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“Looks aren’t everything,” Matt Damon, as car designer Carroll Shelby, says in the final lines of a trailer for Ford v Ferrari.
Shelby designed the Ford GT40, a revolutionary race car that shocked the racing world when it beat Ferrari in the 1966 Le Mans.
In gleaming aluminum and on display as the star of a studio near San Antonio International Airport, a tribute replica of that famous car is more than a looker, it’s a work of art created by George Schroeder.
A noted San Antonio artist, Schroeder is best known for his giant-scale commercial and public artworks, such as the 75-foot-tall aluminum and steel Tribute to Freedom at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and the forged steel Bodine Gates at the Witte Museum, but he’s also established himself in furniture, jewelry, and paintings.
While the tribute replica car taking center stage in his West Turbo Drive gallery is his first attempt at car design, it represents an expression of his evolving mastery with aluminum and metal and the formation of a new line of business he’s calling Odesa – an acronym for originality, design, engineering, science, art.
Odesa began with a brief slowdown in commissions about five years ago, Schroeder said. “I thought, ‘You know, I bet we could do a car,’” he said. “I love race cars because I used to race motorcycles. I have a background in racing. So I wanted to sort of honor that in my work. I never had an opportunity with the sculpture here.”
As he does with his sculptures, Schroeder began with flat sheets of aluminum and shaped them onto a template using old-school metalworking techniques and some proprietary processes he’s perfected. “Very labor-intensive,” Schroeder said. “I wanted to do something that was like a rolling sculpture and that’s what, in my mind – the cars from the ‘60s evoke that spirit. They are the most beautiful race cars and some of the most compelling designs.”
It also represents a high point for the American automaker, which had attempted to buy Ferrari, then set out to beat the racing icon on the track and succeeded with the GT40.
Most cars are made of steel today, and in the 1960s, most race cars were made of fiberglass. But the GT40 was made of aluminum. “It’s really a lost art,” he said. “But those same techniques I use in my sculptural work raw metal, which comes in flat sheets, and then we shape them into what we want according to what I’ve designed.”
Laurence Seiterle, a longtime friend of Schroeder’s, recently got a look at the completed car. “This really is a next chapter for him,” Seiterle said. “It’s really unique for an artist to jump into something and say, ‘You know what, let’s do a car.’ It’s extremely stressful and there’s a lot of anxiety when you do projects like this, and it’s very expensive and takes a lot of time. But it’s just incredible what he did with this GT40 body.”
Schroeder’s tribute car is an homage to the original, which is valued at $4 million today, he said, so car collectors buy replicas like his for recreational use. But because Schroeder builds only the body of the car, he has been working with Fran Hall of Race Car Replicas in Detroit, who built the rolling chassis, motor, and transmission.
That kind of collaboration is not unusual for Schroeder and one of the reasons his studio and workshop is located within a San Antonio industrial park near myriad machinery, paint, upholstery, and other shops. “San Antonio is a major aeronautical hub, so I have access to all these trades guys that are wonderful craftsmen and a lot of these people are going to be involved in my new car designs,” he said.
The GT40 soon will be sold to a collector, who will choose the interior finishes, and later shown at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show in 2020. For the next few weeks, it’s available for viewing by appointment only. Schroeder is offering the car for $240,000, as is and already has a potential buyer from Canada.
“We’re hoping that the new owner doesn’t paint it, because seeing raw metalwork like this at this level is super rare because it cannot hide any flaws – it’s literally naked in the car world,” he said. “A lot of these collectors look at that as just coveted because when most cars are painted, a lot of car builders try to hide mistakes. But we’re showing this as a work of art. I mean, I’m an artist, but I love cars.”
His next car project is already in the works. “This [GT40] was actually a development project and it developed techniques specific to my studio and car production to make this new car efficiently,” he said. But won’t become one of a series.
While Schroeder is moving on to restorative modifications – “resto-mods” in the car world – starting with the body of a Porche 911, the shining silver GT40 tribute replica is his way of introducing a new line of business.
Odesa is now a company under the Schroeder Art umbrella that will build high-performance automobiles as well as exotic lighting, furniture, luggage, jewelry, and other products.
Schroeder Art, however, will continue to produce sculpture by public and private commission.
“It’s just two companies,” he said. “And they complement each other – like somebody that’s going to buy one of these cars typically is interested in sculpture, fine art, decorative art, jewelry, these lifestyle things. So it’s almost seamless in a way.”
He also hopes it will help him find a market for his work internationally, but Odesa is more than about an artist attempting to gain exposure for the sake of sales.
“This car thing and Odesa lends itself naturally to a wide audience, which to me is kind of like public art. But it’s a car,” he said. “My skills that I’ve developed over the years of doing artwork, I can apply those skills to these car projects and reach more people. People are captivated by cars and I don’t see that slowing down. So to me, it’s kind of a culmination of everything I’ve done over the past 20 years.
“That’s why I created Odesa – to celebrate what I’ve learned and what I can provide back to society. And it’s not just large-scale sculpture.”