Robert Cumberford is a designer who became a writer by accident. His race report on the 12 Hours of Sebring was published when he was an eighteen-year-old Art Center student in 1954. Subsequently he has published thousands of articles on cars and airplanes, in American, Asian, English, European, and South American magazines. He contributed to several books, including the entire text of the well-reviewed Auto Legends, now available in five translated editions -- French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Polish in addition to the original English version. In 1985, Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis, Jr., invited him to be one of two executive editors when Automobile was in the planning stages. Cumberford demurred, saying he knew nothing about magazine production and claims he still doesn’t, except that it’s important to meet deadlines. He contributed features from the beginning and began his popular “By Design” column in the sixth issue, September 1986.
In car design, Cumberford was even more a youthful prodigy. He sketched the body for the first car ever built to his designs when he was a fifteen-year-old Los Angeles high-school student. That car, the Parkinson Jaguar Special, is still active in historic racing sixty years after it was created. Hired directly by General Motors’ legendary Vice President of Design, Harley J. Earl, Cumberford became a professional car designer at nineteen. Leaving Detroit, he returned to California to attend UCLA to study philosophy. He rejoined the automotive world in the early 1960s and has continued to create new automotive shapes since then, always as an independent design consultant. He has lived and worked in six of the fifty United States and in France, Mexico, and Switzerland. The range of his design projects includes both racing and touring cars, trucks, aircraft, boats, hovercraft, and even ecological architecture.
He is known worldwide for strong opinions but is well-respected in the design world because it is known that he is always completely honest in his views, with no agenda other than respect for good design and good designers. “There’s no ad hominem,” he says, “I judge the design, not the designers. There are designers I really like personally who’ve been credited with designs I heartily dislike -- for reasons I always state very clearly -- and designs I love done by people with whom I have absolutely no affinity. Except that we both like their work.”