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Supercar
maestro

To celebrate the upcoming gathering of Lamborghinis at Passione Engadina, Julian Milnes discovers the lasting legacy of design genius Marcello Gandini on the Italian supercar marque

“I always loved things that moved. Not static objects. They never attracted me,” said the Italian car designer Marcello Gandini (pictured above with the Lamborghini Miura S) in a recent interview.

It is this passion that has driven Marcello to reach the pinnacle of his trade, working alongside the legendary Italian carmaker Lamborghini and shaping its future direction more than any other car designer.

In the pantheon of Italian sports car designers, Marcello Gandini reigns supreme after having created a portfolio of supercar masterpieces, each capturing the zeitgeist of the time. To be the creator of one iconic car design in one's lifetime is an achievement; to have designed such a diverse and breathtaking range is the work of a genius.

A rising star
Born in 1938 in Turin, Marcello was destined to follow in the footsteps of his orchestra conductor father. However, after creating a new car body for a friend’s damaged OSCA 1500 Barchetta, his career trajectory took a dramatically different direction.

In 1963, he contacted Italian automotive design house Bertone for work, but its head designer Giorgetto Giugiaro threatened to leave if Marcello was employed. A couple of years later, after Giorgetto had left, the 27-year-old Marcello was appointed Head of Design at Bertone. His impact was immediate as he created the world’s first mid-engined supercar, the Lamborghini Miura, which was produced until 1973.

And although Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati all benefited from Marcello’s vision while he worked at Bertone, it was his designs for Lamborghini that continue to be referenced today. In automotive circles you only have to mention the Miura (the fastest production car at its debut) and Countach (a stunning Lamborghini manufactured from 1974 to 1990) and there is a hushed reverence.

“He created the reputation of Lamborghini as a maker of iconic cars and outstanding design overall”

“Marcello Gandini’s work for Lamborghini during his time at Bertone is remarkable,” explains Mitja Borkert, Head of Design at Centro Stile Lamborghini. “With the design of the Miura, Marzal, Espada, Urraco, Bravo, Diablo, and especially the Countach, he created the reputation of Lamborghini as a maker of iconic cars and outstanding design overall.”

Lasting legacy at Lamborghini
What marked Gandini out was his desire to break new ground and his determination to not be influenced by popular thought or trends, delivering something that was unanticipated yet evocative and perfectly executed.

“Gandini and Bertone were always searching for a new design approach and a revolutionary design solution,” adds Mitja Borkert at Lamborghini. “The results were always precise, iconic and pure. Every time these original designs were created they always featured new and unexpected proportions.”

“The Marzal, designed around hexagonal shapes, and the Countach, which were both designed by Marcello Gandini, are still our main guidelines for the silhouette of a Lamborghini”

Such is the legacy of Marcello’s work at Lamborghini that you can still see his car design influences running through the current range. Take a glance at the Aventador or the Huracán and you will spot the Italian’s signature design cues, including an aggressive, shark-esque nose and a dramatic, low-slung silhouette.

Mitja explains: “The Marzal, designed around hexagonal shapes, and the Countach, which were both designed by Marcello Gandini, are still our main guidelines for the silhouette of a Lamborghini. These designs have basically created the design DNA of the company.”

Car design’s shifting landscape
So what does Lamborghini’s current head of design consider as the zenith of the design maestro? “The signature of Marcello Gandini is not only related to one car marque,” says Mitja. “For example, he designed the Lancia Stratos and Stratos Zero. It is the complete picture of all his cars that create the legend of Marcelo Gandini, who is almost unbeatable. And, more impressive to me, are his humble approach and character, which create the idol.”

Gandini left Bertone in 1980 to pursue a freelance career. However, by the end of the decade the car design landscape was shifting. Car companies began to set up their own in-house design teams, a trend that troubled Marcello. “Manufacturers hired hundreds of people for their new styling centres, just to replace the work of a single designer who was sometimes helped by two or three people,” he said recently.

“You can hire a multitude of talented people but, if they all come from the same schools with the same teachers and experiences, the result tends to be very flat”

“You can hire a multitude of talented people but, if they all come from the same schools with the same teachers and experiences, the result tends to be very flat.”

This approach was the antithesis of Marcello’s philosophy: “A blank paper is a world of opportunity, the pure spirit of freedom.”

Published August 2019

Lamborghini will be the guest of honour at Passione Engadina, which takes place 23 to 25 August in St Moritz. The event celebrates the finest historical Italian sports cars created before 1989. This year car aficionados will be able to see all Lamborghini’s production models, from the 300 GT of 1964 to 1966 to the latest Urus. There will also be prototypes, custom-built models and limited editions. For more information, please visit passione-engadina.ch.

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