Just a few days ago, Petrolicious featured my article called, “Bertone Faces Bankruptcy” explaining the recent news Bertone’s troubles, with an abridged history. What I perhaps didn’t touch on enough was that much of Gruppo Bertone’s most cherished designs in recent memory, were actually penned by Mr. Marcello Gandini.
Born on August 26th 1938 in Torino, Gandini belongs to a trio of famous Italian car designers all born the same year within months of each other, along with Giorgetto Giugiaro and Leonardo Fioravanti.
When looking at Gandini’s career in retrospect, he has one of the most impressive client lists of any car designer in history, including Alfa Romeo, BMW, Bugatti, Cizeta, Citroën, De Tomaso, Ferrari/Dino, Fiat, Iso Rivolta, Lamborghini, Lancia, Maserati, and Renault.
Gandini’s career was thrust forward in 1965 because Bertone’s then-chief designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, moved to Ghia. Gandini stepped into Giugiaro’s position, working for Bertone until 1980, which would turn out to be the most important period in Gandini’s career.
One thing Gandini should perhaps be better known for is pioneering the concept of Scissor Doors, with the 1968 Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo prototype and should indeed be recognised as one of the founding fathers of the modern italian supercar, responsible for designing both the Lamborghini Miura and Countach at Bertone. Always striking is the fact that these two cars couldn’t look more different; the Miura is smooth and fluid whilst the Countach is sharp and angular, yet they’re from the same designer for the same marque, with one being successor to the other.
When you assess all of Gandini’s work, his designs were typically more angular, embracing straight lines and corners. Whether or not this is due to the cyclical nature of automotive fashion is unclear, but Gandini himself stated in an interview in 2009, that his “design interests are focused on vehicle architecture, construction, assembly, and mechanisms - not appearance.” This substance over style mantra is seen in many of his designs, after all, good design itself is inherently beautiful.
The Lancia Stratos is also one of his most famous and coveted works, which began development as a concept car for the 1970 Turin car show. The cheese wedge-profiled ‘Stratos Zero’ is the car that most non-Petrolisti may best recognise from Michael Jackson’s 1988 film, Moonwalker. A legendary story tells of how Nuccio Bertone showed up for an appointment at the Lancia factory in it and was allegedly refused entry. Cannily, he then simply drove the thigh-high car under the waist-high barrier and went to the meeting that ultimately resulted in a production contract. The rally and production Stratos differed much from the Zero concept, but was indeed the catalyst required for production. Throughout the 1970’s, the Stratos dominated rally competitions and lined the bedroom walls of young Petrolisti worldwide and still frequently polls at the top of many people’s dream car lists.
When Gandini left Bertone in 1980, he pursued freelance automotive, industrial, and interior design, including home architecture, interiors, and even the body styling of the Heli-Sport CH-7 helicopter. It was after Bertone however where he created his most famous designs in terms of production volume, the Citroën BX and the Renault Supercinq (Second Gen Renault 5).
I actually own a 1990 Supercinq (that has not moved for several months, sadly) and I adore the shape and simply looking at it, despite being indifferent to actually driving it. Designing the Second Generation Renault 5 must have been a tough act to follow considering its importance and cult status. Gandini respectfully followed the lines laid down by Michel Boué and retained the charm of the original, modernizing it with many of his own styling cues.
The BX is one of the most interesting looking family cars ever produced and Gandini’s fingerprints are all over it. It’s mix of weird and wonderful, and unconventional, futuristic looks are what made it a winner, with nearly 2.5 million produced over 12 years. It summarises everything to be loved about the Citroën marque and in my opinion, was the last truly loveable car produced by the company.
Amongst Gandini’s more recent designs are the Lamborghini Diablo and Bugatti EB110, both still amongst the fastest production cars on earth and today, the ever enigmatic Gandini is still alleged to be active in the car design industry with unconfirmed reports of working with Indian automotive giant, Tata. One thing is certain though, Gandini is rightly celebrated as one of the world’s authorities on car design, I’m just very glad that I can say that I own a little slice of it.
by Johni Parker