Need for speed

A new book tracks South African auto-designer Keith Helfet’s career in design.

South African-born auto designer and Design Indaba alum Keith Helfet is world famous for designing iconic cars for Jaguar. He has published his first book titled Design & Desire that offers a personal reflection on his life and career to date.


Keith Helfet was born in 1946 and grew up in Pinelands, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. After completing a course in mechanical engineering, Helfet moved to London and was accepted on a master’s degree course in automotive design and upon graduating, began a career at Jaguar. It was here he met his mentor, co-founder of Jaguar Cars, the late Sir William Lyons. Thanks to Lyons’s encouragement and guidance, Helfet created a number of iconic designs such as the XJ220 supercar, the XK180 and the beautiful F-type concept created in 2000.


‘When Keith Helfet embarked upon an ambitious project to create a new body shape for a secondhand Triumph Spitfire using little more than foam offcuts and plaster of Paris, a life as one of the world's most successful automotive designers seemed like an impossible dream,’ writes Porter Press International, ‘and yet that's precisely what he would become.’ 


Helfet’s long and highly successful career at Jaguar saw him rocket to international fame for his design for the XJ220 in 1992 – the fastest car in production at the time of its release. Helfet set up Helfet Design in 1993 to offer a comprehensive design consultancy service to customers such as Elscint, which manufactures a wide range of sophisticated computer-based medical imaging products. Helfet also designed the Joule electric passenger car, a concept car for South African energy company Optimal Energy. 


Design & Desire is Helfet’s first book, but not his first foray into writing as he regularly writes a column for Jaguar World magazine. The personal reflection of his life and career thus far offers an insight into the world of automation design through more than 160 images, including photographs and drawings from his own collection. Design & Desire includes a chapter devoted to the design and creation of the Jaguar XJ220 as narrated in Helfet’s own words. 


Purchase your copy of Design & Desire at 



Keith Helfet: Design is about emotional appeal




X SÊ Factor


Gold standard


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Keith Helfet: The Joule electric car