To celebrate the history of Holden's local manufacturing, Motorclassica in Melbourne displayed a vast collection of production and concept cars, along with the 2018 Commodore. GM Australia Design Director, Richard Ferlazzo made an appearance, talking to enthusiasts while standing beside his most famous design, the Efijy.
You can read the interview below, or download it using the link at the end of the article.
CarAdvice: You dreamt about building a Holden hotrod in 1988. How did Efijy come to fruition?
Richard Ferlazzo: I remember doing the Efijy sketch which my colleague still has, and a friend of mine and I were musing over it one day at work and thought with all the resources in this place, we can build a cool custom car. So I scribbled something down.
I had done many concept cars for Holden, largely Commodore-based and were thinking what was next that was a bit unpredictable. The 50th anniversary of the FJ was coming up, and it’s such an iconic Australian car, so we thought that old idea, we could make it into a modern thing.
We took the DNA of the FJ, gave it a name, EFIJY, which is a play on words, and made it look like an elegant car of the ’40s and ’50s.
To build a concept car would no doubt cost a lot of money. What did the boss think when you originally took the design to them?
They thought it was cool, but we said it was not for production, just a bit of fun. Normally our concept cars cost around $2-million to build, so the boss couldn’t justify that. I said there were enough guys in the department who would just love doing this, so if I could engage them, we would do it on the side as a labour of love.
We took out the labour component, which is the largest part of it, and we made a full-size clay model. We found a Corvette at the proving ground that was going to get crushed, and the Chief Engineer said he didn’t need it anymore. So we took the body off that, and we had a great underbody, which we stretched and manipulated. It got to the point of no return; seek forgiveness, not permission.
I said to the boss I can join the dots for about $200,000, for the bits we can’t make ourselves, and that’s great value for a concept car. It’s a great story about the passion of the people that work at Holden in design and engineering, and it became a showcase for that passion and ingenuity.
It’s been our most successful show car ever. If you give people what they like, they will keep coming back in droves for it.
Before it was unveiled to the public for the first time in 2005, what were the emotions going through your head?
I had some mixed emotions. I knew it was a beautiful outcome. We released it at the 2005 Sydney Motor Show, which is normally modern production work. In the back of my mind, people come to these shows love cars, and if they love cars, they will love this. It’s something for everybody. It’s modern, and it’s retro, it’s beautifully sculptured and packed with technology.
Some of the technologies involved with this car weren’t even on production cars. All the lighting is LED, which in 2005 was new. We engaged with OSRAM in Europe, and they wanted to showcase their new technology with headlamps and LED. What better way than in a show car that grabs attention, so they did it all for us and donated it, with the understanding they can help promote it through their media.
They came up with some ingenious solutions, for example, the headlamps have tiny LEDs that are so bright, they’ll burn your retina out. The lights were getting that hot they needed to be cooled, so they are fan-cooled headlamps. It was a first, and I think there are now production cars that have them.
There’s touchscreen technology all the way through. Again, at that time, it was not prevalent.
Apart from EFIJY, what are some of your other highlights from your Holden career?
I’ve been involved in every Commodore since the VN, and I worked in the States in the styling studios in Detroit. I’ve been closely involved with a couple of our local products that are dear to my heart, like the WH Statesman.
The Sportwagon with the VE body is another. That took a bit of lobbying to get that over the line. At the time we weren’t sure about the Sportwagon because the trend was SUVs. We thought there’s still a market for a really good looking wagon that can be functional, yet very fashionable.
How do you feel when you see the Holden badge that you redesigned in 1994, on thousands of Holden’s on the road?
That’s probably another highlight. We’ve had some iterations of the Holden badge over the years, and the time came in the ‘90s when we wanted to economise with our partners and freshen it up a bit. I thought it was a privilege because it’s such an iconic badge and everybody knows it.
Part of the triumph was that it wasn’t so different from the previous one, that you wouldn’t recognise it, but it was fresh. We haven’t felt the need to change it, we’ve just updated it slightly over the years, but it’s still the same badge.
I feel very proud when I see that badge.
What does the future hold for you?
What hasn’t been clear to the public is that even though the manufacturing will cease here, our design and engineering continues very strongly.
I have 150 people in my department, and we will maintain that, if not, grow even further. We have a number of design studios around the world that belongs to General Motors. But we work on all the brands of GM, that is, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Holden and some others, and we will continue to do that. They will be built somewhere else, but they will be designed by us. We can pick from that portfolio of products and develop our Holden range going forward.
Yes, it’s very sad they won’t be made here, but as long as it has the local input, we will continue to look after the Australian public.
Listen to the interview below with Richard Ferlazzo, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.