Geoff Matthews, 1946-2015: one of the UK's great car designers
by Andy Wheel    19 Feb 2015
Geoff Matthews, 1946-2015. Click for larger images
Geoff at Swansea degree show in 2012
Citroën EOLE
Citroën XM
Citroën AX
Concept 92 hatchback
Concept 92 roadster

One of the UK's great car designers, Geoff Matthews, has passed away aged 68. The following text was written by Andy Wheel, chief designer - exteriors at Land Rover design. Andy worked for Geoff Matthews for ten years at Styling International, MGA Developments and Geoff Matthews Design.

Geoff, quite the maverick designer, worked on many vehicles, concept and production, and is widely acknowledged as the creative force behind the monovolume concept that became the Renault Espace, thus introducing a whole new aesthetic to our roads.

Geoff was also a keen supporter of new design talent and helped launch the careers of many successful designers.

After graduating with a degree in engineering, Geoff went to study vehicle design at the RCA. His final project was a forward-thinking eight-wheeled truck design with a low-slung driver, creating space for either a sleeper cab or extended loadspace length above.

Matra Rancho
Citroën ECO 2000 concept
Supervan clay from 1978
Renault Espace
Facel Vega 1994
Geoff in 1988

On finishing his studies at the RCA in 1972, Geoff worked at Ogle and then Chrysler, where he worked on the exterior design of the Chrysler Alpine - aka Simca 1308, voted European Car of the Year 1976 - and Chrysler Sunbeam. Another of Geoff's projects at that time was the Matra Rancho, a reworking of the mainstream Simca 1100 to create what was the first ‘soft roader' leisure activity vehicle. It was the replacement for this vehicle which eventually became the Espace.

After Chrysler/Talbot became part of PSA, Geoff moved to France with the re-organization of PSA's design activities. He was promoted to chief designer for exteriors at Citroën.

During his time at Citroën, Geoff oversaw the development of the exterior designs for production cars, refreshes and concepts. The mainstream products he worked on included the BX, XM and refreshed CX, and were still progressive, commensurate with the Citroën brand.

Geoff continued to champion new ideas and processes, helping to bring clay modeling to the studio, replacing the use of plaster models. He also saw the potential in virtual design, explored in the Citroën EOLE show car of 1986, which was claimed to be the first vehicle solely developed using virtual tools and boasted an impressive Cd of 0.17.

The idea of ‘monovolume' silhouettes was still high on Geoff's agenda, as seen on the Citroën ECO 2000 concept, with Geoff pushing for the new Citroën supermini to be a one-box profile. This was seen as too adventurous for a volume-selling vehicle so the eventual production car, the Citroën AX, also overseen by Geoff, came to fruition with a more conventional silhouette.

In 1987, Geoff left his role at Citroën to set up an automotive design consultancy, Styling International (SI), as a subsidiary of the Hawtal Whiting engineering group.

The first output from SI was an in-house project to publicize the services offered: a trio of concept cars collectively known as ‘Concept 92'. This was a ‘near-future' monovolume car shown in conventional hatchback form alongside convertible and commercial derivatives.

SI continued to deliver design and concept car build services on confidential projects for many clients including Nissan, Mazda and Bentley.

In 1994, Geoff moved to MGA Developments where he headed a studio dedicated to creating some spectacular bespoke low volume luxury sports cars, designing exteriors and interiors with a small team, then working with coachbuilders such as Pininfarina and Heuliez to realize the designs. This led to Geoff setting up a bespoke coachbuilding establishment and an independent design studio under the name of Geoff Matthews Design (GMD).

The design team at GMD worked on projects for Land Rover, Mitsubishi and Honda, amongst others.

Throughout his career as an independent designer, Geoff had a passion for one brand in particular: Facel Vega. He was a close friend of Jean Daninos, who had created the flamboyant Facels of the '50s and '60s. Geoff wanted to resurrect the brand for a new generation, but with the flamboyance and individuality retained.

Several proposals were created by Geoff's team and investors sought, but despite Geoff not seeing the revitalized Facel Vega re-appear, he has created and maintained a momentum behind this idea in automotive circles.

Geoff continued to work as a freelance automotive design expert until the end of his life, but with extra duties at the automotive design courses at both Coventry University and Swansea University. He had always been keen to support new design talent by offering placements and mentoring young designers, but at the universities he could now offer his advice and guidance direct to the students.

There is no doubt that Geoff was a maverick; initially a non-conformist in a corporate world then a passionate, endearing independent designer. He loved cars, from his beloved black Citroën Traction Avant to his equally black Citroën CX Turbo 2, affectionately known as ‘Starship Matthews'.

He leaves a legacy of design innovation and thought-provoking concepts but, more importantly, he has left a legacy of people in the car-design industry who were supported and encouraged to succeed by his paternal nature.