By Anthony Brancaleone

Born and raised in Manhattan, Camilo Pardo is a formally trained, testosterone fueled artist, who made his bones in the Motor City creating fashion, furniture and pop art paintings – subjugating fast women and even faster cars – while playing host to all night electro parties from within his Warhol-esque studio, known to underground Detroit as ‘The Bankle Building’. But, it was Camilo’s role as chief designer of the 2005, Carroll Shelby, Ford GT that put him on the global map.

“There were so many bad ass cars on the streets,” muses Camilo, over his early years in the late 60’s. Pardo sports a reinvented distressed blue leather – the Formula 1 “elf ” logo on back – and a pair of 80’s checkerboard vans. “Superbirds, Mustangs, Cobras and Daytonas” Oh my! “It was impossible to avoid the strength of art and cars at the time” he continues, citing Lichtenstein and Warhol as influences. “It became obvious this would be my career.”

His studio space is littered with various works-in-progress, vintage furniture, racks of clothing, exposed paints, automotive tools and road maps, as Pardo bounces from one project to the next. He’s currently marketing a 2010 calendar of his design, filled with his images of Ford GTs staged throughout America. Only 500 copies are in existence and Camilo’s silver metallic signature shines inside each one of them.

The Pardos moved to Detroit when Camilo was ten. His roots firmly planted. Camilo attended CCS, interned in France in 84’ and went right into Ford, working in Torino, Italy. By 86’, Camilo found himself part of the first ever concept car for Renault. “I admired Sid Meade a great deal,” Camilo recalls. “A great sense of anatomy, he can design great cars, or spaceships. Once you understand proportion you take those forms and apply them, architecture, women, cars . . . “

Pardo’s designs are strong and aggressive. He enjoys fashion but rarely sells his work, unless commissioned by an auto show. Though, he was recently motivated by the 2009 Chicago Fashion week, where he was asked to participate.

“I said, ‘son-of-a-bitch, let’s knock something out’”, and then went “heavy into fashion for that period”, producing fifteen pieces.

He shoots in digital but “hates technical jargon – ‘pixels’?” – preferring to shoot at sundown, or with a single hard light, and enjoys painting with oils. “When you’re searching on canvas you can be quite loose,” Pardo explains, pointing out movement in a work consisting of an airplane/racecar hybrid. “Knowing what ‘it’ has to be keeps things tight.” Specific subject matter. “But, I really enjoy figurative work, as well. Nothing quite like kicking back on the beach painting palm trees.”

 “Nothing like driving a car, of your design, hard through the desert at 140 mph”  ~Camilo Pardo

When Ford’s advance department in Dearborn was eliminated Pardo was let go within a week. “It’s a strange thing, under these conditions, what the automotive industry is going through . . . it gets very complex and political.” Pardo has no problem expressing himself in this area. “I am by far the most abstract designer in automobiles,” he passionately states. “ And Ford makes cars for families.”

When asked about the success of the GT Camilo seems to be considering it for the first time. “The Ford GT gravitated to the heart of so many people, that just doesn’t happen, and the media loved it. My name went with the vehicle and people were happy with the vehicle. So many designers worked as hard as I did, or harder on other vehicles, but they didn’t get the credit.”

Credit is not something Camilo has been lacking. Spreads in Rolling Stone, Road and Track, spotlights on Barry McGuire (Speed Channel), and even the Extreme Makeover Show have all but made Pardo an automotive household name. “Some at Ford were upset with the attention I was getting by the media,” he says.

Though Pardo has been out of the business for a year he still gets “red carpet treatment in Italy” and has been doing more than his share of promoting Ford products. Recently, Camilo, and a host of boy racer friends, were the subject of a film in India. Throttling their way through “The Majaraja Route”, Team Pardo tore it up driving Shelby’s, 67’-69’ Mustangs, Bullitt cars, a few 500’s and one 65’ modified mustang.

“What a beautiful country and what a way to see it”, the experience still fresh in his mind. “Literally, red carpets and petals . . .” The team camped in the desert, sleeping inside 30 luxurious tents, and played host to a flock of lovely Indian models hired to help promote the vehicles, one of whom found a large tarantula in her quarters, falling quietly asleep anyway in the “beautiful expanse of sand.”

“The cars were so out of context. This is a country of ricksha, cows, elephants, mopeds and monkeys, and then all this Detroit muscle.” For Camilo, this rally was a “total experience”, one he could hardly have imaged as a boy coming up in the streets of Detroit.

Paris to Torino, through Mount Blanc – the long route – came next, Indian girls still in tow, and then a separate trip from Paris to Monaco, where Team Pardo promoted the vehicles for two weeks from inside their suites at the Martinez Hotel, and where Camilo caught the Cannes Film Festival premiere of Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards. “Don’t rent it, buy it,” he says. “Aggressive, one of his best.”

Back in the States, Camilo made his living in 09’ racing his Heritage Ford GT, through the Utah Fast Pass, to the annual Miller Motor Sport event, where he made good use of the “outstanding racetrack”, going balls out against 50 other cars, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi and “a few GTs.”

He drove alone to the Salt Flats for speed week, found himself placed #1 in Popular Mechanics 20 Hot Cars list, before cleaning the Heritage to ‘showroom’ levels for the Monterrey Pebble Beach Party, where Road and Track covered the country’s biggest event, attracting aficionados like Leno and Seinfeld.

“This is my job,” Camilo lets out, unable to contain his smile. In Austin, he worked the preliminaries for the Ford GT Rally #4, covering the road course, the rally itself and sold auto related artwork and fashion, “race jackets”, at auctions, receptions and formal events. He has been commissioned to make this year’s poster. “I am usually the featured artist at these things.”

“I am by far the most abstract designer in automobiles.” ~Camilo Pardo

And, then there was the annual Bull Run, NYC to L.A rally, where Pardo graciously led speedsters of all kinds through the 4 am streets of Detroit at 140 mph. Caught on video, Camilo’s “stunt” blew up YouTube, attracting the attention of a certain local ‘do-gooder’ reporter, as well the Michigan state police. “I got my hand slapped,” confesses Pardo. “ But, I sold more paintings . . .”

“I’m living hard,” he boasts. “Full on with your hair on fire, in a very abstract way.” Pardo continues, “I always wanted to be like Warhol, I wanted to design something that stopped the world for a moment.” With the Ford GT, it seems his wish has come true.

“Many people work at Ford for 40 years and don’t get to touch a sports car as a project. I worked for 24 years and was fortunate to work 3 mid engine programs.” According to Camilo, “Ford revisits the mid engine every 10 years.” The first two “fell on their face”, the GT 90 and GT 95, but good things come to those who wait and, oh, what a hot pleasure it is to see the 2005 in motion.

Once again, hosting the Auto Show Designers Party, on January 11, Camilo is busy preparing his studio for what he calls “a fuckin’ blow out.” Designers will be in attendance from Japan, Paris and Italy and he’s Hell bent on showing them a good time. Camilo’s dressing 10 models, hanging new commissions, as well as classic pieces, all furniture will be out, there will be video projections, DJs, Detroit jazz musicians, food and drink and Pardo has invited 5 other artists to show. Impressive, when you remember Pardo hasn’t been officially attached to Ford for over a year.

Though, Camilo would “love to go to Ferrari” he left Ford under the condition that he “would come back if things turn around.” And, while Big Brother does it’s best to bog down GM and Chrysler, Ford sidestepped all that soft tyranny in favor of independence. Currently, they’re looking pretty good. With a little luck, and a lot of hard work, Ford may soon be poised to bring back a true Detroit original.