Tag Archives: Marcello Gandini

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Designer Gear

The 2020 Rétromobile will prove to be even more special than normal, it actually took place! Months have passed under the pandemic cloud and the distant rumbles currently being experienced do not give any assurance that we will return to normal, or what passes for that state in 2020, any time soon. So let’s take the opportunity to have a look back at the annual Parisian automotive festival.

For the best part of a century Bertone were princes of the motoring world, their distinctive style seen on many important cars. A changing business landscape could not be accommodated and the organisation filed for bankruptcy in 2014, the end of the road. They had accumulated a collection of their work and this was eventually taken over ‘for the nation’ by Automotoclub Storico Italiano. The cars are usually on public display at the Volandia Museum located at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. For the Rétromobile a small selection was allowed out of Italy for our general appreciation.

The Volvo Tundra was the work of Marcello Gandini, Bertone’s lead designer for most of the ’60s and ’70s. The concept was based on a Volvo 343, the idea was to generate more business, Bertone having worked on 264TE and 262C, but the concept was rejected by the Swedes. Several design elements would later appear on the Citroën BX.

The MPV movement in Europe was in its early stages when Bertone unveiled this unusual concept at the 1988 Turin Motor Show. It featured gull-wing doors hinged at the centre of the windscreen to admit the driver and front passenger, those in the rear would have to use a conventional sliding door, the machine certainly attracted attention. Only able to carry five people the Genesis was already behind the likes of the Renault Espace that could accommodate seven. Perhaps the maddest feature of the exercise was that it was powered by a 5.2 litre V12 Lamborghini engine, normally found in the rear of a Countach. As one authority on Lamborghini’s history, Richard Dredge, put it. “After all, it may have looked great and pushed the the design boundaries but how was anybody ever going to make any money building a people carrier with a V12 engine?”

The same vein of crazy what-if thinking that brought forth the Genesis also produced the BMW Pickster. It was based on an E39 BMW 528 with a 3.2-liter straight-six from the M3 to power the pick up truck concept.

BMW resisted the temptation to take the Pickster and run with it, about the only section of the market that they have not tried to access.

In 1971 Bertone tried to interest Suzuki in an innovative amphibious vehicle, that became known as the Suzuki Go. Gandini was the designer. “I was inspired by the increasingly rubber inflatable dinghy boats.” The two-seater could also accommodate a snow bike or motorcycle in its flat loading bay. It was powered by a three-cylinder Suzuki 750 engine that drove the rear wheels.

The Go was intended to float and would be powered on water by clamping an outboard motor to the tailgate. The tyres were designed to go off-road and handle dirt tracks and snow with ease.

At the same time that Gandini was working on the Suzuki Go he also gave his attention to a development of the Citroën GS, to be known as the Camargue. Launched at the 1970 Paris Motor Show the Citroën GS was technologically advanced for the time, both aerodynamically and mechanically. It had features such as power-assisted disk brakes, front and rear, rarely seen in a car in that market segment. The hydro-pneumatic suspension had been developed since it first appeared on the DS range, giving both a comfortable ride and excellent road-holding. This translated into sales and awards including European Car of The Year. CEO Nuccio Bertone asked Citroën for a car to play with, the French were happy to supply one and Gandini got to work.

Unusually for a Bertone creation there was an absence of sharp edges, more softly curvaceous than angular. The 2+2-seater Camargue coupé was dressed in a metallic champagne colour and was an instant sensation when it was revealed at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show. Citroën also featured the Camargue as its prize exhibit on its trade stand at that year’s Le Mans 24 hours, causing speculation that they were seriously considering the concept for production.

However, events overtook Citroën as the cost of developing the new SM and other products seriously overran and it was the same story with their investment in Maserati. The alliance with Fiat, who had acquired a substantial stake in the French company from Michelin, did not work out as planned. Another expensive, ill-judged initiative, designing and building thirsty, but powerful, rotary engines with NSU, was torpedoed by the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent oil crisis. Fiat sold their share of Citroën back to Michelin who were on a long term strategy of divesting themselves of any holdings in motor manufacturers. Citroën’s failure to have a product in the profitable middle range of cars in the European market meant there were no reserves to fall back on, they were bankrupt. The solution to these conflicting issues was facilitated by the French government and Michelin, Citroën was taken over by Peugeot, and was saved from destruction. Peugeot had no time for niche products such as the Camargue and the attractive concept passed into history, very much a case of what might have been.

