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The Eternitia concept.

michael bettencourt The Globe and Mail

Three South Korean students jumped out of their seats and yelled in triumph after their Eternita concept was chosen as best of the best in a Ferrari international design contest, one that involved more than 50 of the world's top design schools.

In a flashy ceremony attended by Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo and Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso 10 days after his dominant win at Silverstone, among other top-level Ferrari and Pininfarina executives, it was a dominant design performance by the team from Hongik University in Seoul.

They had already won an earlier award at the ceremony, the Autodesk Design Award, for the best technical use of Autodesk software, which provided a suite of common digital prototyping software used in almost every automotive design department in the world.

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The Eternita concept was lauded for its visual appeal, overall quality of its detailing and the collaboration within the team, which consisted of Ahn Dre, Lee Sahngseok and team leader Kim Cheong Ju, all from South Korea.

A two-seat super barchetta (topless convertible) with cues reflecting Ferrari's traditional Formula One design heritage, it also featured a unique powertrain made up of a hydrogen-fuelled engine, a flywheel kinetic energy storage system (KERS) that dispenses with a battery, and a superconductive motor.

An award also went to the design school of China's Jiangnan University, which garnered the Most Unexpected Technical Innovation award for its Drake concept. The diesel-electric hybrid, eight-turbine entry wowed most with its wheels, which have two separate tires that change widths independently based on the driver's inputs. The tires can be moved wider out in the frame for enhanced cornering stability, or narrowed for greater fuel efficiency and top speed potential. Unfortunately, none of the school's students could make the presentations, after visas to travel to Italy were not obtained in time, Ferrari organizers said.

This is the second international design contest that Ferrari has organized - the previous one was in 2005, with the models produced from it still gracing Ferrari's Maranello design studio entrance.

The design brief for this contest was to create a Ferrari "hypercar for the third millennium," or basically an Enzo successor for 2025, with a focus on low weight and alternative powertrains.

Although Ferrari shapes have been designed by famed Italian design house Pininfarina for the past 60 years, and the two organizations still work closely together, the supercar division of Fiat is expanding its own in-house design department, said Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo.

"There are many versions of different cars now, plus a lot of designers work on interiors, memorabilia and products that are done in house."

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Ferrari's head honcho also said he'd like to do the design contest on a regular basis.

"We have three or four years of innovation ahead of us," said Montezemolo, referring to the upcoming hybrid Ferrari and the imminent FF, the first all-wheel drive Ferrari, as well as its first "shooting brake" hatchback, which is set to arrive in North America by December. "Maybe next time we'll do a competition with - not 'normal' cars - but perhaps less extreme cars."

Coming in second place in the overall Classified award was the Xezri concept, designed by Samir Sadikhov, originally from Azerbaijan, but studying at the International European Design school in (IED) in Turin.

IED's Spanish school in Barcelona also garnered one of the coveted seven finalist spots, which was originally supposed to go to six schools; Ferrari's evaluation team was so impressed with entries from the finalist schools that it decided to expand its short list to seven. Each design school was then asked for two entries each, 1:4 scale models of which were displayed at the awards ceremony, along with design brief boards.

Third place overall went to a team from London's Royal College of Arts for its Cavallo Bianco concept, which was a unique white concept that was designed for racing over an ice lake in winter. Designed by Henry Cloke of the U.K. and Qi Haitao from China, it took into account expanding Ferrari markets in Russia and China, the team said.

The Eternita's covered rear wheels, an A-pillar-free half-windshield that flowed as one piece into the side windows and a completely windshield-free front section of the greenhouse were the most distinctive visual aspects of the design.

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It may have had the most evocative name, but it wasn't the most obviously visually fetching design, at least in an unscientific poll of colleagues attending the awards ceremony at Ferrari headquarters in Maranello. None emerged as the consensus visual knockout over the others, although many were beautifully alluring shapes. With beauty in the eye of the beholder, opinions varied wildly.

"Some of these students have been watching too many Transformers movies," said one Ferrari insider, not referring to any particular school or entries.

The lone North American design school to make the final shortlist was the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Its Achillo concept was one of the most evocatively shaped in the competition. Its lead designer Jose Casas hails from Mexico, and is headed to a design internship at Pininfarina in September. Canadian Andrew Bazinski was also part of the team, but wasn't at the ceremony, as he is working at California design firm Tandem Design.

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