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TG’s guide to coachbuilders: Italdesign Giugiaro

When the best in the biz runs the shop, you know it’s going to make something special

Italdesign Zerouno
  • Who is it and when did it start?

    Italdesign

    This is Italdesign Giugiaro, started by Giorgetto Giugiaro (pictured) and Aldo Mantovani back in 1968. Starting at Fiat Special Vehicles, Giugiaro made his name at Bertone and Ghia before forming Italdesign. Aldo Mantovani, while eminently less... um, eminent, brings a wealth of engineering nous to Giugiaro’s delectable designs. 

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  • Where is it based?

    Italdesign

    The town of Moncalieri, just outside Turin. Really, where else would you expect to find an Italian design house and coachbuilders? For reasons that stretch back as far as Garibaldi, it’s unlikely to be in the south of Italy. It’s also unlikely to be in, say, New Zealand, as pretty as the country may be.

  • What cars has it built?

    Italdesign Zerouno

    ‘Built’ is a bit of a hard one – Italdesign is a coachbuilder, yes, but it’s much better known for its designs. It had a hand building the BMW M1 back in the day, because, at the time, Lamborghini was broke and basically unable to build anything. 

    It’s built a shedload of concepts, as you’d expect, and it also builds the Italdesign Zerouno, as you might also reasonably expect. But it also does a lot of ‘pre-series’ work to figure out engineering, packaging and reliability before the main plant invests in tooling, ensuring no one's getting subpar results. And now you know.

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  • Has it done anything other than cars?

    Italdesign

    And then some. Italdesign’s had an ‘Industrial Design’ branch since the early Eighties, belting out anything from tractors to Nikon cameras and furniture that’d fit right in on a Kubrick set. And also some guns for Beretta. And some motorcycles for Ducati, MV Agusta and Suzuki. And some watches for Seiko, including the one worn by Ripley in Aliens. And a promenade in Porto Santo Stefano in Tuscany. And a type of pasta. And a helicopter. And even a flipping basketball.

  • Can you tell me one of its best cars?

    Volkswagen Golf Mk1

    That might be hard to do, just due to option paralysis. Italdesign is responsible for some of the greatest shapes ever bestowed on motoring. So let’s narrow the frame a bit and include a few more criteria to determine what makes the ‘best’. How about ‘most influential’, ‘most original’ or perhaps ‘best-selling’? 

    Well, narrows it down some. And then some more. And the only Italdesign... er, design that ticks those boxes is also a car that redefined its segment and ushered in a new era for the company it was designed for. It can only be the Volkswagen Golf. 

    Yes, the Maserati Bora is gorgeousity borne in metal. Yes, the Lotus Esprit – and the Alfa Caimano, Maserati Boomerang and Porsche Tapiro concepts – ushered in the wedge era of supercars. And yes, we’re indelibly bewitched by the Bizzarrini Manta. We have not come to this decision quickly or made it lightly. 

    The Golf took Volkswagen to a globally dominating force, hoovering up automotive doyens to the point where – regardless of your impecunity or impressive wealth – one could buy a car that befitted one’s status without ever leaving the Volkswagen Group. Motorbikes too, just in case. 

    Have a quick look at Volkswagen’s early ideas for the Beetle’s replacement and then come to realise the stroke of design genius that is the Volkswagen Golf – and the genius of the man and company who created it.

  • And one of its worst?

    Bugatti EB112

    Let it never be said that Italdesign is proud – it’s penned designs for such posterworthy brands as Proton, Daewoo (the Matiz, believe it or not) and Zastava. But it’d be elitist to rain down from a great height on bargain-basement hatchbacks from emerging (or disbanding) countries who sought to lean on a design titan for a bit of credibility. 

    Instead, let’s look to a brand seemingly custom-made for elitism, or at least for the elite: Bugatti. 

    Yeah, we know them now as the ne plus ultra of cars, reliably building cars that forever alter your perception of just what cars can do, can be, and can cost. So, to use a phrase that comedians hate, we won’t exactly be punching down here.

    If you were to imagine what the combined talents of Giorgetto Giugiaro – a man voted the car designer of the century – and Bugatti would achieve, you’d almost be guaranteed a better result than the EB112. Carbon-fibre chassis, aluminium panelling, a V12 for the ages and the free rein of one of the most talented designers to ever put pencil to paper. And just look at the result.

    The EB112 combines a seemingly wilful disobedience of proportion and form – in order to ape a model from Bugatti’s glory years – with the bulbous, over-rounded styling of the early Nineties. The result is a car that looks like an armadillo that’s swallowed a horseshoe. Little wonder Bugatti leaves it out of its official history on its website.

  • Tell me an interesting fact about Italdesign...

    Italdesign

    Did you know that alongside the cars, motorcycles, watches, trains, tractors, guns and furniture it designs, Italdesign is also into creating 1:1 replicas of Egyptian statues and Etruscan sarcophagi? It feels like something that should have you double-checking if it was indeed April 1, but it’s something Italdesign’s been doing for two decades now.

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  • What’s it doing now?

    Italdesign

    You mean, apart from faithful recreations of antiquities? Dutifully operating as a subsidiary of the vast corporate giant that is the Volkswagen Group, of course. But that’s not to say that Italdesign shared the fate of, say, Ghia or Vignale, which were subsumed by their parent company until they became little more than a badge stuck to the back of regular production cars. 

    Italdesign, in case you hadn’t heard, is branching out. Its first-ever Italdesign-branded car, the Zerouno, plucks an aluminium platform from Audi, engine from Lamborghini and subtlety from one of the later Fast and Furious sequels. And if that’s not your cup of Lapsang Souchong, there’s always the GT-R50, or the absolute opposite of the Skyline you’d expect to see in an early Fast and Furious outing.

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