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Oil Stain Lab: About the only real »mistake« of the 911

For Iliya and Nikita Bridan, the 911 is the ultimate designer car. Because it is timeless. Because it is fun. And because it also proves itself in everyday life. But does »ultimate« also mean »perfect«? You have to ask the Californian automobile designer this question, because they are using an old 911 as the basis for Oil Stain Lab: a design project based on nothing less than the vision of the most spectacular super sports car of all time. A conversation about curiosity, extremes and the urge to let your imagination run wild.

Text: Alexander Morath Photo: Oil Stain Lab 04.10.2019 9 min

Introduce yourselves and your project briefly.

Our names are Iliya and Nikita Bridan. We are both automotive designers currently working in California. We are obsessed with all machinery, design and the sense of speed. Equal parts of - car history buffs and technology nerds, we find it easiest to express ourselves creatively through our creative design work. Always looking for a creative outlet we have started to develop Oil Stain Lab. Born out of our protest against the growing commodification of design and the homogenizing of the automotive world. Oil Stain Lab is our vision for a collective brand that represents our passion and vision for a more exciting, engaging and rule breaking oil stained future. Oil is the lifeblood of our mission, it has deeply stained our souls and is impossible to remove. just like the oil stained shirts and driveways of countless home mechanics around the world. This theoretical stain is what drives our thinking and passion, uniting everything we do as we push the boundaries of the newest technologies, trends and artistic vision to bring sketches and dreams to life. The core of our brand is to challenge how automotive design is perceived and presented, developing our process into a multi faceted approach that engages people and brands with design in new and meaningful ways. Half11 is the current master project that is designed to showcase our wide range of skills and to push the limits of what we are capable of as a company. The project questions and targets the most famous of car icons in a quest to see if we can rewrite history of one of the most influential vehicles ever made the 911.

The design landscape has changed a lot in recent years. Especially under the impression of e-mobility. How do you perceive this change and how do you rate it?

Electric cars are a fantastic future, they are just beginning to take off with their many advantages and benefits. We believe in the electric future and have many thoughts on its development possibilities. But the idea that electric cars will be everywhere in the short term is very wrong, it will take decades and tons of investment for charging stations etc. before we really get to live in a truly electric world. The clean image of electricity, its simplicity of ownership, its quietness and its obnoxious power levels are the key selling points and manufacturers are finally jumping on board to promote it, because its seen as innovative. But are these new cars giving the consumer a truly new experience. Especially when brands like Mercedes and Audi are making the electric and gasoline cars the same way, packaging them the exact same way. Inevitably we are stuck right now in a compromise era, an awkward blend of carryover combustion engine packaging and the desire to be electric quickly with little financial investment. The industry is just spinning its wheels.... We as designers want to see greater diversity and more deliberate use of the packaging and design to show the benefits of electric cars. We see huge potential in electricity to the few brave souls who are willing to push the boundaries of what’s possible, not just putting electric motors in regular gasoline powered architecture.

With your design project, you protest against common design principles. Is that just rebellion or is there a vision behind it?

We believe automotive design has gotten away from common sense design principles - todays cars with their random styling lines and graphics slapped onto identical proportions create a sea of sameness. The hope that small graphical differences are enough to set them apart is laughable. The industry is stuck in between fear of being different and a blase customer who simply is too busy and numb to notice. This is why we are protesting the commodification of design, Car design has become researched, bench-marked and customer clinched to death to the point that no one innovates anymore. There is no functional purpose for automotive styling currently, and this is exactly what we are willing to protest. This runs counter to what we believe, that everything should have a purpose and a necessary minimalism. We believe in extremes, we believe that each person is unique and should not be forced into a statistical demographic. We believe that each person has their own history, their own future, one that cannot be predicted by algorithms and data. We believe in the individual, theirs dreams and their extremes. And this is why we protest the commodification of design. We refuse to accept that unique equals bad, or small sales volume is a sign of an undesirable product. We want vehicles that touch the soul, connect on a historical personal level and still deliver performance and comfort. We want to deliver on our vision, that no matter what object it is, we can make it functionally exciting and artistically interesting. This is our vision.

Good design is based on the principle »form follows function«. What is your design paradigm?

