Muses and muscle 

Camilo Pardo is not your average Big Three employee. First of all, the 41-year-old with a pencil-thin goatee is the chief designer of Ford’s recently debuted $140,000 GT sports car, a glamorous modernization of Ford’s futuristic 1960s race car of the same name.

Bill Ford recently referred to the GT as the “pace car” for the company. In 2002, Ford surprised car enthusiasts when, after the GT made a huge splash at the Detroit auto show, he announced the car would go into limited production, with an estimated budget of $140 million, despite the fact that Ford at the time was in the red and beleaguered by the Ford-Firestone fiasco. The GT’s badass sexy race car design is nothing like the automaker’s other offerings, and costs about $100,000 more than the next car in Ford’s line. Nevertheless, the 550-horsepower speedster has made a splash — Jay Leno and Nicolas Cage each own one, and automotive writers have raved about the GT’s performance and design. The car has been deemed an engineering achievement. In fact the GT trumped its competitors, namely the Ferrari, in all categories — accelerating from 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds with a top speed of 212 mph. Pardo says dealerships are selling the vehicles for as much as $300,000.

“In the ’60s the GT was the world’s greatest race car. Now, it’ll be remembered as America’s greatest sports car,” Pardo says.

But Pardo is much more than a car-loving American auto designer. The College for Creative Studies grad, fluent in Spanish and Italian, is a dedicated painter, a sewing-savvy fashion designer, a downtown Detroit building owner and denizen who’s hosted storied all-night dance-music-fashion-art parties at his building, some of which featured naked women in a huge hot tub in the middle of his loft space, women dipped in chocolate or paint, women in pasties and metal tutus, women striking poses standing atop a conveyor belt rolling down the loft’s width. Pardo is known about town for screeching up to events in one of his collection of classic cars with a lovely girl or two on his arm, his shoulder-length brown hair flowing as he channels Steve McQueen, albeit with eyeglasses, while maintaining a gentleman’s behavior. The ethnic Colombian is about as exotic as Detroit gets, the personification of art, cars and glamour in the Motor City, and he works that angle.

Artist at work

Last week in Pardo’s cavernous white-walled loft — otherwise known as the Bankle Building on Woodward Avenue, across the street from the Atlas Global Bistro — the designer sucks on a series of Heinekens as he zips around in preparation for his annual party, a hedonistic reprieve for hundreds of designers from across the globe convening for the Detroit auto show.

“Beer, wine, Pepsi, water, Jack Daniels?” Pardo asks, as he dips into a bar featuring cigars and flanked by a picture of 007 himself. Pleasantries thus dispensed with, Pardo begins to rub baby powder on the tanned legs of a lithe young model wearing not much more than a G-string. The powder is needed for Pardo to work a shiny silver racing suit — his handiwork — over her body. It’s not a perfect fit.

“All of these girls have the same dimensions, but there are certain particulars,” Pardo says. “The hips — that’s the hard part.”

The three girls in the room laugh — apparently 5-feet-7-inches, 35-inch breast, 25-inch waist, 35-inch hips is Pardo’s standard, comments one.

“You look really nice, sweetie,” Pardo says to the model. “If I pick you to wear that suit, I’ll give you a padded bra.”

“Try this,” he says, handing the bra over to one of the models. “Look at that, sweetie. You’re a big girl now, beautiful. Women pay $5,000 for those.”

He holds up a shiny red number.

“You see, it’s not a race suit. It’s actually the car. It’s the girl as the car,” Pardo says. He sells the suits for “2 G’s,” he says.

He turns and hurries to the back of the loft, pushing a wall that swings around, revealing a garage full of cars and paintings. “That’s my 512,” he says, pointing to his 1982 Ferrari 512 BB, “and that’s a Fiat 500 from Italy. I lease the Volvo to drive to work.” A sawed-off black 1964 Thunderbird sits nearby, filled with mannequins.

In the back of the garage, two men are building a bathroom. Pardo sticks his head into one of the stalls. “Excellent,” he says, before zipping back to the loft.

Back inside, the environs exemplify the artist-designer. Empty wine glasses and Pabst Blue Ribbon cans sit here and there. On a large drafting table, a black high-heel shoe sits next to a roll of yarn, a stack of car-racing magazines, three sewing machines and precisely drawn car designs rolled up on drafting paper. Huge canvases are sitting about; a silver Grey Goose vodka ice bowl is stained with white paint.

A black G-string rests on a furry glove. “Yeah, we keep those around. New ones,” Pardo says.

Large paintings crowd the room. The works are bright and pop-design-oriented, Pardo’s stylized homage to his idols: gorgeous futuristic women with long sexy legs and platform heels, classic Formula One race cars (namely, the McLaren and the Ferrari), the red and white and black of the Marlboro theme, and the iconic Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna.

Pardo’s paintings are dramatic and arresting, and indicate a strong eye for color. Even people opposed in general to hanging pictures of cars in the house will be tempted by his ultra-chic, retro-’60s compositions. The works are as energetic as their creator.

“That one’s on hold for Fedorov,” Pardo says, referring to the former Detroit Red Wings star, as he points to a red-and-white depiction of Senna racing a Ferrari.

When Ferrari race cars were sponsored by Marlboro and driven by Senna, they were all red and white, an image Pardo clearly obsesses over. The Marlboro design is “beautiful,” he says.

