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MacGillivray Freeman FilmsTop Speed Project
Marion JonesLucas LuhrMarla Streb
'Animated' Jpg'
Stephen Murkett
Mode of Speed: Consumer Cars
Claim to Fame: Helped design the world's fastest SUV - the Porsche Cayenne - which can attain speeds of 166 miles per hour
Top Speed: As fast as his imagination will take him
Born in Huntingdon, England, Stephen Murkett studied at Cambridge College of Art and Technology, then received a Master’s Degree in Automotive Design from London’s Royal College of Art. Murkett wound up in Germany, where he has been working at the Porsche Engineering Center for the last 18 years, specializing in the exterior styling of Porsche’s world-renowned sports cars. Murkett starts from the conceptual stage of a new car – often with a restaurant napkin sketch – and oversees the process through computer rendering, modeling, testing and ultimately release to the consumer. Most recently, he helped to create Porsche’s first high-speed, luxury SUV, the Cayenne, from its initial dream-like sketches to the three-year process of testing and tweaking the car in remote locations around the world.
Q&A With Stephen Murkett:
Q: How do you design a very, very fast car?

A: When you’re designing a car intended to feel fast, you start with the emotions that are induced by speed – and the best way to do that is get into a car and drive. Then you hope to sketch something that has those same properties you experienced when you yourself were having fun, going fast.

Q: What is your favorite part of designing fast cars?

A: The creativity is the most exciting part – thinking up new ideas and seeing how many great solutions you can come up with for every problem that arises. It’s about opening up the possibilities in your imagination and that’s always wonderful. But then I also get a kick out of the later part of the process, out of that day when your car is ultimately turned into a running vehicle. It’s the realization of something that was once only a spark of an idea, which is quite satisfying to see.

Q: What does designing fast cars have in common with running or mountain biking?

A: It’s the same basic principles on completely different scales. One of the fun things about TOP SPEED is that it’s quite fun to compare running on the flats without any mechanical aid to using the mechanics of the bicycle and then to getting the power of the combustion engine involved. It gives you insight into the many different ways to attain top speed. I think we also all share an interest in integrating different elements together. In sports, it’s body, mind and heart. In car design, you can have great fenders, headlamps and windshields but it doesn’t all fit together with perfect synergy you haven’t done your job.

Q: In TOP SPEED, you introduce your design for the Cayenne, an SUV. Can an SUV really be fast?

A: That is the question we set out to answer. Nobody had ever attempted to make the ultimately fast SUV before but Porsche wanted to try, using what we have learned from designing some of the world’s fastest sports cars. Of course, an SUV is not the same as a road car, so you have to interpret speed in a different way. It is one thing to go fast on a straight, smooth road and another one entirely to get off road or follow the turns of a winding road while maintaining speed.

Q: The car goes through quite a beating – almost like an athlete in training – as you undertake the testing process. How do you feel about seeing your “baby” abused?

A: It is really important for me to see all the things my car might experience in its life – good or bad -- so we have to experiment in many directions. Of course, it always hurts to see your design smashed up against a wall in a crash test, but that’s very important to understand.

Q: What does speed mean to you?

A: I might approach speed from my intellect, thinking about aerodynamics and engineering, but the true judge of a great fast car design is putting it on the road and driving it to see just how much pleasure it brings.

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