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“Car designer Frank Stephenson has so many ideas he just doesn’t know how to stop”

Mike Rutherford speaks to legendary car designer Frank Stephenson to see what’s next

Opinion - Frank Stephenson

What’s the world’s most versatile and prolific car designer supposed to do after spending decades creating automotive masterpieces including the reborn MINI, several Ferraris, Maseratis and McLarens, plus a Fiat, BMW, and a Ford or three?

What he could be doing is hanging up his box of crayons, putting his feet up and smugly reflecting on his work-related triumphs, plus his recent induction into The Motoring Hall of Fame. Except he can’t because he’s Frank Stephenson – a workaholic nonconformist with an incurable desire for, and devotion to, designing consumer products.

On behalf of some of the most respected and demanding manufacturers who queued to secure his services, he created several world-class cars of the urban, family, sports, super and hyper variety. But more lately, at his Frank Stephenson Design studios in London, he’s been designing everything from child seats to watches, high-performance motorbikes to light urban aircraft. Honestly, the bloke has so many ideas burning away inside him that he just doesn’t know how to stop.

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During our last but one meeting, at Christmas, he mischievously spoke of moving “upwards and onwards” with his next project. Last week we met again and he unveiled and personally talked me through it. The “upwards” bit in particular.

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It’s an unapologetically expensive, deliberately slow, lightweight but luxuriously functional, helium-powered people-carrier weighing 3,500kg and with parachute ‘brakes’. The nine-seater vehicle features a modest maximum range of around 44 miles – that’s 22 there, and another 22 back. Oh, and did I mention it’s designed to travel very gently, almost vertically? Important point, that!

Yup, you’ve guessed it. The world’s most prolific, energetic and adaptable car designer has only gone and designed a bloody spaceship for the public to ride in. Given that they’ll be travelling ‘only’ 22 miles up (about four times higher than regular passenger jets), the idea is they’ll be sitting comfortably, walking around or dining in the pressurised Aurora capsule owned and operated by the Madrid-based Halo Space.

From the outside, the vehicle looks a bit like a giant, boxy, hi-tech kitchen appliance. More importantly, its living room-like interior has the look and feel of a large luxury/performance car or motorhome. Think giant, curved glass walls facilitating the most unique 360-degree views ever made available to man, woman and child.

Because they’ll be travelling into near, rather than outer space, passengers paying £150,000 apiece for their tickets won’t qualify as astronauts. Instead they’ll become confirmed high-end (in more ways than one) stratonauts. Uncle Frank has even designed personalised stratosphere suits – the ultimate in limited-edition designer apparel.

He hints that, longer term, he quite likes the prospect of designing space hotels. But before that, he confides he’s currently in talks with an automotive manufacturer to design a game-changing all-new car. Like I say, he doesn’t know how to stop.   

Interested in what Mike Rutherford has to say? Click here to read more...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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