“When you see Marlboro in repetition, most people know it’s my art,” he says of his oil paintings, which hang in Ford World Headquarters, at the home of Jacques Nasser and in many collections the world over. Ford commissions Pardo’s art on occasion, he says, but Marlboro has never contacted him.

“You’d think they would, it’s so much free advertising,” says Nicole Bradich, one of the models, as she points to the Marlboro patches on one of Pardo’s suits.

Pardo waves off the suggestion, saying that Marlboro is his Campbell’s soup can, his Brillo pad. “I’ve painted cars since before I was 10,” Pardo says.

Born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, Pardo was frequently taken to the Museum of Modern Art by his mother, a painter, he says. There he became a fast fan of pop works by Lichtenstein and Warhol. The family moved to Rochester, N.Y., when Pardo was 10; he entered CCS as a student in 1981 and has maintained a studio downtown since then, though he also has a house in Grosse Pointe Park. Ford sent him to work in Italy for several years.

In addition to his love of pop art and Marlboro, Pardo is a huge Ferrari fan, with the car’s emblem emblazoned on his clothing and paintings. When Ford set out to outdo the Ferrari with the GT, it was the opportunity of a lifetime for Pardo.

“It’s beautiful to put Ferrari in its place with one of my own designs,” he says. “To me, there’s only two things when it comes to cars in the world: Ford GT and Ferrari. If things work out just right, I’ll have one of each.”

Pardo doesn’t own a GT. “I have to save my money,” he says; he’ll have to sell his Ferrari to buy one.

It’s hard to say, poking a nose into everything Pardo, whether he prefers cars or women, or simply all that’s machismo.

“I know the subject matter of my painting is shallow, it’s not deep,” he says. “On some level, it’s even crass. What do you do? I love design and I love automotive design and I love anatomy. There’s so much you can do with a woman’s body, so many compositions, it’s endless. There’s no way you can complete them all. The only problem now is that time is so short and I can only do so much.

“This car here, the GT, has been described as very sexy. This car has hips and a waist and contours. It’s a very intimate vehicle, very exciting in a physical way. Getting inside is like crawling inside a girl.”

The other side

Pardo’s passion for the automobile is not shared by all. While many Detroit area artists end up working for the Big Three in one capacity or another, those who stick to the fine arts tend to be what could be described as “anti-auto,” as was the name of a Detroit art-spoken word show started years ago by a writer named Kristin Palm.

The Anti-Auto Show has been held in the city for years, undertaken after Palm by other curators and artists, as an antidote to Detroit’s Auto Show. This year, the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (the former detroitcontemporary gallery) is holding The Other Auto Show with hopes of stimulating conversation about the impact of the auto on culture in Detroit. The show will feature 12 artists, including Pardo, who will explore the city’s “love-hate” relationship with the car.

The word “anti” was changed to “other” because “we wanted artists to come up with their own interpretations of the car culture. We didn’t want to present a point of view coming into it,” says Andy Malone, co-curator of the show.

Malone is one of many artists in Detroit who have mixed emotions when it comes to cars — he designs exhibits for auto shows to pay the bills, though he’s also a sculptor and graduate of the University of Detroit’s architecture school concerned about the negative effects of car culture.

“With the show, we’d like people to reflect on the impact of car culture on their community, sprawl and the integration issue. For instance, the lack of public transit makes Detroit one of the most segregated cities in the country.”

Writer Nick Sousanis, of, will present an essay for the exhibit that’s incorporated into works of art, while Maurice Greenia Jr. will show two pieces culled from his experience riding the buses in Detroit, inviting public participation. Robert Anderson, a filmmaker and founder of the Detroit Film Coalition, will present an audio piece that simulates riding in an imaginary subway car from downtown to the suburbs. DJ Rob Theakston will provide music.

Also, the Detroit Artists Market is hosting its annual Design Show, in which the gallery showcases non-auto-related design from Detroiters. Fashion at the show is always a draw, as is the furniture design. Appearing again is furniture designer Tom Carbone, who forms chairs, tables and shelves from wood and metal, some of which mimic automobile forms.

Aaron Timlin, director of the Artists Market, says the auto culture of Detroit both helps and hurts artists. On the one hand, the city is an exceptional place to create art, he says. Rent is cheap and materials and technology are readily available.

“But on the other hand Detroit is a blue-collar working-class city that doesn’t have the luxury of time to learn about art, to look at it and to purchase it.

“We’ll put money into a nice Cadillac, but as a working-class person you don’t need art; at least you’re not taught that you do.”

Brian Kritzman, who is exhibiting in The Other Art Show, is a professor of industrial design at Wayne State and says the industry offers a creative outlet for artists and a way to make a living.

“Look at the students who study sculpture and become clay modelers for the auto industry,” he says. “On the one hand it dashes their dream of being a sculptor. But, on the other hand, they’re not just waiting tables or working at the video store. It’s not black and white. It’s not evil or wonderful.”


The 2005 Design Show opening will be held 5:30-8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 14. Tickets are $20 if purchased by Jan. 12, $25 at the door. The show is free to the public, 8-11 p.m. At the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-8540;

The Other Auto Show opens at 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 15, and is up until March 12, at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit; 313-899-CAID;

The Other Auto Forum will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 23, at CAID. Francis Grunow, executive director of Preservation Wayne, will host a forum with public transit advocates, community leaders and industry professionals.

Lisa M. Collins is a writer for Metro Times. Send comments to

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