The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign

  • 23 March 2024
  • 3 min read
  • 5 images
The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign image

Photo credit: Gooding, Volkswagen, Wheelsage

Giorgetto Giugiaro represents one of the greatest geniuses in automotive design: He had the ability to radically change the approach towards design as a consequence of function. Some of the greatest revolutions that came out of his Italdesign were the Volkswagen Golf and Fiat Panda, to name just two examples. Models that, in addition to being sold in millions, have influenced public taste and purchasing decisions.

So how did Giorgetto Giugiaro's career begin?

Coming from a family of artists - his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were painters and fresco painters - he was hired by Dante Giacosa at FIAT as an apprentice when he was only 17 years old, straight out of design school. In a big company, however, it was difficult to emerge and he was in a hurry. So he decided to contact the famous coachbuilder Bertone who, impressed by the young man's work, hired him. Shortly, at only 19 years of age, he was given responsibility for design. Congratulations to Nuccio Bertone's lucid vision! He stayed for six years, during which he created masterpieces with his pencil, such as the Aston Martin DB4GT Jet and the Ferrari 250 GT SWB nicknamed Berlinetta Speciale, which was Nuccio's personal car. To underline the uniqueness of this car, it is enough to consider that in 2015 it was sold at a Gooding's auction in Pebble Beach for $16.5 million.

The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign - 1 One of Giorgetto Giugiaro's early masterpieces is the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Speciale that was Nuccio Bertone's personal car.

Giorgetto Giugiaro's journey didn't stop there: In 1965, at the age of 27, he decided to resign to take over as director of the Style and Project Centre of the Ghia coachworks, where he further advanced his prototyping. During his stay, cars such as the Maserati Ghibli and the De Tomaso Mangusta were born, anticipating the wedge concept that would become the Piedmontese designer's hallmark a few years later.

The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign - 2 The Volkswagen Golf sold more than six million units worldwide in less than 10 years. In the GTI version it becomes a status symbol.

Three years later, he felt ready for the big leap: Together with Aldo Mantovani, a designer he had met during his time at FIAT, he founded Italdesign. In 1968, he had just entered his thirtieth year, and offered his services to manufacturers with the confidence of a mature man. Among them was Volkswagen, which was looking for a style of its own to emerge from their crisis. The Passat, the Scirocco and above all the Golf were born. This model sold over six million units worldwide from 1974 to 1983. The brilliance of the Golf regarding its flagship model GTI lies in turning a small car into a status symbol. A true revolution.

The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign - 3 From Giugiaro's pencil came the small car par excellence: the Fiat Panda, winner of the Compasso d'Oro award in 1981.

Giorgetto Giugiaro's creativity was also immediately recognised in Italy, where the Panda and Punto carried his signature. He did not neglect sports cars, however, with the 1972 Maserati Boomerang, for example, the first true example of his characteristic style of sharp geometric lines and wedge shape.

For his many achievements, he was named the most influential car designer of the 20th century in 1999 and included in the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2002. His many achievements include the 1976 Lotus Esprit, the 1978 BMW M1, the 1979 Lancia Delta, the 1981 Delorean DMC-12, the 1998 Daewoo Matiz as well as the 2002 Alfa Romeo Brera.

The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign - 4 The 1972 Maserati Boomerang is the first concrete example of Giugiaro's characteristic style of sharp geometric lines and wedge shape.

Ferdinand Piech, in 2010 at the top of the Volkswagen Group, decided that he wanted to have Giugiaro all to himself and bought Italdesign. "I accepted", as Giorgetto, as everyone calls him, would later say, "because it guaranteed a future for the thousand families of our employees. In 2015, he sold the last shares of Italdesign and exited by founding, with his son Fabrizio, GFG Style, dedicated to car design and recently formed a partnership with Hyundai. It is a return to his roots for the Piedmontese genius who designed the Hyundai Pony in 1976. He did not neglect his free time, which he dedicated to his great passion painting and to the trial motorbike on which, regardless of his 85 years of age, he is an acknowledged talent.

The myth of Italian coachbuilders: Italdesign - 5 In 1997, Giugiaro again collaborated with Volkswagen, designing the W12 concept car. In 2015, the Wolfsburg-based company acquired Italdesign for good.