By on March 29, 2010

In our recent 1984 Dodge Caravan Curbside Classic, we explored the origins of the minivan. The question as to who first penned the modern FWD people mover is a bit of thorny one, and one which has been argued endlessly. In that CC, I gave credit to Rootes (later Chrysler Europe) designer Fergus Pollock  for his work in developing a van project that eventually ended up at Renault as the 1984 Espace. I thought I made it pretty clear that his work was specifically on a one-box approach, and that I had given him due credit for that, whereas Ital Design’s Megagamma had the vestigial hood that ended up on the 1981 Nssan Prairie/Stanza Wagon and the Chrysler minivans. But designers are (rightfully) a sensitive and protective bunch, and I got a rather terse e-mail from Mr. Pollock setting the record (somewhat) straight(er).

Here’s what I said:

“Before we get into the guts of the so-called Magic Vans, lets quickly pick up the story of that other 1984 mini-van pioneer, the Espace, because it also got its start under Chrysler’s roof, but in England. Europe UK (formerly Rootes) designer Fergus Pollock, who later was senior design manager at Jaguar, developed a van project in the seventies, about the same time as Giorgetto Giugiario’s highly influential 1978 Megagamma concept for Lancia.  Pollock’s design focused on the one-box approach, whereas the Megagamma retained the vestigial hood that the Caravan also appeared with. Of course one can likely find numerous earlier designs, even production ones, that will be thrown at this argument, but the Megagamma’s FWD layout, package and lines are unmistakably apparent in the Voyager/Caravan, and to some extent in the Espace.” (emphasis added)

Pollock wants to set the record straight, in no uncertain terms:

Hello Paul, I read with some interest your article on the Dodge minivan and Espace. However, just to put the record straight I can tell you the Megagamma had absolutely no influence on the design of the Espace. The Espace was conceived in 1976 as a skunk project – it was not part of any cycle plan, but became a live programme after I presented the idea to Dick Macadam around the Spring of 1977. The whole point of Espace was that it was a one box volume. It was not only completed months before Megagamma was announced, but was light years ahead in design terms. This was carried through virtually unchanged into production – the Megagamma by comparison,was perceived as traditional and lacklustre, but became in the Prairie a visual bag of shit,clunky and old in the extreme. Get it right next time.

I like to be corrected, although I’m not exactly sure of my transgression. Regardless, you heard it from the horse’s mouth. Anyway, the key line in that article was this, at the very begining: “There’s nothing truly original in the car business. Everyone begs, steals and borrows from everyone else. Or sometimes, the same (and usually obvious) idea ferments for years in various heads or companies, and then suddenly appears in the same format at the same time in totally different places. How about the modern FWD mini-van?”

If Mr. Pollock thinks that he truly designed the first FWD one-box minivan, I encourage him to check back later today at TTAC, for another take on this subject. And I’d feel even more convinced about the similarities of the “lines” on the sides of both the Megagamma and the Espace, if Mr. Pollock could show us some early photos of his Espace, before it ended up for final development at Matra and Renault. Because it’s still very possible that they were added later. Can we take a look, Mr. Pollock?

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40 Comments on “Minivan Design Origins Disputed: The Designer Of The Espace Fires Back At TTAC...”

  • avatar

    I am admittedly not a student of all things car design, but PN’s acknowledgement of differing influneces and the accompanying pictures do nothing to persuade me the Espace and Megagamma were anything more than remotely similar designs that could share a common source. Mr. Pollock’s response sounds like an overzealous defense of 35 year old ideas that turned out to not be as revolutionary as originally thought.

  • avatar

    I have to interpret his e-mail as terse towards the design of the Megagamma, which is not hard to understand as it really is not very attractive.

    Honestly, I think he should really have said, “IN MY OPINION, the design of the Espace was light years ahead…” since not everyone thinks the Espace was a totally successful design either.

    Still, I don’t really see much resemblance between the Lancia and Renault, but the tall body and FWD layout is clear in both.

