Robert “Bob” Peak was an American illustrator famous for his iconic movie posters and advertisement art produced from the 1960s to 1980s. Peak worked at a time when illustration was moving away from Norman Rockwell-type realism to bold graphics and bright colours that enlivened simple advertising compositions.
A graduate of Art Center College of Design, Peak was remarkably versatile in his ability to move between various types of commissions executed in various styles. His movie posters are particularly memorable.
Highly restrained by the size and vertical format, Peak could animate even the most stilted composition with a dazzling array of elements, colours and brushwork.
Like many young illustrators, Peak spent years paying his dues and establishing his reputation, spending much of his time working in the centre of the advertising universe, New York City.
On his drawing board he kept a photo of a sports car as a motivational tool. It worked. Over the years Peak would earn enough to buy himself several Ferraris, a Maserati, and a Lamborghini.
It was in the process of buying Ferraris that Peak became acquainted with Luigi Chinetti, the importer and distributor for Ferraris in North America. Chinetti had first opened a showroom in New York, but had lately moved to Connecticut, near Bob Peak’s studio.
The two became fast friends, and Peak, along with Chinetti’s son Luigi Jr (nicknamed “Coco”), planned a number of business ventures together. One of these involved building custom Ferraris for the North American market. Peak would sketch out a number of ideas, but a unique Ferrari coupé for North America was the idea Chinetti thought would sell well.
Peak and Coco Chinetti travelled to Milan to meet with coachbuilder Giovanni Michelotti and asked him to build their sports car. Michelotti was put off by the Americans’ cavalier attitude and a lack of appropriate respect for Italian business manners. Michelotti refused the commission and sent Peak and Chinetti packing, leaving the two sorely disappointed.
Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari’s office had got word of the Michelotti rejection and decided there might be some potential in the project. Ferrari’s office intervened on behalf of the Americans, and soon Michelotti had the car under construction in his factory.
The Peak Ferrari was not built from scratch. A wrecked and partially burned 250 P had been back brought to Italy from Canada, where it had met its demise on what was then known as the St. Jovite track (now Circuit Mont-Tremblant).
The chassis was repaired, a new engine was placed in the car and a new body and interior were fitted.
Thus, a ‘new’ Bob Peak concept Ferrari was soon born. It was an update of the 275 P’s design, with a sleeker and curvier front and more luxurious appointments, as befitting a car that would be sold to well-heeled customers in the United States.
But it would remain a concept – a nice calling card for Chinetti, but nothing more.
According to FerrariDatabase.com, the car was restored by Autosport Bastiglia in Italy in 1989. In 1999 the car was restored to its original form, again in Italy.
But Peak was not done redesigning Ferraris. In 1967, Coco Chinetti heard of a 1965 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 for sale in Europe. He bought the car and had Peak prepare a design for a Ferrari ‘station wagon,’ or more appropriately, ‘shooting brake’.
Peak’s design incorporated a broad glasshouse across the back of the car with glassy gullwing side access panels instead of the standard hatchback or tailgate. Much of the rest of the car was changed too, and in the end, the only parts that the car shared with the original were the windscreen and a section of the doors. The rest was fashioned to Peak’s bespoke design.
Chinetti contracted Vignale to build the car, reportedly Vignale’s last Ferrari commission before his untimely death in 1969. The redesigned car was introduced at the 1968 Turin Motor Show, where it generated enormous attention from the crowd.
It was then shipped back to Connecticut where it became Coco’s personal car for a decade before being sold. It has changed hands multiple times and was for sale in London just last year, still in mint condition and with a binder of extensive documentation of the car’s history.
The unique glass gullwings would not make it to the final car, however; a more conventional hatchback was installed. But, the glass panels did appear in another Chinetti-commissioned Ferrari shooting brake, based on a 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ and built by Panther Westwinds in the UK, in 1975.
For most people, in the United States at least, the glass access panels are recognized as a feature of the Pontiac Type K Concept Car. Bill Mitchell had seen Peak’s design for the 330 GT Shooting Brake and ‘borrowed’ the design for his Pontiac concept.
When Mitchell met Peak at a party some years later, he confessed his blatant plagiarism. Typical of Mitchell, he was unrepentant. “I saw that detail and liked it, so I stole it,” he told Peak. Peak had already moved on by then and just laughed it off.
He had never bothered to copyright or patent the idea, so there was little he could have done about it anyway.
Bob Peak would continue to design cars, working for Ford, designing a Mustang Coupé concept and MIA, an electric car concept. Both remained at the prototype stage.
At this point, Bob Peak was rapidly approaching a fork in the road of his career. He could continue his fabulously successful illustration career that he had so laboriously built over two decades, or he could strike out for an unknown but promising automotive design career.
He knew could not do both – each demanded a full-time commitment and there was very little overlap professionally.
Peak ultimately decided to stay with illustration and would go on to do some of his best work, even though photography was replacing illustration in many advertisements.
As for Luigi Chinetti, both father and son, they stayed in the car business with Ferrari and Maserati dealerships.
The elder Chinetti started the North American Racing team (N.A.R.T) and raced with modest success at circuits in North America and Europe. Chinetti still worked with designers for specialty projects, including the Cadillac N.A.R.T, a personal luxury coupé that combined Italian design with American big-car engineering.
Both Bob Peak and Luigi Chinetti died within a few years of each other, each semi-retired, but still working. Their sons carried forth their legacy. Bob Peak’s son regularly exhibits his father’s work and has just published a new book of his father’s drawings. The Chinetti showroom is still in business in Greenwich, Connecticut, but is now owned by another dealer.
The Chinetti/Peak collaboration lasted for a few years, but produced some exciting results, and design ideas that reached far beyond the cars they created.
We should all be so fortunate.