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Frank Stephenson (born 4th October 1959) is a Moroccan born-American automobile designer widely known for his design work at Mini, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and McLaren.

Frank Stephenson
Frank Stephenson (right).jpg
Frank Stephenson (right) at the McLaren MP4-12C Launch for Lake Forest Sports Cars
Born4th October 1959
  • American
Alma materArt Center College of Design
OccupationAutomobile Designer
Known fordesign work at Mini, Fiat, Ferrari and McLaren

In 2008, Autoblog called him "one of most influential automotive designers of our time".[1][2]


Stephenson was born in Casablanca, Morocco (3 October 1959) to a Norwegian father who held American citizenship and a Spanish mother.[3] Due to his father's job the family moved to a few different countries. They emigrated to Málaga, Spain where they lived for a short time while his father opened a car dealership.[4] Between 1970 and 1977 he lived in Istanbul, Turkey and then moved to Madrid where he finished high school.. After high school, Stephenson spent six years competing professionally in motocross. He has maintained an interest in motorcycles since childhood,[5] and his automotive interest led him to study automotive design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California from 1983 to 1986. He speaks English, Italian, Arabic, German, and Spanish.[6][7] Since 2010 he has been listed in Debretts People of Today.

Design careerEdit

Stephenson's design career spans several of Europe's best known automotive companies. He began at Ford's design studio in Cologne, Germany, where he penned some of the distinctive features of the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, in particular the large double rear spoiler.[6] He later moved to BMW where he spent 11 years, eventually leading to an appointment as Senior Designer. His redesign of the new Mini in 2001 led to the award-winning Mini Hatch, known generally as the Mini or Mini Cooper. This rebirth of the Mini launched a new generation of Mini marque models, and led to the Mini winning the prestigious North American Car of the Year award in 2003. Also while at BMW, Stephenson designed the BMW X5 (E53).[8][9]

In July 2002, Stephenson was appointed Director of Ferrari-Maserati Concept Design and Development. His work with this department included the design of the Maserati GranSport, Maserati MC12, Ferrari FXX and Ferrari F430. The last project as a collaboration with Pininfarina. He also oversaw Pininfarina's work on the Maserati Quattroporte, Maserati GranTurismo and Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Stephenson's success with Ferrari led to his appointment to head of the company's Fiat, Lancia, and Commercial Vehicle Styling Centre in Turin, Italy on 22 February 2005. He was tasked with rebuilding the struggling Fiat brand, where he directed the styling of the Punto, Bravo and translated Roberto Giolito's 2004 Fiat Trepiùno concept into the production 5002007[10]. In June 2007 he was made chief of Centro Stile Alfa Romeo where he replaced Wolfgang Egger, while Donato Coco took over his previous position at Ferrari.

Stephenson left Italian carmaker Fiat in April 2008 to become Design Director at McLaren Automotive, where he created a new design language and oversaw the design of the new range of McLarens: MP4-12C, P1, 675LT, 570S and 720S.[11]

Stephenson left McLaren Automotive in early May 2017 and was rumoured to return to the BMW Group to head the design team at MINI.[12] The rumours turned out to be unfounded: upon leaving McLaren, Stephenson founded his own design studio, Frank Stephenson Design Studio. In 2018, Stephenson joined German aviation start-up Lilium, as Head of Product Design.[13]

Design styleEdit

Stephenson says that he looks everywhere for inspiration and is always sketching. He adds that he is "never bored", and that just walking down the street one can find inspiration from "things on the sidewalk, the type of tiles, the paintings on the signs, there's always something to inspire you". His McLaren office is full of toys. Stephenson says of this: "that's the nature of any designer, you'll find they have a toy shop around".[5] He also says that he looks to the animal kingdom for design, using what's called biomimicry. Having a deep passion for biology and evolution, he tries to "find the principles in nature that makes products do what they look like they do".[14]

Stephenson's process progresses from sketch pad, to computer graphics, to clay models, and finally test models. He says the advantage of working with clay is that you can feel the transitions and feel where there is too much surface or more surface needed. He suggests that you could almost design a car blind, because "you don't have to see it, you have to feel it, and by feeling it you feel if it's right or it's not right". [5]


  1. ^ Noah Joseph (8 August 2008). "Frank Stephenson to direct McLaren design". autoblog. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  2. ^ Edward Loh (12 April 2011). "Frank Stephenson Gives Us His Exclusive Lowdown on the MP4-12C". Motor Trend. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  3. ^ Phil Patton (23 February 2011). "Inspired Career Leads Back to the Inspiration". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 2005.
  4. ^ Paterick C. Paternie. MINI. ISBN 0-7603-1157-9.
  5. ^ a b c "How to Build A Super Car". How to Build. Season 2. Episode 2. 22 November 2011. 8.30 minutes in. BBC. BBC Two.
  6. ^ a b Joshua Dowling; Sydney Morning Herald (8 September 2005). "Does this guy have the best job in the world?". Drive. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  7. ^ "Frank Stephenson to head Alfa Romeo styling centre". Retrieved 13 December 2007.
  8. ^ "Who's Where: Frank Stephenson appointed Director of Design for Alfa Romeo". Retrieved 13 December 2007.[dead link]
  9. ^ Paterick C. Paternie. Mini. ISBN 0-7603-1157-9.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Frank Stephenson: The Story". Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  12. ^ "McLaren's Design Director Is Reportedly Headed Back to Mini". Road & Track. 15 May 2017. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Frank Stephenson joins Lilium as Head of Product Design". 24 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Interview with Frank Stephenson by Uygar Kilic". Retrieved 27 January 2012.

External linksEdit