  • avatar

    I think the FWD part is fairly irrelevant. VW came first (that I know of) but at any rate, it came well before 1976. That said, I do like the Espace as pictured a lot, and better than anything currently on the market (although if VW would just build that retro microbus concept…)

    Incidentally, the last two numbers on the license plate indicate the region of France. 75 is Paris, 78 is just outside of Paris.

  • avatar

    ‘Visual bag of shit’ is the phrase of the day.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    You can see from where Ford cadged the design of the original Aerostar, in the E-space front view….

    Ugly by any other name is still ugly.

  • avatar

    I thought he was doing quite well in his response up until the last sentence, where he rather intentionally stuck the shiv into your back. Whatever. No one in North America ever heard of either of those products.

  • avatar

    Since a designer’s stock and trade is in his own distinctive designs, I can see where the “everyone begs, steals, and borrows from everyone else” comment might have led to a somewhat more terse comment than absolutely required for rebuttal, though I don’t disagree with his premise. From the standpoint of pure design, a two-box tall wagon does not bear much resemblance to a one-box van, whichever set of wheels are driven. Giugiaro’s influence throughout the 80s was pervasive, and to me the Megagamma looks a lot more like a Rabbit than an Espace.

    Did I miss where Pollock claimed to have originated the one-box fwd minivan?

    • 0 avatar

      All this “two-box” design talk got me to thinking – is it possible that (of all things) the AMC Pacer may have had some influence on the Megagamma design? Granted, the Pacer was front engine/rear drive…but a lot of the space maximizing, “small dimensions/large feel” thinking was present there too.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    i think that it is wonderful that Fergus Pollock reads TTAC. His comments , of course , are those of a designer. Calling the Prarie a ” visual bag of shit ” may be true of the early models , but the original Espace was a literal bag of shit to drive , because of the way it was engineered. (I haven’t driven a recent Espace)

  • avatar

    If you’ve read any of the Personality Profiles in Collectible Automobile magazine, one thing that stands out is most car designers will say it’s a team effort to design an entire car. One person will do the front, another one the back, and somebody else the interior, and so on. There are cases where one person contributed a lot, like Franklin Hershey on the ’55 T-bird or Ned Nickles on various 50’s Buicks, but ultimately there are many people involved.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Sorry but I have to disagree strongly with a lot of what is written here. Sure much of automotive design is begged borrow or stolen. That is as true as to be a truism. It is also totally false when it insinuates that there are no original designs.

    If TTAC were rash (or ininformed) enough to state that the original Mini was not a truly revolutionary design, then you could likewise expect a nasty (and justified) letter from Issigonis’ heirs. Or if somebody said the Miura was nothing special, then that statement would mainly have the effect of showing that its originator was an imbecile.

    TTAC said that some of the Megagamma’s lines found their way into the Espace. That statement was wrong on the design level; now we know it was wrong on a historical level as well. Better to face facts and not concentrate oneself on pleasantries, or the lack thereof.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Martin, I’m not interested in taking anything away from Pollock. But look at the the two (Megagamma, Espace); do you think it’s pure coincidence that they both have a virtually identical beltline, and another break for the similar lower body cladding? Pollock worked on the original design years earlier, not the final development which was done at Matra and Renault. Without taking anything away from him, if his original design didn’t include those lines, its a distinct possibility they were influenced by the Megagamma.
      I clearly gave him credit for developing a one-box design, but it does look to me like some of the megagamma’s influence may have worked its way into the final Espace product. Which is exactly what I said in the first place.
      One more thing: there’s no question in my mind that there are only relative degrees of “revolutionary”. The original Mini was more revolutionary by a long shot than the Espace, whose basic layout and configuration were used by earlier minivans, like the DKW Schnellaster:

    • 0 avatar
      Martin Schwoerer

      Nope, sorry Paul, I can see absolutely no evidence of a virtually identical beltline. The Espace is signified by a large triangular window between the A-beam and the front door, a low beltline at shoulder level, and a large fourth side window. The Megagamma has a much smaller glass house, a beltline at neck’s level, and a conventional A-beam. The cladding you mention was typical of the time — even the 124 Mercedes had it in later versions.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      My bad; I don’t mean beltline, but the shadow line or crease running from the top of the front fender along the whole side of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      The Espace was originally meant to be based on the car that was sold by Simca as the 1307/1308 and by Rootes as the Chrysler Alpine. Even in its Renault guise, the Espace still carries many styling cues from the Chrysler Europe product. I would say that crease was taken straight from the 1307/Alpine.

