With the recent nomination of Laurens van den Acker to succeed Patrick Le Quément as head of design at Renault, we have the curious situation in which designers from Belgium and Holland, countries that have not had an indigenous motor industry for many decades – only Holland’s Daf existed during the second half of the Twentieth Century – are heading up design at some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious motor manufacturers.

Dutchmen Van Acker and BMW’s Adrian van Hooydonk are in mainstream full-range firms, Belgians Dirk van Braeckel at Bentley and Luc Donckerwolke at Seat are with lower volume brands, the first a purveyor of luxury cars, the second a generalist, both owned by Volkswagen. Like many of their countrymen before them, these men have had to export themselves in order to realize the full potential of their talents. The great Belgian singer, Jacques Brel, became known and respected throughout the world only after he left “the flat country that is mine,” as one of his most beautiful songs has it, to work in Paris. Indeed many people still think Brel French.

Something I have observed in more than fifty years in automobile design is that at certain times and certain places – usually in design schools – exceptional results come from a particularly talented and ambitious group of students who goad each other into higher and higher levels of performance. Such a nexus need not exist just in schools. There was just such a group of outstanding designers at Audi in 1993, among them three of the Flemish tradition designer-artists mentioned above. They worked on the same team led by Hartmut Warkuss.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 177