Marcello Gandini painted some of the most extreme cars in the history of automobile design. While he led Italian studio Stile Bertone, his designs included the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo – cars that were so exotic and daring in construction that they remained icons of automotive design.
Born in Turin in 1938, Gandini became part of a trio of prominent Italian car designers including Giorgetto Giugiaro and Leonardo Ferravanti – all born in the same year and within months of each other. Together, they helped shape the path of automotive design.
Gandini’s most famous work was between 1965 and 1980 and during his time at Burton where clients included Alfa Romeo, BMW, Bugatti, Sesetta, Citroen, Di Tommaso, Ferrari, Fiat, Lamborghini, Lancia, Maserati and Renault. He has worked on futuristic concepts as well as practical road cars such as the Citroën BX, the first generation BMW 5 Series, Innocenti Mini and Renault Supercinq. He left Burton to pursue an independent career in design.
After admiring Gandini’s designs for a long time, she reached out to us to discuss his life’s work and talk about his thoughts on how contemporary auto designers approach electric cars.
Nargess Banks: In my time at Bertone, I’ve authored some of the most unique cars in design history. The mid-engine Miura and Countach, in particular, remain as radical now as they were then. However, you were quoted as saying that the car’s geometry, installation, assembly and mechanisms were more important to you than appearance. Am I right in thinking that you let the design take shape naturally through the process?
Marcello Gandini: The car has always been considered as a complete object without separation – at least in terms of the design process – between mechanics and style, in terms of function and aesthetics. Miura’s original mechanical setup adapted its shape while it was with the Countach it was the opposite: the shape groomed the mechanics. Both were the result of cooperation and a similar way of thinking between myself and the mechanics. Since I’ve always had good technical knowledge of whole cars, close collaboration with engineers has always been an essential part of my way of working, from the blank sheet to realizing a running prototype.
She often introduced new car concepts such as the scissor doors she created with the Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo prototype. Are coming up with new ideas and exploring avant-garde concepts essential to your work?
The starting point in each of my projects is always to look for a solution to one or several problems. The more obvious the problem, the easier it is to come up with a great solution, which sometimes means developing concepts that lead to important new ideas. This happened for example with the scissor doors on the Alfa Romeo Carabo but also with less interesting details, such as the turn signal repeaters on the side mirrors of the Maserati Chubasco, which were then taken up by many car manufacturers and are a commonly used solution today.
Since leaving Bertone, you have been involved in numerous design projects, many outside the automotive world. How have your years of vehicle design helped shape your future projects from architecture to interiors and helicopters?
Yes, I have worked outside the automotive business on numerous occasions. For example, the design of houses (exterior and interior), as well as furniture, objects, and, of course, helicopters. This was all so much fun but it was kind of a deviation from what interests me the most and always happens at the same time as the other works.
Looking back, which of your car designs do you feel best explains your philosophy?
My philosophy has always been to try to make each project radically different from the previous ones. Every project of mine that reflects these buildings is an example. As for more recently, the car that truly represents my philosophy is a non-public project. It’s part of the research I’ve been doing for over 20 years on new building methods.
I am intrigued. Can you explain more?
My background in building models and prototypes, as well as my good knowledge of production systems in automobile factories, led me to think about possible innovations in changing manufacturing methods. I have developed several projects (one in particular) and related patents that I have filed and sold to some auto manufacturers. Key concepts include a significant reduction in the number of parts a vehicle is made of, the use of new (mainly composite) materials and completely innovative assembly lines and factory engineering. All these are very advanced ideas, partly used by manufacturers. It’s still difficult to get into current production systems, but it’s an excellent personal success in my experience as a designer.
Meanwhile, looking ahead, I’m interested in hearing what you see as the possibilities and pitfalls of challenging the paradigm language in the post-combustion era as we explore new powertrains (battery electric/fuel cell) and machine learning?
New automobile propulsion methods provide an important opportunity to think of the car as an expression of something different. It can be able to communicate different feelings and shapes in terms of life on board, in the way we perceive and lead. It’s still a backward area – let’s say it’s a wish, which will happen in the future.
What are your thoughts on the new generation of electric cars?
I think the electric car is, for now, a huge missed opportunity in terms of design. The architecture and package made possible by the battery-powered engines open up an infinite number of possibilities for innovation in the look and feel of the entire vehicle. Designers and marketing professionals have chosen and continue to choose the tradition of traditional drivetrains to stay on the safe side. Nothing about the electric car currently makes you say at first glance: “Wow, this is a different car, it has a new message, it clearly speaks a new language of change and innovation.” It’s a shame.
Also in conversation, read my interviews with the Radical Designer Chris Bangle on completely rethinking the design of the car; Hyundai / Genesis Head of Creative Division Luke Dunkerfolk; David Lorenz Lunaz electric bike brand; and Creative Director of the BMW Group Adrian van Hooydonk.