We pay a visit to the Italdesign headquarters outside Turin to see just what makes the Italian aesthetic so legendary indeed…
In 1978, Giugiaro exhibited the Lancia Megagamma at the Turin Motor Show. At first, the show organisers sought to have a word with Mr Giugiaro to inform him that this wasn’t a commercial vehicles show, but in fact one meant for passenger cars only.
Others wondered why the great Giorgetto Giugiaro – the man who designed the most beautiful car of all time according to some, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB – had decided to showcase a car ostensibly meant for a plumber! But there were some who understood his vision. Umberto Agnelli, younger brother to Fiat Chairman and driving force of the Italian auto industry, Gianni Agnelli, said to Giugiaro, “We should be brave enough to produce a car like that.”
They weren’t. But, six years later, Renault was when they introduced the Espace. The rest, as they say, is history. To say that Giorgetto Giugiaro was a visionary would be a gross understatement. Not only did he invent the MPV in 1978, but in 1992 he came up with the concept of car sharing for inner cities – something that is only now beginning to see the light of day.
But he was also a pragmatist. His primary aim was to make objects that were functional first. All the cars he designed had excellent ergonomics – the 1971 Alfa Romeo Alfasud, the 1973 Volkswagen Passat, the 1974 VW Golf (which went on to become a real icon), and the 1983 Fiat Uno, just to name a few.
Thanks to the Volkswagen Group, we had to privilege to visit the Italdesign Giugiaro headquarters in Moncalieri, just outside Turin, in Italy. Volkswagen has owned a majority share in Italdesign since 2010. Italdesign was founded by Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani in 1968, and was initially know as Italstyle. Giugiaro changed it to design because he felt his company did a lot more than merely ‘style’ objects. Over the years, Italdesign has designed everything from pasta, water bottles, furniture, cameras, and watches to high-speed trains.
And what can you say about design and Italy? The two are simply intertwined. And this is best demonstrated by the headquarters of Italdesign itself. Walk in through the main entrance and you’re faced with a sheer expanse of white. It’s like being on a sci-fi film set. A long corridor and a high domed roof leads to a central staircase that invites you to go deeper into the fantasy world of Italdesign. There are studios, workstations, meeting rooms, and engineering centres aplenty at Italdesign – all absolutely spotless by the way – but the room that grabbed most of our attention was their museum on-site. As you walk in, the VW W12 Nardo coupe takes centre stage. This one in black has fitted luggage that sits alongside its massive powertrain and inboard suspension. A sister car to this one took the record for covering 7,700 kilometres at an average speed of 323km/h at the Nardo Ring in 2002.
The beauty of all the cars on display here, though, is that they’re all functional. The Lamborghini Cala concept from 1995, for instance – the first V10 prototype Lambo – has 13,000 miles on the clock. The original Alfa Romeo Brera concept that stunned the world at the 2002 Geneva Motor show – complete with scissor doors and an outlandish, but fully functional, interior – has done over 30,000 miles. Imagine pulling up at the kerb in something as incredible as that. We even had the chance to visit a warehouse not too far away from the headquarters that housed too many cars to speak of – the Ford Mustang concept from 2006, the Maserati 3200GT from 1998 with the boomerang taillights, and any number of Bugatti concepts.
But, now, Italdesign only designs cars for the Volkswagen Group. In fact, they led the design for the sub-four-metre Volkswagen sedan – which is based on the Polo – that’s due to be launched next year in our market. Marco Vendrame, a senior exterior designer at Italdesign said that while getting the proportions right were a challenge they’re happy with the final result. We were hoping a rough sketch might drop from the file he was carrying, but weren’t so lucky. Marco talked us through the entire design process and seemed to echo the sentiments of Giorgetto Giugiaro – even though he’s no longer part of the company – saying that design has to be both beautiful and functional at the same time. We talked about the differences in designing a Lamborghini Huracan versus a VW Polo – but how both were equally challenging.
Of course, Italdesign is consumed by the vast portfolio of the Volkswagen Group but they’re also fiercely focussed on anticipating the trends of the future – as they always have been. And so they gave us details on some of their recent concepts – the Gea, which was revealed at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. The Gea is an autonomous luxury vehicle that provides a “wellness” space for its occupants. It even has its own gym, developed by Technogym. And if you think these technologies are far-out and unrealistic, you’re wrong. The new BMW 7 Series, for instance, has something similar for its rear seat occupants – and that’s to say nothing of the autonomous technology that already built into the vehicle and available on the market already. They also showed us the Parcour, which was developed to celebrate Giugiaro’s 45th anniversary. It’s a striking, efficient, and fast vehicle that’s suitable for any terrain – a go-anywhere supercar if you will.
All told, it was a day well spent. Great design, Italian food, fine wine, and sensational machines – what’s not to like? But more than that it provided us with some insight as to just how much thought and development goes into developing the cars of the future. Foresight and vision is the order of the day – but I guess legacy doesn’t hurt either!