Car Culture

Three designers show that cars can be the inspiration and the art

CRASH Jewelry

It takes a particularly artistic person to find the beauty in a fender bender. With a background in art history, CRASH Jewelry owner Christi Schimpke was primed to create and appreciate unconventional pieces of art.

Christi Schimpke developed a special method of bending car metal that
keeps auto paint intact.
Photography courtesy of CRASH Jewelry

Seven years ago, while working in her studio, located within her husband’s Los Angeles boutique auto shop, she had an epiphany.

Every day, the shop discarded an excess of battered metal from luxury cars like BMWs, Aston Martins, Bentleys, Maseratis and Teslas, to name a few.

“What if I can make something with this?” Schimpke recalls thinking. Soon, eco-chic CRASH Jewelry was born, and Schimpke made the switch from art historian to being surrounded by exhaust pipes and motor oil.

One-of-a-kind cuffs made from car parts

Schimpke takes visual cues from these high-end cars to turn them into wearable unisex jewelry, replete with luxe leathers and quality metals that echo the original designs of each automobile.

Some designs are more eccentric than others, but practicality comes first.

“A lot of people want something they can wear every day,” says Schimpke, who has family in Savannah and has participated in the Wine, Women & Shoes charity event, giving back 20 percent of sales to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire.

Custom CRASH Jewelry cuff links

She also creates completely custom pieces.

When a friend was in a minor fender bender on the freeway while cruising in his Audi A5, he commissioned a piece of jewelry from Schimpke, which she matched to his edgy, rock ‘n’ roll persona.

The results are beautiful, but the work can be taxing.

“My husband always says, ‘It’s from a car, it’s not meant to be bent like this,” Schimpke says. That doesn’t stop her from experimenting with different bending techniques that keep the paint intact.

Through trial and error, Schimpke can now fashion one- of-a-kind bracelets, cuffs, earrings and necklaces. It’s also helped her see cars — and crashes — as an art form, she says.

Cesar Pieri

Someone who also sees the beauty behind the crash is Brazilian-Italian designer Cesar Pieri.

Photography courtesy of Cesar Pieri

As a child, Pieri spent his time pulling toys apart and reassembling them to create interesting, new designs. That childhood training led him to a career in automotive design, where now, he has no shortage of qualifications, from designing for brands in Germany and China to becoming the creative design manager for Jaguar in Coventry, England.

While in the U.K., he created sketches that would ultimately become the limited-run Jaguar Concept 7 — the fastest and most powerful Jaguar ever produced.

Cesar Pieri often works on vintage car hoods, but no part goes to waste: the coffee table is made from an automotive turbine.

“As a car designer, you’re always trying to envision the future,” Pieri says. “People think it’s a very glamorous job, and it can be, but you’re trying to get cold metal to represent all of the DNA and heritage of the brand.”

Vintage car hood art

The stressful technicalities of the job attracted Pieri to the innovative freshness of the university environment; he’s now Chair of Industrial Design at Savannah College of Art and Design.

He blows off workday steam by painting — painting pieces of rare, luxury cars that he often designed, that is.

Some of the hoods Pieri has created

“My work inspires my art, and my art inspires my work,” says Pieri, who created The Jaguar Bonnet Artwork Collection, featuring colorful, pop-art designs painted on the hoods of the cars.

What started as a hobby became a way to share his passion for luxury cars with others. Pieri’s pieces have been featured in exhibits at the British Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon, England, and The National Automobile Museum in Turin, Italy, to name a few.

While it started with his own intentions in mind, now, much like Schimpke, Pieri’s medium and designs vary based on the customer (currently, he’s painting a C-130 elevator airplane wing). All his projects, no matter the type of vehicle, are fueled by the process of expression.

“You can communicate that sense of speed, power, intention and movement into an artwork,” he says. “That’s what inspires me; that’s my passion.”

John Bucci

John Bucci built his futuristic, 1960s-era cars from fiberglass

After automotive designer and artist John Bucci’s passing in February 2019 at the age of 84, his legacy cemented him as one of the pioneers in the cars- as-art culture.

Born in Gorizia, Italy, Bucci grew up in an area that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. He eventually escaped the oppressive Communistic powers and fled to the Italian side of the border, where he lived in refugee camps for a few years.

In 1959, Bucci was sponsored in the U.S. and immigrated to Chicago, where he developed a love for cars.

Bucci saw men driving around the Windy City in their fancy sports cars and dreamed of that luxurious lifestyle. But with no money in his pockets, he had to get creative. His dedication led him to learn fiberglass-forming techniques from local engineers.

Eventually, he just made his own car.

While driving his first 1962 creation, “La Shabbla,” around town in the same fashion he had idolized, Bucci was spotted by a General Motors employee.

He then met the executive of GM and was offered a position, which he turned down. Instead, he accepted the invitation to display his creation at the Cavalcade of Custom Cars at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. There, it fascinated the public and even caught the attention of singer Paul Anka, who was photographed in the vehicle.

This set Bucci on the path to a life of car design and fiberglass work (his reproductions of Rome’s Trevi Fountain were showcased in trade shows and festivals all over the world).

But after years of this stressful lifestyle and brutal Chicago winters, Bucci and his wife moved to a 180-acre property outside of Savannah to settle down for good. He transported his works there and even built a large metal studio to house his cars and artwork.

John Bucci built his futuristic, 1960s-era cars from fiberglass

This October, Savannah’s Everard Auctions & Appraisals will be holding an online-only auction of the John Bucci estate collection through LiveAuctioneers. Two of Bucci’s fiberglass cars, including the infamous “La Shabbla,” will be among the inventory.

A veteran in the field of antiques, fine art and collectibles, Everard Auctions & Appraisals founder Amanda Everard is confident in Bucci’s rare items and his ability to draw a crowd.

“We expect [Bucci’s work] to draw interest from all over the world,” Everard says. “They are truly historic pieces.”

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