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Marcello Gandini, 1938 - 2024

Updated: Apr 10


Marcello Gandini Lamborghini Miura white


A true titan of car design has passed away at the age of 85. Ken Pearson takes a look back at some of the cars and the design language that defined the career of the great Marcello Gandini.


The Lamborghini Miura is frequently said to be the best looking car ever made. It set the blueprint for what a modern supercar should be and if a car strays from any of the elements that the Miura mandated - dramatic styling, a large and powerful mid-mounted engine, quick acceleration and a high top speed - then it is seen by some as not quite meeting the supercar criteria.


But how is the genesis of the modern supercar connected to the original Volkswagen Polo? The answer is Marcello Gandini. The former head of design of Bertone leaves behind an incredible legacy of cars that could equally be pinned up on bedroom walls or used to transport items to build a bedroom. For me, a good design is interesting but a great design can stand the test of time. Whether something will still look good a decade after its release is nearly impossible to predict but it can be possible to shape, as the late great Gandini proved time and time again over the course of his long career.



Marcello Gandini Lamborghini Miura


The son of an orchestra conductor, Turin-born Gandini was fascinated by both engineering and design from a young age and his interest led him to joining the coachbuilder Bertone in the mid 1960s. He quickly made his mark with designs like the Miura, the one-off E-Type-based Jaguar Pirana and the game changing Alfa Romeo Carabo concept of 1968. This narrow-nosed coupé with scissor doors, semi-recessed wheels and hidden headlights would greatly influence one of Gandini’s most iconic designs - the Lamborghini Countach.


Squint and you’ll see the similarities between the two; a sharp and narrow nose, a strong rising shoulder line with large glass surfaces around the cabin, a roof line that blends seamlessly into the rear bodywork which houses a large twin-bank engine and a flat rear end. You already know the difference between the Carabo and the Countach - only one went into production. Whilst the Miura certainly set the template for the modern supercar, it wouldn’t look out of place in a row of cars from the 1960s; today, a Countach would still look like something from a science fiction story when parked among some factory fresh cars.



Marcello Gandini Miura

Marcello Gandini Lamborghini Miura


High performance cars with Gandini’s touch would include the Alfa Romeo Montreal, Cizeta-Moroder V16T, De Tomaso Pantera Si, Ferrari 308 GT4, Lancia Stratos and the second and fourth generations of Maserati Quattroporte to name just a few. But his styling skills weren’t just reserved for the fastest cars on the road; everyday models like the Audi 50 which spawned the first Volkswagen Polo, the Citroen BX, Fiat 132 and the second generation Renault 5 are all credited to him. When you look at the hallmarks of a Marcello Gandini design, the relations between these seemingly vastly different models start to make sense.


To my eye, a Gandini design can be identified with a strong front end design and straight or sharp edges to define the face of a car - whether this be the narrow point of the Countach’s nose or the flat front of the Renault 5. Large glass houses are commonplace too and these sit proportionally to the rest of the body; no Gandini car can ever be accused of having as much glass as the current Popemobile.



Lamborghini Miura interior red

Marcello Gandini Miura


There is typically a thick, strong and canted forward C-pillar that leads the eye towards the rear wheels and some gently flared arches to match those of the front wheels. Taking a look at the overall style of any Gandini-styled car, there will always be a great degree of consistency to be found too; the best designed cars, in my opinion, have one theme of line or surface treatment which is consistent on every single panel - think of how the Aston Martin V8 Vantage carries gentle curves around the grille, headlights, wheel arches and rear spoiler and looks undeniably gorgeous as a result. Now compare that to the Nissan Juke.


The fact that so many of his designs are still revered to this day is testament to the attention to detail that went into every single shape that he crafted. Although some cars could be considered to be a little bit busy in their style - like the Maserati Shamal - I challenge anyone to suggest a car designed by Gandini that looks fussy. When a car is styled simply yet effectively, the details do the talking.



Marcello Gandini Miura

Marcello Gandini Miura


Some of Gandini’s designs were evolved and tweaked for racing with cars like the Lancia Stratos which sprouted wings, spot lights and the fabulous Alitalia livery for its successful campaign in the World Rally Championship. The Stratos would win the championship three years in a row between 1974 and 1976 and claim three Monte Carlo rally wins across its competitive life. The most extreme example of a racing Stratos has to be the Group 5 circuit racer with a widened body, stretched nose and tail and a large rear wing being added to the exterior.


The car would record a second place finish in the GTP class at the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans. While the original Renault 5 was penned by Michel Boué, the homologation special mid-engined 5 Turbo was tweaked by Gandini before it headed off to challenge the Group 3 and 4 categories of the WRC. It would win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1981 and the roadgoing version would sell just under 5,000 units in its production run from 1980 to 1984. It’s no wonder that he was asked to design the second generation of the Renault 5 road car.



Marcello Gandini Miura


The legacy that Marcello Gandini leaves is one of elegant yet purposeful designs - whether the purpose is to be a rapid supercar, a rally homologation special or a five seat hatchback. His influence can clearly be seen across the automotive world with brands like BMW, Lamborghini and Renault still using elements of his ethos in new designs like the Neue Klasse concept, Revuelto hypercar and the new 5 hatchback.


For me, what elevates the great from the good is the ability to create a timeless design. Naturally, it is nearly impossible to predict how a brand new shape will look in a world that may look completely different in 10 or 15 years time, but those that do are truly masters of the trade. Those that can create shapes that evoke desire and emotion decades after they were first shown are the best of the best. Among the names that make up the exclusive club of the greatest designers of all time, Marcello Gandini will certainly be one of them, now and forever.


 

With thanks to Ben Midlane for the permission to use these Miura images for this article


 

Marcello Gandini courtesy of Lamborghini Media Archive


Marcello Gandini

Marcello Gandini

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