the work of Syd Mead at this time. His designs for cars, cities, high speed freeways and space habitats fascinated me. A heroic future that I’m still waiting for, and, in my on small way, working towards. 

My own first car was something more sedate: A Ford Escort. That car taught me a lot about packaging and “good enough” design, bringing just enough premium features to an affordable economy car. I clocked 250,000 km on the car before the engine blew.

What does a typical day/week look like as a car design journalist?

My experience will be different than most journalists. Because Los Angeles is eight hours behind London time, I’ve gotten creative with juggling work and time zones. First thing in the morning, I check my emails for messages from James or Freddie – it is mid-afternoon in London when I awaken.

I then write and research, and schedule Zoom interviews. I often write at night, and submit stories just before I go to bed, which is early morning London time. In between early morning and night, it is architecture time.

What is your ultimate car design icon?

It’s difficult to select one favorite out of so many I love, but I would say that the Studebaker Avanti would be my American favourite – beautiful mid-century modern without all the tailfins and excessive chrome. Close behind are the Renault Avantime for its wonderful weirdness and packaging innovation, and the Lamborghini Countach for its brute-force power and performance and in-your-face wedginess.


Design icon: Lamborghini Countach