Mopar enthusiasts owe the fantastic array of performance models to Ralph Gilles, Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. We are truly fortunate to have a cool car guy in charge.
Gilles, as a boy living in Quebec, was drawing concept vehicles at the age of eight. When he was fourteen years old, his aunt sent one of his sketches to Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca. A reply came from K. Neil Walling, Chrysler's design chief at the time, suggesting he attend one of three design schools. Following this advice, he attended the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, MI, and in 2002 received an Executive MBA from Michigan State University.
After graduation, in 1992, he joined Chrysler Corporation’s Design Office. Recognizing his talent, upper management named him Vice President- Interior Design Jeep/Truck and Specialty Vehicles, in 2006. In the Challenger’s first year of production Gilles replaced retiring Trevor Creed as Senior Vice President of Design (in August 2008). In October 2009, he was promoted to President and CEO of the Dodge car brand. Although he was replaced as Dodge's CEO in June 2011, he remained Senior Vice President of Design and became CEO of Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology Division (SRT). On April 1, 2015, he was appointed Head of Design and named a member of the Group Executive Council (GEC).
Gilles is also the executive sponsor of the Fiat Chrysler African American Network (FCAAN). He also serves on the board of McLaren Oakland in Pontiac, MI. At his alma mater, The College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, Gilles serves on The CCS Board of Trustees and The CCS Capital Committee.
He is perhaps best known for designing the Chrysler 300 and being a part of the team that helped resurrect the Dodge Viper for 2014, but there’s an interesting fact about the Montreal native you might not know: he’s a huge racing fan.
Gilles was recently the subject of an episode of Netflix’s “Abstract: The Art of Design” documentary series in which he tells his life story and how he got his start in car design. Gilles also touches upon his passion for racing in the documentary, however, explaining how driving and racing is essentially a type of therapy for him.
“I have an inner racer inside of me,” Gilles said in the episode. “I’ve been watching racing since I was a kid. I went to four different driving schools in a span of six years, and briefly competed. But the part that speaks to me even to this day, and why I do it, is the escape. When I’m driving a car, literally, the world melts away. You and the machine meld together. Everything kind of goes into slow motion, and you’re dancing with the car. I come alive in a way.”
Gilles formerly raced in the short lived Viper Cup Series, with his 650 hp. custom-built black Viper ACR but now, it seems as though he likes to drive fast to relax rather than compete. The Viper's a big part of what turned me on about Chrysler," a wistful Gilles explained. "At the time when the Viper came out, it had double the horsepower of the Mustang. It was the fastest car you could buy. Insanely large engine, a V-10 that was 8 liters. I mean, just enormous. And you could buy that car for less than $50,000 when it came out, so it was unheard of."
He has also raced a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
At the 2017 L.A. Auto Show, he shed some light on which designs most influenced him. His two Mopar favorites were the 1969 Dodge Charger and the 2004 Chrysler ME-Four Concept Car.
Here is the iconic Dukes of Hazzard version of the Charger.
In regard to the 2004 Chrysler ME-Four Concept Car, he stated that “It’s really remarkable as a piece of sculpture, a design piece, and a daring piece. I like any car that I can see was tough to get to market. You know it takes a lot of willpower and enthusiasm to get anything cool to market.” This awesome concept was named for its Mid-Engine layout, Four turbochargers, and its Twelve-cylinder engine.