Tuning up the visual identity
of an automotive icon
For more than seven decades, Road & Track has enthralled auto enthusiasts. It was and is the ultimate authority on all aspects of car culture, from in-depth coverage of racing to sneak peeks at the latest models to loving odes to vintage vehicles. It has always been clever and creative, and occasionally quirky—in addition to road testing Maseratis and Lamborghinis and Aston Martins, they once road tested a San Francisco cable car. (“The handling left little to be desired...it was totally unaffected by cross winds and its cornering was quite flat without a trace of oversteer.”)
When Hearst Autos set out to retool the visual identity of this gearhead bible, GDP jumped at the chance to work with the publisher. Our team oversaw a bumper-to-bonnet redesign, from grids and typefaces to its approach to photography and illustration. After launching the new design in December 2020, we stayed on to oversee all visual aspects of the magazine for six more issues—netting a full year of stewardship.
Our founder and CEO, Scott Dadich, described his vision for the redesign as similar to the technique of a racing driver hugging the line at the outer edge of a track: push the format to its utter limits while retaining precise control. The chance to fine tune the layouts of Road & Track’s luxurious oversized pages was a designer’s dream come true.
Now, about that size. This magazine is big. Each issue can feature as many as 150 pages of editorial. To add richness and variety, and to impart a special feel to each section of the magazine, we played with the grid. “We pushed our margins out to their absolute edges of the page and used exaggerated positive-negative space relationships to echo the dichotomy of the world of high-end automobiles—the expansive freedom of the open road versus the constraints and risks of a racecourse,” says GDP Design Director Margaret Swart.
Our team thought a lot about which typefaces would best convey our vision for the magazine. We selected the distinctive single-weight Buzz from Ecal Typeface—not to geek out on the finer points of fonts, but we absolutely love the way the squared-off terminals on its lowercase letters connect in awkward, almost mechanical negative space. We also partnered with the brilliant type designer Gareth Hague to commission a custom face that we dubbed “Maranello,” in honor of the Italian town where the Ferrari was born. “The angularity of Maranello’s serifs and its upright character bring an edge to the overall design language,” says Allie Fisher, Godfrey Dadich’s head of creative. “The rhythm of the letterforms pushes you across the page.”
Commissioning artwork is a distinctive challenge when you’re working with such an iconic brand. Our design philosophy for photography and illustrations was, this is not a typical car magazine, and we will avoid typical visual treatments. We sought fresh approaches, angles, and perspectives, while keeping everything as tactile and immediate as the experience of driving. “I tell all of the photographers explicitly that I want to see something different from them, not something from the Road & Track they grew up with,” says GDP Director of Photography Rosey Lakos. “And they all loved that creative freedom.” She also reached out to photographers with little to no background working with cars who could deliver surprising and unique treatments.
For our first assignment, we called on frequent collaborator Joe Pugliese to help us bring a story about the iconic Porsche 911 Targa to life. The theme of the issue was Hollywood, and cinema’s longtime love affair with automobiles. Pugliese has spent more time shooting celebrities than vehicles, but we had a feeling that he would add the right touch. We were right. Besides being an expert photographer, he’s a devoted bicyclist who is intimately familiar with the mountain roads of Los Angeles. To create the desired vibe, he opted for a stretch of Mulholland Drive as the perfect backdrop. On shoot day, Los Angeles was completely in character, the hills bathed in dreamy California sunlight, and Joe made the magic happen.
We enlisted photographer Devin Yalkin to capture the essence of a Ferrari Roma. The gorgeous but highly controversial sports car’s tagline is La nuova Dolce Vita, or “the new good life,” a reference to the brilliant (but highly controversial) 1960 Italian film La Dolce Vita. So for the photoshoot, we ditched colored pixels and embraced the rich black-and-white style of the movie by Federico Fellini. We asked Yalkin to create the sense of a weekend away from NYC with dark dramatic undertones. When Devin called Lakos midway through the shoot to let her know that it was raining, she was thrilled. The moody monochromatic images of water beading on the Ferrari’s luscious exterior were a delightful accident. And there could be no better way to pay homage to Fellini’s classic film, short of driving the car into the Trevi Fountain.
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Our approach to photography was to create something unique, fresh, and surprising.
We worked with artists across mediums to create imagery with the power to shock. One cover depicts a McLaren decked out with flames by expert pinstriper Dave Shuten (and captured by photographer Spencer Lowell). The sight of a decorative flourish so closely associated with hot rods on a high-end supercar looks jarring, gobsmacking, and maybe even a bit sacrilegious to gearheads.
GDP worked with illustrator Jeffrey Smith to capture the unique personality of the De Tomaso Pantera—a wonderful mess of a 1970s sports car. This unholy hybrid of Modena and Detroit—luxe Italian design with a Ford V8 under the hood—was oddly shaped and prone to rusting out and overheating. It also invited people to do crazy things. Road & Track chronicled the history of the ill-fated vehicle and the misadventures some of its larger-than-life drivers had in them.
We were delighted that our visual rethink of the magazine garnered praise from a man who loves automobiles so much that he created a show around them. Jerry Seinfeld, the host of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, gushed about the Road & Track redesign on Instagram. “Love the new R&T. Outstanding Work. Extremely impressed,” he wrote.