Porsche recently announced that Harm Lagaay (1946- ) will be stepping down as its head of design after 15 years. He'll be remembered because he influenced the look of more Porsche models than any other designer in the company's history.
Lagaay comes from The Netherlands, and he took his first position in automotive design in 1968 with Simca, a struggling French car company that had recently been acquired by Chrysler. It was a time of great cultural turmoil in Europe, largely inspired by Lagaay's generation, and Lagaay has always found himself in the middle of controversial projects ever since.
By 1971, Lagaay had begun work at Porsche for design director Tony Lapine, and the young Dutchman was responsible for much of the Porsche 924, an entry-level sports car meant to secure the company's financial future. The front-engine sports car earned Lagaay widespread recognition in the design community, and he moved to Ford of Europe in 1977 to direct its department of advanced design. His work led to the Escort, Sierra and Scorpio, still regarded as high points in unconventional automotive design. The Sierra's multi-pane greenhouse looked like an aircraft canopy, and a painted panel replaced the traditional front grille. Lagaay moved to BMW in 1985, and there too he introduced an automobile that broke with the conventions, the limited-production Z1 roadster.
Lagaay arrived at Porsche in 1989 as the director of the design studio, and he encouraged the group of young designers at Porsche that wanted to use the company's heritage to determine the look of a new, entry-level sports car, which was meant to secure the company's financial future (some things never change). The Boxster concept appeared at the 1993 Detroit auto show, and it signaled Porsche's emergence from the shadow of bankruptcy.
When the new, watercooled 911 (996 series) appeared, Lagaay took the look of the car back to the slab-sided proportions of the original 911 designed by Butzi Porsche. Next came the Cayenne sport-ute, which reproduces some of the familiar 911 shapes in a new configuration. And, of course, there's the Carrera GT, inspired by the 911 GT1 sports-prototype racing car that won the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. Lagaay's portfolio also includes assorted variants of the 911, including the GT3, Targa and Turbo.
Lagaay designed only one Porsche that could be described as beautiful, but it unfortunately never went into production. This was the Porsche Panamericana, built as a present for Ferry Porsche's 80th birthday and displayed at the 1989 Frankfurt auto show. The streamlined roof gave the 911 a dramatic new look, and the car could be configured with different roof and wheel treatments to be a coupe, targa, convertible and even an off-road car. It was a real idea car, and many elements of forthcoming Lagaay-designed Porsches were first seen here.
Lagaay is a real car enthusiast (he competes in vintage racing with an Australian-built Elfin ME5 Can-Am car), and he'll be remembered for the way in which he formally identified the iconic elements of Porsche design and created a styling vocabulary that will be in use for years to come.