Just over a decade later Bertone and Citroën came up with the Zabrus, based on a BX 4TC. Another 2+2 concept with dramatic scissor doors and a funky interior.

Powered by a 2.2 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that drove all four wheels, both a legacy of Citroën’s recent rally program. The Zarbus did not fit with the product strategy of the time and was not implemented. Various styling elements did appear on the later XM and Xantia models.

The foundation for the Bertone Ramarro, named after a local lizard, was the recently launched Corvette C4, indeed the car used to create the concept was the chassis that introduced Europeans to the new Vette at the 1983 Geneva Motor Show. Working round the clock Bertone were able to spring the concept on the Americans at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

One of the aims of the concept was to celebrate the Bertone brand, the stylist behind so many familiar cars. The Vette’s radiator and air conditioning system were shifted to the rear to allow a more aerodynamic front profile. Another big change from the production car were the doors which were long, consequently their opening arc was very wide. So the designers decided to change them and the doors slid forward which created another set of problems to be solved.

The Ramarro toured round the globe attending motor shows and was a success with both the general public and the media. It received the Turin-based magazine, Auto&Design, 1985 Car Design Award for its “bold ideas,” which gave “the Chevrolet Corvette an entirely new personality.”

The Autobianchi A112 Runabout dates back to 1969 and was another Gandini design. It was an attempt to convince Fiat that they should consider a mid-engined layout for their budget performance car. This followed a path that had been established by Matra, Lotus and VW-Porsche in the final years of the ’60s. Taking many design cues from the world of speedboats the Runabout was very popular with press and public alike when unveiled at the Turin Motor Show. This helped to convince the Fiat management and the result was the Fiat X1/9, a best selling sportscar.

The Ferrari 308 GT4 was a major departure from Maranello’s normal protocols. It was the first Ferrari mid-engined 2+2 and the first to be powered by a transverse mounted V8 engine. Even a casual glance would reveal that this was not the customary collaboration between Ferrari and Pininfarina, it had Bertone and Gandini’s fingerprints all over the coachwork, looking more like a Lamborghini than a Ferrari. Although sales were better than the 246 Dino it replaced, the 308 GT4 was never loved in the way that most of Maranello’s finest are. It was no surprise to see Pininfarina back at the drawing board for the successor, the 308 GTB.

Bertone continued to manufacturer the 308 GT4 bodies but it was clear that there would be no future business with Ferrari, as the two organisations had a widely differing sense of styling. Gandini expressed it succinctly. “I did not see much point in designing a Ferrari concept that looked like a Ferrari, as the designers at Pininfarina and others were very much capable of doing so. If we had to do a concept on a Ferrari base, I believed that we needed to look at something that would be radically different to that what would be expected.”

At the 1976 Turin Motor Show Gandini and Bertone revealed their solution as to how the future smaller Ferrari should look, the Ferrari Rainbow was their answer. Angular and aggressive , it was unlikely to ever find favour with Maranello but perhaps that was the intention. One innovation that Ferrari eventually followed was the retractable targa top roof that would fold down behind the rear seats, it was an ingenious way of having both a coupé and a spider in the same car.

John Brooks, July 2020

The Italian Job

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Name the odd one out – Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, Bugatti, Lancia, Alfa Romeo. Easy I hear you cry, Bugatti! – Though Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan almost all of the cars that bore his name were built at Molsheim in the French province of Alsace. Since the acquisition of the marque by the Volkswagen Group production has returned to Molsheim. The rest are all Italian car companies so that is that.

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However, there was, some 30 years ago, an attempt to revive Bugatti and locate it in the shadow of Modena (where else in Italy?) at a purpose built factory in Campogalliano. The author of this plan was Italian automotive entrepreneur Romano Artioli who somehow persuaded the French state-owned industrial conglomerate, Snecma, to sell him the rights to the brand of Bugatti, succeeding where so many others before him had failed. Perhaps he made them an offer they could not refuse.

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Artioli had a vision of the car he wanted to create, this had been hatched over several years with an old friend, Ferruccio Lamborghini, yes that Lamborghini. This was going to be the fastest, greatest car in the world and to achieve this aim Artioli recruited some of the stars of the local auto industry. Designer Marcello Gandini was a logical choice given his record with such supercars as the Alfa Romeo Montreal, De Thomaso Pantera, Ferrari Dino 308GT4, Iso Grifo, Lamborghini Miura, Lamborghini Countach, Lancia Stratos and Maserati Khamsin plus many others. The technical side was handled by Paolo Stanzani who drew up the initial concept of a two seater mid-engined sportscar with four-wheel drive, powered by a 3.5 litre V12 with four turbochargers giving over 600bhp in extreme form. Chassis were initially planned to be aluminium but this lacked the necessary rigidity so French aeronautics experts, Aérospatiale were called upon to develop and build a carbon fibre unit.

