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REMEMBERING THE GREAT MARCELLO GANDINI, WHO HAS DIED AGED 85

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Remembering the great Marcello Gandini, who has died aged 85

The work of designer Marcello Gandini captivated and inspired an entire generation. During his peak, the Turin-born, yes, legend was responsible for a dizzying array of concept and production cars, including the Alfa Romeo Carabo and Montreal, Lancia Stratos Zero, Maserati Khamsin, Ferrari 308 GT4 Dino and Rainbow, Fiat X1/9, and of course a variety of Lamborghinis – Bravo, Miura, Marzal, Espada, Urraco, Diablo, and Countach. 

The Miura, it’s widely thought, was the first ‘supercar’. But it’s the Countach that remains perhaps the single most captivating car ever made, the impossible made real. Gandini wasn’t just a designer, he was a magician. Perhaps even an alchemist of sorts, capable of taking base materials and creating something so much greater than the sum of its parts as to be barely believable.

Born in 1938, he was the son of an orchestra conductor, and attended a Liceo Classico in Turin. "I refused to play the piano because I was forced to do it when everyone else was outside playing games," he told me when I spent a day with him in June 2021. "But I still have my father’s piano here."

His first foray into car design came when he reworked a friend’s OSCA 1500 for a hillclimb. He used wire mesh like you’d find on a chicken coop, demonstrating one of the qualities that made him so special: not just an artist, he was also a problem solver, visual engineer, and an improviser, unafraid of getting his hands dirty.

 

 "I was born a designer of mechanical things,” he explained. “But back then it was impossible to make a living doing that. I liked cars but in terms of making them go fast, not because of their shape. If you want a device you have to know what it’s for first. Otherwise how can you design it? You cannot separate design from mechanical substance.”

His rise to prominence began when he was hired by Nuccio Bertone in 1965, but only after his predecessor there, Giorgetto Giugiaro, had departed. A prodigiously talented duo, they’d been born within two weeks of each other in 1938, and would spark off one another thereafter in one of the great creative rivalries of our time.

Indeed, the authorship of the Lamborghini Miura is perhaps the automotive world’s greatest whodunnit. Giugiaro started the project, but it was Gandini who brought the Miura to life, in so doing creating the car many cite as the most beautiful ever made. 

Miura Gandini© Provided by Top Gear

Amusingly, it’s not an opinion the man himself shared. "It’s just not my thing any more. When I designed the Miura it was important for me and Bertone to do something new that was acceptable to everyone,” he told me. “The Miura was aggressive but had a softness, it was more easily assimilated because it was in the tradition of great Fifties and Sixties sports cars. It was the beginning of my career so I was being prudent. 

"After that, though, I wanted to do something totally different. The Countach, for better or worse, is still enjoyable to look at 50 years later. Whereas the Miura annoys me a bit.”

It’s important to note that Gandini’s studio wasn’t just a dream factory. The original (E12) BMW 5 Series was his (in co-operation with the company’s then design boss, Paul Bracq), taking cues from the lost 1970 Garmisch concept car, itself resurrected by BMW in tribute to Gandini for 2019’s Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza.

Then there was the Autobianchi A112, Citroën BX, Renault 5 (Supercinq), Fiat 132 and important consultancy work on the first Volkswagen Polo. But really, its Gandini’s embrace of the wedge that was his signature, a geometric typology he would continue into the Nineties on cars such as the ill-starred Cizeta-Moroder V16T, Bugatti EB110, and Maserati Quattroporte.

Perhaps the law of diminishing returns had kicked in by this point, but it hardly mattered. The man himself had by then diversified into motorbikes, helicopters, nightclubs, and factories. He was, he said, frustrated by the car industry’s lack of vision. And he became irascible if the conversation dwelt too long on his back catalogue. Old and frail he may have been, but it was the promise of the future that sustained him, not past glories.

“When you’re young the important thing is to work because it’s important to eat,” he told me. “I got to eat every day by designing cars, so in that sense I had some success. With regards to styling it’s a fact that you have to create emotion. Without it a car is useless.”

TopGear.com sends its condolences to the Gandini family, and salutes the passing of one of our great heroes. 

Story by Jason Barlow: Top Gear. 

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