Mark Trostle’s award-winning car sketch from the 1988 Autorama competition.
Mark Trostle has the career of his dreams, guiding the design of high-performance SRT vehicles, Mopar accessories and Motorsports for the Chrysler Group. His job takes him around the world, from glamorous auto shows to legendary races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
But the most important car Trostle ever sketched was started and finished in one day, while he was a high school senior in suburban Detroit. That car, a wedge-shaped sports car with a large rear wing, won him first prize in a competition to design a future car. The sketch was displayed at the Detroit Autorama custom car show, and Trostle was given a $1,000 scholarship to Detroit’s prestigious College for Creative Studies.
Winning that award at Autorama motivated him to seriously pursue being a car designer, says Trostle, Head of SRT, Mopar and Motorsports Design, Chrysler Group LLC. “They called on a Saturday morning and told me I won. I’m like, are you kidding? Then it was, wow, this is for real. It really raised the bar and helped set into play my whole career.”
It’s that impact, giving young people the confidence to pursue a career in car design, which motivated Trostle to launch a new design competition for high school students, again keyed to the Detroit Autorama.
After starting small in 2013 with a competition for students in Detroit, the 2014 competition was open to all students in Michigan. Prizes are given to top finishers in each grade level and the award for the first-place senior includes scholarship money to College for Creative Studies. This year’s winners will be honored at the Detroit Autorama on March 7.
Trostle’s goal for the competition is simple: “I hope somebody makes it through and becomes a car designer.”
But it also has some sentimental value. “I always looked to see who won that competition, but three or four years after I won it went away,” Trostle says. “So I put it on my bucket list to bring it back.”
How important was the Autorama competition to Trostle? He still has his winning sketch, dated Nov. 15, 1987.
Looking at it today, Trostle shakes his head and chuckles: “It’s just so bad, based on what I know now.” He recalls having drawn five or six versions of the car, with its sharply sloped nose, large windscreen and big chrome wheels. The final sketch was drawn with chalk, pencil and markers. For an artistic touch, Trostle spray painted the back of paper so that the color would show through.
Mark Trostle shows off a concept Ram truck.
Drawing cars was a daily, albeit unofficial, assignment for Trostle in high school. He couldn’t confine his drawing just to art class and there was always a canvas handy — notebooks, book covers, and scraps of paper. “Sports cars, it was always sports cars,” he recalls.
Not all of Trostle’s instructors thought that car design was the best bet for his future. He recalls being told his math grades weren’t good enough.
But his art teacher, a retired automotive clay sculptor, encouraged Trostle. There were special assignments, such as sketching an egg adorned with tape lines to learn how to draw shapes in perspective. And it was his art teacher who told Trostle about the Autorama competition and encouraged him to enter.
“It was the first competition I had entered and the only one. I know other guys in my art class entered. I wanted to win,” Trostle says.
When he got that call that he won, Trostle has already been accepted to the College for Creative Studies. The $1,000 from the competition was helpful. And at the college Trostle got to work alongside his current boss, Chrysler Group Senior Vice President — Product Design Ralph Gilles.
The two share a passion for car design and sports cars. And it’s possible, with the Autorama design competition, that they’ll meet a future member of their staffs.