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Artioli managed to fall out with both of his project leaders prior to launch but the EB110GT continued its development and during this period recorded a record speed of 212.5mph, making it the fastest production car on the planet. The EB110GT was launched in 14th September 1991 at La Grande Arche de la Défense to the west of Paris to a crowd of 5,000 media and guests. The date was the 110th anniversary of Ettore Bugatti’s birth and 1,800 VIPs celebrated into the night at a sumptuous reception and dinner at the Palace of Versailles.

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Such extravagance set the tone and were to have consequences particularly as there were cost overruns at Bugatti and, to compound matters, Artioli acquired Lotus Cars from General Motors. He also launched the Ettore Bugatti fashion brand, all of this funded by a combination of personal wealth and borrowings. Artioli’s luck deserted him, his principal income streams, a large Ferrari dealership and being Suzuki’s agent in Italy, were experiencing difficulties with the general economic situation and the financial crisis that hit Japan at that time. Two other factors worked against the EB110GT, failure to get a foothold in the vital North American market and the arrival on the scene of the McLaren F1 which took SuperCar performance levels to a new dimension.

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In an attempt to drum up business in the face of the new arrival from Woking an even more extreme version of the EB110 was launched, the Supersport, but it was too little too late. The planned output of 300 units per annum was never achieved and in the end only 140 cars were built, including 38 Supersports.

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The end for Artioli’s Bugatti dream came in September 1995 when the corporation was declared insolvent with debts of $125 million, eventually after a couple of years of financial and legal wrangling the Volkswagen Group acquired the Bugatti brand. The Veyron was the next exotic chapter in the story of Bugatti and the recent launch of the Chiron at the Geneva Salon points to the future.

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So the EB110 is a rare beast, so to encounter two of the Supersports sharing the same stage is highly unlikely scenario, that they were in the company of a prototype EB112 saloon is even more so, this is hen’s teeth territory.

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The trio had been owned by Monegasque businessman, Gildo Pallanca Pastor, and closer inspection showed the cars to be even more important that I had first believed. The two Supersports appeared to have competition history, that much I figured from the sponsors’ logos, one turned out to be a world record holder. On 2nd March 1995 Pastor set a new record for a car on ice of 296.34 km/h (184 mph) at Oulu Finland, the record being set on winter tyres without spikes.

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Pastor was not finished with returning Bugatti back to the race-tracks, following the lead of Michel Hommel who entered an EB110SS in the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours. The car ran competitively till an accident near the end of the race forced it into retirement. Pastor took his other SS to the USA and ran in two races with two finishes in 1995 before heading to Japan for the Suzuka 1000kms, a round of the BPR Global Endurance Series. He was partnered with 1993-Le Mans winner Eric Hélary but transmission problems caused the Bugatti to retire. Pastor entered the 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Joining him at the wheel was Derek Hill, son of 1961 F1 World Champion Phil Hill, and Olivier Grouillard but they went out after 154 laps with gearbox failure.

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This inspired Pastor to enter Le Mans but that initiative sank almost at the start of Pre-Qualifying when ex-Ferrari F1 star, Patrick Tambay, crashed the Bugatti beyond immediate repair and, aside from a club race at Dijon a few months later, that was the end of the competitions career of Bugatti, which is unlikely to be revived under the current ownership.

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The EB112 also warrants more attention, something it attracted in spades at the 1993 Geneva Salon when it was shown to the world for the first time. Powered by a 6 litre V12, the elegant saloon design was the work Giorgetto Giugiaro at ItalDesign. The engineering team was under the guidance of the great Mauro Forghieri, whose work for Ferrari in the ‘60s and ’70s is legendary, producing four drivers World Championships and eight Constructors titles. Two EB112 prototypes were built and the project was set to go into production in 1996 but the financial disaster that engulfed Bugatti ended that dream.

Under the new owners Bugatti returned to its spiritual home in Molsheim, the automotive Risorgimento was done.

John Brooks, April 2016