Vorsprung Dub Technik 8 years ago

Vorsprung Dub Technik

By Conor Heneghan

It’s not very often that a panel-beater from Newcastle in Dublin becomes a top man in the design hub of car giant Audi in Ingolstadt, Germany. As far as we know, there’s only one man that can claim to have made such a journey and his name is David Caffrey.

As romantic as his story sounds, Caffrey’s path from a batterer of cars to an intimate shaper of them was a long one. It took him through four different colleges, three different countries and included a fair few hiccups along the way, including burning bedrooms, stolen portfolios and a self-designed scooter that broke in half only minutes before he was set to present it for exhibition.

Caffrey spent a large part of his childhood in his Dad’s panel-beating garage in Liberty Lane in the heart of Dublin City, where his love of cars was fostered from an early age. Art was also a big love of Caffrey’s so it was only natural that he was interested in pursuing a career in which both of his passions could be combined: automobile design.

School

“I spent most of my school hours sketching, which meant I wasn’t very popular with the teaching staff. I’ve always been interested in automobiles and automobile design but as far as I could understand, it was a case of mathematics and physics, rather than craftsmanship”.

“Mathematics was not my strong point, generally I had no patience.  At the age of sixteen I left school to proceed with a career in the panel beating business”.

Although panel beating was in his blood, the desire to design never left Caffrey and it was strong enough for him to pursue a one year cert course in art and design in Ballyfermot. His interest in the creative arts had returned and after a year in Dublin, he narrowed his focus to industrial design and enrolled in a three year course in the subject in Sligo IT and followed that with a further year in the University of Ulster in Derry studying product design.

While there, he endured a few experiences that would have convinced the average student to give it up altogether.

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“My first portfolio was almost completely destroyed when my bedroom caught fire and my second portfolio was stolen. Also, while I was there, I researched and developed a fold up scooter that could be put into a back pack. 20 minutes before the final exhibition, it fell off the work bench so I had to present it in two halves!”

Stuck in a rut

After Derry, Caffrey had five years university experience of various design disciplines behind him but in his mind, he had nothing concrete to show for it. He found work with various companies as a freelance designer, but despite flirting with the idea of studying transport design in England, he very nearly went back to the panel beating business.

It was while working as a freelance designer that one of Caffrey’s bosses confronted him and convinced him to follow his calling, lest he regret the decision for the rest of his life. Caffrey took the advice on board and decided to pursue what would be his fourth spell in third-level education, a Masters in Automotive design in Coventry.

Caffrey made quite an impression in Coventry, not least due to a project in which he built a Ducati lightweight sportscar, which generated a lot of favourable press for the Dubliner. He stayed in Coventry teaching design development and came across an advertisement from German car giants Audi, who were offering work experience for design students.

Audi

Against his expectations, Audi responded instantly to Caffrey’s application and called him in for an interview, a meeting that he went very close to missing out on altogether.

“It was the last working day before Christmas 1999 when I went for my interview in Germany, but because of the snow, the train was delayed from Munich to Ingolstadt, as I was so late the interviewer had given up and started his 90 kilometre journey home to start his Christmas. I arrived in Audi one hour late, but luckily the secretary convinced him to return and I got the six months work experience”.

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From there, Caffrey never looked back. After a childhood spent in the garage and the majority of his twenties spent grafting through college, he had found his true calling. His description of the experience is akin to a kid in a candy store.

“To be inside a design studio is an unimaginable experience. It's a bit like being in a film set. There is wall to wall of the most incredible art work I've ever seen. In one studio there is a line of full size clay cars that have been modeled perfectly and in another studio, there is a row of interior models that are modeled down to every little detail, even the stitching on the seat is carefully modeled”.

Caffrey’s influence in Germany began to increase the longer he spent there. He was heavily involved in the interior design of the current Audi A3 and was recently given complete responsibility for the Q5, a compact crossover SUV that was released on the market last year. I use the word ‘recently’ pretty loosely. Although the vehicle has only been on the road for little over a year, Caffrey’s role in the process started many years before.

“I had started to sketch this car five years before you would have seen it on the streets. I quickly found the charter for this car and spent the best part of three and a half years developing it, mostly on a full scale model.

“People generally have the idea that Designers spend all day at a desk sketching, this could not be further from the truth. Throughout my time, for instance with the Q5, I worked a lot with computer modellers and clay modellers. Every millimetre is questioned and refined, over and over again until it's perfect.

“We work closely with engineers and solve any problem that arises. I've spent many hours in the wind tunnel making adjustments to get the body to be as efficient as possible”.

The future

Caffrey is currently involved in the design of another car, one he describes as ‘sporty and modern’ which is due for release in the near future. He is very excited about the project, which will be his last in Germany before he makes the move to Los Angeles later this year, where Audi and Volkswagen have a unique concept design studio.

LA represents another new destination and another new challenge to the Dubliner, but as he has done throughout his life, Caffrey is going to meet the challenge head on.

“We are at a very critical time in automotive history; this is influenced by environmental changes and general people attitude towards the car, so I want to be at the forefront of innovative design, to push boundaries and finding exciting solutions to future problems”.