8/28/2018 | 3 MINUTE READ

Giorgetto Giugiaro and Italdesign

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It was interesting to see the new Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign. It took me back to my early days of designing cars, when I thought Giorgetto Giugiaro was the best car designer in the world.

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It was interesting to see the new Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign. It took me back to my early days of designing cars, when I thought Giorgetto Giugiaro was the best car designer in the world.

Even before design school, Giugiaro stood out to me. Like most everyone, I loved his early sports car designs, the De Tomaso Mangusta is one of many examples. However, my greatest passion has always been for designing outstanding “people’s cars” – and improving the lives for the multitude with great design.

Giorgetto Giugiaro and engineer partner Aldo Mantovani launched Italdesign in 1968, They offered automotive design and engineering services, although I paid little attention to the engineering side of the company. They supported some of the largest companies in the world, car manufacturers from Italy, Germany, Japan, USA, Korea, China, and other countries would often seek their services.

In 1974 the first VW Golf, designed by Giugiaro, was launched – and successfully brought a new type of compact car to the world market, resulting in 34-million units sold by 2017. Giugiaro’s design for the 1980 Fiat Panda was also ground-breaking. Perhaps my favorite people’s car by Giugiaro was his 1983 Fiat Uno. This car design was the work of a genius, and would go on to sell nearly 9 million units.

In this time period, Giugiaro was also introducing highly innovative new show cars to the world. His design for the 1976 Alfa Romeo Taxi established the look of new one-box vehicles to come many decades later. The design of his Lancia Medusa inspired many car designers from around the world (including J Mays, who was working on a new Audi model at the time). Italdesign’s modular high-package Capsula proposal was yet another revolutionary design, but looked awkward to some and never produced.

Then Giugiaro’s 25-year streak of the creating the most amazing car designs began to come to an end. He did propose the fun motorcycle-seat-car Machimoto in 1986. In 1992, I was fortunate to attend the Turin Motor Show, where Giugiaro exhibited his thinking on automobile “fragmentation,” showing a giant vehicle (with a small staircase inside) called “Columbus.” Next to his mega-vehicle was Biga, a hyper-tiny city car design. I loved them both, and it would turn out these were some of the last vehicle designs I would love of Giugiaro’s.

By the mid-1990’s, the next 25-year period had begun, which would run until Volkswagen Group would come to own Italdesign. In this second stretch, the new cars shown at the Geneva Motor Show by Italdesign would impress few. One unimaginative car after another would be created at Italdesign. There was really only one way to understand it: Giugiaro’s son Fabrizio was now the chief designer, and Dad had left the building. Fabrizio may be a great man, but he clearly doesn’t even have 5 percent of the talent of his father.

As a young designer that didn’t know all aspects of the automotive business, I couldn’t understand how Italdesign could stay in business with these weak car design proposals in the media from Fabrizio. Italdesign seemed like a cruise ship in the ocean which had its motors die a long time ago, but the boat kept on going and going. I wondered how could this be.

It turns out it was Aldo Mantovani’s side of the company that kept things going. Many automakers found value in their engineering services, and I would hear Italdesign styling department would offer free car designs to the clients of their engineering services in an attempt to stay relevant.

When the Giugiaro family acquired Mr. Mantovani’s 50 percent stake of Italdesign in 2007, Giorgetto Giugiaro said he was thankful the Italdesign “innovative business model” worked so well.  He was referring to his company’s ability to make money even when he was offering little value on the design side.

Seeing the GT-R50 it makes me recall how I miss Giorgetto Giugiaro’s genius.

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