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Senior "zoom, zoom, zooms" to top of Mazda design competition

Author: Arts and Letters


A senior University of Notre Dame industrial design major dubbed the “car girl” by classmates has written a new chapter in the University’s rich tradition of auto design excellence.

Virgil Exner, a design student at Notre Dame in the 1920s, established the tradition, working for several companies, including Chrysler and Studebaker, and earning a reputation as one of the world’s great automobile designers. Exner was responsible for Chrysler’s highly successful tail fin designs of the 1950s and ’60s, when his aesthetic became known as the “Forward Look.”

And his son, Virgil Exner Jr., was the first automotive design student at Notre Dame to receive the Jacques Gold Medal of Art in 1956 for his designs.

Future generations of Notre Dame design students may one day look to Mallory McMorrow, a senior industrial design major from Whitehouse, N.J., for inspiration. McMorrow is the winner of this year’s Mazda Design Challenge.

Mazda joined forces with the online social networking site Facebook and encouraged college students to submit their version of the 2018 Mazda3 in the form of a 150-word description and illustration. More than 400 entries were submitted and the Mazda Design Team of North America selected the top 10 ideas. Online Facebook voters then narrowed the entries down to five finalists. The five finalists next worked with Mazda designers to produce a final sketch for a concluding round of online voting.

McMorrow was paired with Mazda designer Jacques Flynn, who helped her bring her design to life.

“Jacques took everything I said and sketched and put my thoughts and feelings on paper,” she said. “I was thrilled when I opened up the images of the final renderings. I’m proud to say the end design was still definitely my car.”

McMorrow emerged victorious in a landslide in the final Facebook voting. She earned the opportunity to work with Franz von Holzhausen, director of design for Mazda’s North American Operations, to carve a full-size prototype of her concept car from a lump of clay live at the Los Angeles Auto Show, held Nov. 16 to 25.

“This was the first time a car company ever designed a car live at an auto show,” McMorrow said.

She describesher design as a combination of sports-car quality and everyday practicality.

“A decade from now, I want a car that doesn’t fit into a category,” McMorrow said. “A car that makes sure sedan and hatchback are no longer four-letter words. I want a Mazda3 that gets me — the everyday sports car, the five-door that makes me forget I own a five-door.”

And her performance at the L.A. Auto Show is making it look more likely that she will one day have an opportunity to bring her design to life. Mazda has offered a coveted internship, an important step toward her goal of becoming a car designer.

“These internships are not traditionally awarded to someone from a liberal arts background,” she said. “The odds of becoming a professional car designer are similar to those of becoming a professional football player, so this is a big deal.”

Originally published by William G. Gilroy at on December 21, 2007.