The College for Creative Studies' automotive design program is notoriously cutthroat, but Darby Barber, 21, had a pretty compelling reason to drop out for a semester. The opportunity of a lifetime arrived when reps from Motor City Masters, a new Chevy-sponsored reality TV program, approached Barber to join the cast. The youngest designer on the show, and one of only two female contestants, Barber was flown out to Los Angeles ("Motor City," eh?) for six weeks of filming which pit her against seasoned pros, such as Detroit's own Camilo Pardo.
The show features Jean Jennings, former editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, and entertainment vehicle designer Harald Belker as judges. In addition to the title of "Motor City Master," the winner receives a 2014 Camaro Z28 and $100,000 cash. And although she got eliminated on Tuesday's episode, we caught up with Barber via phone on a break from her summer internship at GM (with a publicist from Turner Entertainment Networks on the line to make sure no beans were spilled) to ask about her wild ride.
Metro Times: So how did you get hooked up with Motor City Masters? Did you apply to it, or did they seek you out?
Darby Barber: I actually didn't apply. I had heard about it — my roommate and my friend had applied. You had to be 21 years or older to do it, and I was 20 at the time. Then someone from the show messaged me on Facebook. It ended up not being an issue.
MT: What's the format of the show like? Are you broken off into teams, or are you working solo?
DB: There's an individual challenge, where they have the designers do an individual challenge and you get 1-2 hours to do it, depending on what it is. It would be like airbrushing, drawing, or building. There's two winners, and then there's one overall winner. The overall winner gets immunity and the first pick of their team, and the second winner is the team leader also. So the two winners are the team leaders for the team challenge. Then you get broken up between two teams, and team leaders pick who they want to be on their team, schoolyard-style. And that's when you have two days to build the car.
MT: So were you guys building like full concepts of cars?
DB: Yeah. There was a NASCAR one, that one was just graphics, but the rest of them were building. There was a Transformers one, and we had to make a Sonic into a Transformer. There was a Silverado beach truck. That was my favorite. They were legit builds — paint and everything and the whole nine yards.
MT: These were more than just clay models?
DB: It's a real car. It's a real, brand-new Chevy car. We went through about 20 brand-new Chevys, and we tore them apart and redid them and repainted them.
MT: Was there anything you had to build that you had no experience with before?
DB: There was a lot I didn't know. I draw, but I hadn't built much. The building was definitely new to me, but we had shop techs to help us, so they kind of showed us what to do and did a lot of the work, too.
MT: Does your love of cars go back a long way?
DB: Yeah, it's pretty much my life. Before I was 16, all I would think about was cars. I actually made a promise with my dad that if I got straight A's through high school he'd get me a car when I turned 16. And I made straight A's, but he didn't buy me a car. I don't think he thought I'd actually do it, because my freshman year I didn't do too good. I had it picked out, I had a picture of it and the color and everything I wanted.
MT: What car did you want?
DB: At the time I actually wanted a yellow Cobalt — which I'm glad I didn't get. I don't really want that anymore. My life's goal is to own a car that I designed.
MT: What is your all-time favorite car?
DB: It kind of changes every month, but right now a probably a McLaren P1. That car is pretty sexy.
MT: What's your preferred method of rendering?
DB: I have a sketchbook that I'll bring with me and I'll sketch with ballpoint pen or Prismacolor, and I'll sketch cars, horses, people — anything. For car design specifically, I usually start out on a Cintiq. A Cintiq is nice because it's easy, it's quick, and then instead of going through all this expensive paint, it's just color on a computer.
MT: What era of car design influences you the most?
DB: I like the muscularity of past cars, especially the '80s. The '90s Silverado was my favorite year because it was so much a truck — there's no curves or smooth lines on them. But for cars, and trucks too, I like to think far ahead and modern. I don't want to draw something that you've seen before.
MT: Are you into working on your car?
DB: I love working on my car. I just bought a Miata, because I wanted a stick shift, and I wanted to learn how to swap a different engine into it, or turbo it. I wanted to learn how to do that stuff. Someday I plan on having my own personal garage where I'm just going to build my own cars.
MT: What would be your dream job following CCS?
DB: Exterior car designer, and to race cars or something on the side. I get a lot of jokes from the guys at school that I'm just going to get a job because I'm a girl. So I strive really hard to be the best in the class, so I can get the job I want based solely on my ability and talent and not because I'm a girl. I don't want a free ride, I want the job because I've earned it and because I've worked so hard to get it. — mt
— Motor City Masters airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on truTV. To see Barber's artwork, check out darbyjeanb.com.
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