Acura's design chief: 'Through cars, I've met everybody'

Dave Marek, global creative director of Acura, watches action during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, outside Monterey, Calif.

MONTEREY, Calif. -- In the auto design world, there are the suave, black-turtleneck types and there are guys like Dave Marek, a chatty hot-rodder who'd rather skip a fancy dinner than get dressed up for it.

The 57-year-old global creative director of Acura is one of the key decision-makers in the new Acura Business Planning Office, a task force charged with reinvigorating Honda's luxury brand and cementing its identity. If Marek gets his way, that identity will be defined not by floaty sedans, but rather by performance models such as the coming NSX supercar.

"The brand started that way, and needs to retain its roots in a performance-based image," said Marek, whose tenure at American Honda began in 1986, around the time Acura was born.

In addition to Acura's production vehicles, Marek oversees designs for Acura's motorsports program, such as vehicle graphics and paint schemes and styling of prototype vehicles.

During afternoon competition at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca near here, he spoke with News Editor Krishnan Anantharaman, though his eyes tended to wander toward the zoom of the cars on the track.

Q: What kinds of cars get your attention?

A: Non-ours, you mean? Any Porsche race car I'm just fanatical about. Road cars -- it's gonna be what everybody likes. Exotic cars always get everybody, I think.

I have a lot of friends in the design business because of my longevity, and I teach at Art Center, so I know every student that has come through. So whenever I see a car they did I have some pride in that, that I knew that I helped teach them.

I've always been a 911 guy. The progression of that car from inception -- you know, I had a '67, so I had the first year -- and then you see what they've become. I've always admired that.

I like the Tesla. I like the feel of it. It feels modern but normal enough to get people to buy it.

That's a great hat. What do you look for in a hat?

I am a hat guy. The New Jersey hat is always good. Honest to God, It's like a car. I literally will buy hats and I wear them backwards because of the rake. I can't have them be the wrong attitude on your head. So I'll turn them around.

How many watches? How many pairs of glasses?

I have a Swatch collection. I probably have 300 Swatches and other watches. A hundred pairs of glasses. And I go through them. Glasses, more than anything, are like cars, because other than Ray-Bans or something classic, I'll pick them up and go, "Dude, those look old now." I'll just eliminate those, and they just kind of sit there because I can't bear to part with them. But then I started giving them to Out of the Closet or Goodwill because people need glasses. Why am I hoarding these?

I've painted some. I've taken them apart and painted them and put them back together. It's more for the individuality, something unique about them. No one else has these. "Where'd you get those? I painted them."

You've had some interesting celebrity encounters. Which ones stand out?

I was standing with Brad Pitt. He goes to this restaurant in Hollywood called Mexico City. And there's a big line for the bathroom. I think it was Cinco de Mayo. He's standing there, right behind me. And I can feel him being edgy, like he really had to go, and he's kind of bumping a little. I turn around and I go, "Just 'cause you're famous, you ain't cutting in front of me." He started laughing and said, "That's OK." But then we kind of had a conversation.

It's fun to just encounter them because you never know what their personality is going to be -- or mine. I'm not very vocal about what my profession is. And most of them, when they get down into it ... they're like, "Wow, that's so cool!" Because, you know, rock stars want to own cars, and car guys want to be rock stars. Through cars, I've met everybody.

What's your office like?

When you walk in, there's a full-size model, a full-size model, a full-size model and they're all lined up, and you can view them all [in a row] ... which is perfect for me because I want to see what the hierarchy is and what's happening at the time.

And everybody seems to work around the models. We all have desks, but everybody is on the floor, and they all work down by the car. We're Friday-casual all the time. We're actually Saturday-casual all the time.

What's in your garage?

Uh, a bunch of old refrigerators? No. I don't own a car right now. It's amazing. You get to a point where you're like, it's going to be that or that. I'm gonna get maybe an old [Porsche] 550 or I'm going to get a '55 Chevy or a '32 Ford. Daily it changes with my mood.

The car I want is unattainable: a [Porsche] 917/30. That's the car I just go ape over.

Dave Marek
• Title: Global creative director, Acura

• Age: 57

• Born: Sacramento, Calif.

• Attended: Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, Calif.

• Hired: 1986

• Interests: Auto racing, hot-rodding, collecting watches and eyeglasses

• Drives: Acura MDX

You can reach Krishnan M. Anantharaman at krishnan@crain.com

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