Anatole Lapine who was in charge of styling at Porsche under two disparate CEOs, Fuhrmann and Schutz, looks back on quite a CV: Chevrolet Corvette, Opel GT, Porsche 928, Porsche 964. But there is a lot more to this designer whose career spans two continents and most of the second half of the twentieth century, and who for thirty years, was close to Ferry Porsche.
Son of a half German half Latvian father and a Polish mother, Anatole Lapine’s first years were spent in Riga, the capital of the then (and since 1990 again) independent Latvia. His father owned a furniture warehouse, but this relatively comfortable middle class existence was to come to an abrupt end in 1941 when the Russians invaded Latvia and the Lapine family fled to (German occupied) Poland. As a young teenager in Poznan, Anatole joined the Hitler Youth (membership was compulsory) and discovered the joys of design as he assembled model aircraft for competitions. This was the calm before the storm. In 1944, with the Russians advancing across Poland, the Lapines were once again forced to flee, this time into Germany and when the war ended they found themselves refugees in a village outside Hamburg. Initially they were helped by a company of the Royal Corps of Electrical Engineers (Anatole peeled potatoes for the regiment), but when the troops left, the family like most refugees endured very lean times for a couple of years. Eventually Anatole was able to go to school but had to suffer the humiliation of classes with children half his age as his German was still rudimentary. He stuck at it though with the determination of someone who one day would make his mark on society: by 1950 aged 20, he was an apprentice at Mercedes Benz in Hamburg. The following year the family was offered visas to the United States under the UN resettlement of refugee’s programme. Anatole found himself in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was a pretty traumatic experience: “It was the coldest place in the world!” he exclaims and goes on to describe how he got a job maintaining snow ploughs thanks to his Mercedes experience. The US is a land of opportunity and as soon as he had completed his education, “and I had money enough to buy a decent suit,” he set off for the bright lights of Detroit, the capital of the automotive world.
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