Our strong belief is that good design and its principles are based on problem solving and intellectual thought. This should always be the starting point, no matter the project. Often a desire can be framed through the lens of a problem, thus forcing the design team to confront it. Once a problem has been highlighted and the correct questions asked …..it's our job as designers to fix it or mitigate it the best way possible, to see a brighter, better way of doing things… and only after it has been fixed should we worry about its aesthetic value. We believe the function sometimes needs to be analyzed and rethought, while on the other hand expressive form can lead to new function. We like to use both sides of our brains in a two-tiered approach to design that is fluid and nimble always moving until an idea has been fully thought out. We believe in uncomplicated but multi layered intellectual and emotional design that satisfies every facet of our brains, both left and right. Long story short our paradigm would be that design is a true marriage of intellectual analysis wrapped up in minimal emotional aesthetics.

For many, the Porsche 911 is the perfect car, not least because of its timeless design. Now you can get to work and change this very design. What do you find wrong with the 911 design?

There is nothing wrong with the 911! The 911 is an icon! We respect and are passionate about them; we have 3 of them. This is the ultimate designer car, it is affordable, it is fun to drive and it is very usable every day. It is in many ways the perfect car for many people. The character of the rear engine giving it even more charm. So, to say there is something wrong isn't the right way to approach this iconic legend, but a better way is to imagine what has this car not achieved. With all the love for the 911 it has always been considered the rational choice amongst its more exotic contemporaries, bought for logic and practicality, the opposite of something such as a Ferrari that has more emotional appeal. This is the only real “flaw” that we can play with. And so, this is the perfect problem to solve for us. Can the 911 become the most spectacular supercar of its era, can the emotional and visual drama be taken up past its most famous race models, such as the rsr, and 935s. Can a 911 compete with even the brilliant and storied 917 in Porsche folklore? Could Porsche have made a car like this back in 1969?

Why does the Porsche 911 of all cars form the basis of your further design development?

Where do we start! The 911 has such an interesting history, with many variants and provides us with a great opportunity and platform to showcase our storytelling and design skills. The 911 is almost a sub brand created by everyone involved in its history, from the designers, engineers, race teams, and fans and even the backyard builders. All have invested and helped create the playground that is the 911 and it is a community we are thankful to have as a base. Throughout the years, Porsche itself have created an environment where the 911 is accepted in any form from safari, racecar and even 4 door sedan. This has fostered a community of hotrodders, customizers and independent builders to show and sell their own unique visions of the 911. We feel there is so much opportunity to expand and innovate in this classic 911 world yet remain firmly honest to the car, it really creates an interesting challenge. We see opportunity for creativity in this market, we are equally disappointed and tired of too many boring and predictable builds happening without enough diversity. Our goal is to shake things up in the Porsche community while also challenging ourselves with redesigning a true icon in a way that makes sense to a period of time, that tests our perceived beliefs of history.

What can you imagine a Half11 expert to be?

This is just a sarcastic term used to poke fun of traditional car experts and to showcase that what we are doing is “super serious”, requiring expert knowledge that has been accumulated during countless hours researching old notebooks in dusty rooms and pouring over company documents in dark basements. All in an attempt to shed light on the most mysterious Porsche prototype ever created. To be a half11 expert means to be committed to the storyline of the car and willing to let your imagination run wild. It means to continue with childlike wonder and curiosity, to never grow up. The car is being built for just ourselves, we are its curators, its experts, therefore we are the experts. We hope to inspire fans to become experts and to help us through our creation, but also hope that some of our customers become their own experts in builds that we can help them realize. One off creations for one off experts.

Are your extraordinary designs just something for the eye or would an Oilstain Lab car also be drivable?

Over the last year the Half11 has and continues to be engineered and developed. The design has slowly been cooking in our heads for a long while before that even, but building a car from nothing has been very difficult and much slower than we anticipated simply because we are not compromising on our vision. We are not cutting corners and we are not attempting to make anyone happy, but ourselves. The first car we are building is the roadster version, this will be our personal car and test mule. This car will be fast, this car will be driven hard and properly tested in every way possible. We will then start testing roof heights and ergonomics on our car to develop the coupe. The coupe will be all carbon fiber bodywork as opposed to the roadster which will have handmade aluminum bodywork. For making more than 1 car this is the only way where we can control the quality of the bodywork and have confidence that each customer gets exactly what they wanted. We want each half11 to be something truly different, from proportions to engine to body work, with a different story about its historical existence, and above all else each car will be a work of art....

We also hope that customers will come to us with a vision of their own or an openness to be surprised by something we can make for them. We offer the ability for a customer to design their own car, their own story and their own future experiences through our services. We will help and guide them in becoming their own “expert” in their dream car!