RMIT industrial designers and engineers feature in a major new National Gallery of Victoria exhibition on the history and future of the Australian car.
Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car features 23 of Australia’s most iconic vehicles - including RMIT Electric Racing's 2013 car - alongside ephemera including photographs, models, sketches, illustrations and archival materials.
Sketches by automotive designer and RMIT alumnus Phillip Zmood, who helped conceive some of Australia's most iconic cars, are among the collection on show.
The first Australian Director of Design at GM Holden, Mr Zmood made significant contributions to the HQ sedan, wagon and coupe (Monaro), and was chief designer of the Torana studio (1969-78).
Guest curator Professor Harriet Edquist, Director of the RMIT Design Archives, said Australia had an astonishingly vibrant history of ingenious car designs.
“The exhibition shows the diversity and ingenuity of Australian automobile design in the variety of cars it has brought together,” she said.
“Not only the family car but also racing cars and sports cars, high-performance production cars and concept vehicles never intended for production, demonstrating Australia’s significant past and future role in research and development.”
RMIT had been at the heart of Australia’s automotive industry for more than a century, Professor Edquist said.
“We’ve been contributing to vehicle design since 1905, when the industry was all about coach building,” she said.
“We were there from the very beginning, in a very big way, and we have continued to evolve as the industry has evolved.
“Our graduates have had an enormous impact, there is great respect for RMIT in the automotive industry in Australia, and internationally.”
Professor Edquist said there was little scholarly discourse on this aspect of industrial design, and she hoped to leverage Shifting Gear to drive more research and discussion, providing a lasting academic legacy from the exhibition.
As well as presenting the stories behind the development of some of the nation’s great cars and revealing the designers who styled them, the exhibition also looks to the future of the Australian industry and its shift from manufacturing to being a global contributor through specialist design knowledge.
RMIT alumnus Michael Simcoe (Vice-President, Design, GM International), research fellow Simon Lockrey (Centre for Design and Society), IX/UX Director Sven Krome (GEElab) and lecturer Simon Curlis (Industrial Design) share their thoughts on the future directions for the industry in video interviews featured at the exhibition.
NGV Director Tony Ellwood said Shifting Gear was the first major exhibition of Australian car design.
“As part of the NGV’s commitment to showcasing design, this exhibition will uncover how the modern automobile is far more than simply a means of transport; it is a sophisticated design object that reflects contemporary aesthetics and social values,” Mr Ellwood said.
Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said Shifting Gear was an exciting showcase of the work and achievements of our creative industries over more than a century.
“It celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of Australian car design, demonstrates Victoria’s strengths in this field, and tells the stories of the vehicles that have changed our lives.
“With the Australian car manufacturing industry facing the serious challenges of globalisation and the planned closures of plants, the importance of innovation and design in the creative jobs of the future has never been more important. The lessons from car design are too important to lose.”
RMIT is a design partner in the exhibition, which includes a series of public programs as well as a landmark publication tracing the history of Australian car design.
The RMIT Electric Racing team came first in the Overall Electrical Vehicle category and in Efficiency (Combustion and Electric) in last year’s FSAE-A.
The team is a collaborative effort encompassing more than 50 students and staff from programs including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, business, marketing and the arts, and from all levels of study.
RMIT is a leader in mechanical and automotive engineering and industrial design, with students benefiting from programs that are underpinned by the University’s high-impact research and collaboration with industry.
Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car is at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square until 12 July.
An exclusive event for RMIT alumni will be held at the exhibition on Wednesday, 22 April.