Giorgetto Giugiaro and his collaborators at the legendary Italian design company Italdesign created some of the most influential vehicles of the past half-century, from the sci-fi prototypes (Back to the Future’s DeLorean DMC-12) to the commonplace (the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the object of desire for any 1990s kid with a new driver’s license). But some of Giugiaro’s lesser-known designs were surprisingly prescient.
Italdesign is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, with a spectacular 30-car exhibition at the Turin Auto Show. The exhibition features the best and most iconic cars designed by Giugiaro, who began his design career in 1968 when he founded Studi Italiani Realizzazione Prototipi S.p.A with his partner Aldo Mantovani. Eventually, that company became Italdesign Giugiaro. Over the course of the next four decades, Giorgetto and his son Fabrizio created some of the most iconic cars ever made, including the Golf, Sirocco, Passat, and the Audi 80 and TT. In 2010, the Giugiaros sold the part of the company to Lamborghini, an Audi subsidiary, though father and son stayed on as designers until 2015.
Beyond simply showcasing stunning car design, one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition are the lesser-known cars that tackled societal and urban issues today’s designers are still grappling with. These designs “offered solutions to the already pressing traffic problems in city centers,” the company writes in a release. One was “designed for car sharing long before the term was invented,” another was modular, allowing the car to be transformed “with just a few operations from a car to a tow truck, ambulance, or minibus by changing its bodywork.”
1992: Car-Sharing For Urban Drivers
The “Biga” was a concept car introduced in 1992 at the Turin Auto Show. It was an ultra-compact car that was fully electrically powered. According to Italdesign, the car was intended for sharing in dense urban centers. Almost cubical, the vehicle could fit four people in an unusual, space-optimizing configuration: While the driver was situated in the traditional driver position, the three passengers looked towards the central axis of the car. The car’s doors were replaced by a single car door on the back. In theory, you would have been able to park this car perpendicular to the sidewalk, allowing the passengers to embark and disembark as if they were entering a building through a large door. It’s easy to see today’s self-driving cars reflected in its 25-year-old design.
1982: A Modular Car
In 1982 Giugiaro presented a project called Capsula, a most peculiar automobile. Following the general design of trucks and buses, Giugiaro’s idea was to develop a modular car that could adopt many functions and shapes over a single basic platform that housed everything needed for operation, from the engine to the driving shaft to the brakes to the spare wheel. The only thing that would change was the capsule you would put on top of that chassis, enabling the vehicle’s transformation from regular passenger car to an industrial vehicle or an ambulance. It’s not unlike this concept for transforming cars from the startup Next.
1978: A precursor to the minivan
The Lancia Megagamma never saw the light of day, but it had an impact on millions of other car designs: It was the precursor of the ever-present minivan. Presented at the 1978 Turin Motor Show, the Megagamma was a small van with passenger seats and a front engine with front-wheel drive. Its most significant feature was the incredibly roomy interior, which inspired a string of minivans like the Renault Espace, the Dodge Caravan, or the Plymouth Voyager, among many others.
While these three cars never made it out of the metaphorical lot, they deeply influenced automobile design–and the idea that cars could change how people (and traffic) behaved. The Biga pushed the idea of compact car sharing in city centers, something that is becoming the norm and soon will be obligatory in many cities across Europe. For instance, I don’t have a car to get around Madrid, thanks to the many services that offer tiny electric car sharing with vehicles that are big enough to fit two or four people in addition to a storage trunk. Who knew Giorgetto Giugiaro was envisioning that future almost 30 years ago.