  • avatar

    I vote for the designer(s) of the RAF Latvia 2203. :-)

  • avatar

    I have always liked the clean lines of the 1984 Espace. Excellent space utilization and 360-degree visibility. I never had a chance to drive one so I can’t comment about that. But if you removed the front spoiler and installed slightly larger wheels with a slightly wider track, this 26-year-old design would compare favorably with anything on the road today.

  • avatar

    Why is that FWD vehicles from the mid 1980s look like they are already falling apart even in the old photos?

    Have you ever changed an alternator on the early 80’s Nissa Stanza?

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the ’56 Fiat 600 Multipla..

  • avatar

    Dear Mr. Pollock,

    I could eat a pencil and paper and crap a more attractive minivan design. Get over yourself, sir.


    • 0 avatar

      I bet you can’t.

      But for fun sake, I challenge you to step on your words and produce a period correct design that is better than the one made by Mr. Pollock and the 1st gen Chrysler stuff. Once you’re done with that, make something better than the Honda Odyssey concept shown this year… for the next gen Dodge Caravan, for example.

      For the record, I don’t know how.

    • 0 avatar


      When the Odyssey concept was shown this year it took me a while to figure out why the shape was familiar, it’s pretty much a scaled up Fit, which makes sense since the Fit’s been described by some as a small van. Frankly I don’t know what’s going on with Honda/Acura designs. They’ve made some sharp looking cars in the past and the CR-Z concept was great (the production version not so much), but they just don’t seem to have any coherent direction or brand distinction.

  • avatar

    I used to point to the Curbside Classics as to the ultimate reason I feel compelled to check in to TTAC every day. But now I know that, while I certainly love the Curbside Classics, and all the walks down Memory Lane that accompany those fine articles, it’s the “real time” attention this website attracts, and the talent, characters, icons, celebrities, wit, sarcasm, average Joes, and even the trolls that are found within these posts, mixed all together like some wonderful soup of automotive perspective for us to reflect upon and enjoy, that compells me to check in…Every Day.


  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Both cars are functional looking, although the top one, I think is a bit prettier (Italian, it figures), my question is did either of them have a transverse engine? Neither of them had the sliding doors. another key Chrysler feature was the lift up rear hatch as opposed to door type.

  • avatar

    “Origins of the MInivan
    ([email protected]/discuss/72157622632467679/)

    The idea for the Chrysler minivans originated in 1974 when Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich worked at Ford. They built a prototype for a small, front-wheel drive van called the Mini-Max. The design parameters called for a vehicle with a low floor step-up height, a roof low enough to fit in a garage, and a front crumple zone to protect occupants in a crash. Iacocca took the idea to Henry Ford II who refused to authorize production. Ford fired Sperlich in 1977 and Iacocca in 1978. Both men were immediately hired by Chrysler and it was here they would build their Mini-Max.

    Chrysler created what we know as the minivan, but they were not the first to build a compact, car based van. Volkswagen vans had been sold here since the 1950’s and had a large following of their own. During the 1960’s Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge made small vans based on their compact cars. However, by the end of the 1960’s these domestic models had been replaced by larger, truck based vans.”

    As a Ford employee, I recall seeing the Mini-Max out in the test lab. It had a split tailgate/liftgate that allowed the lower portion to pivot to the ground to form a loading ramp. The VW Type 2 was really the first modern minivan and lead to the development of the Ford Transit Mark 1 in 1965

    The argument about the origins of the minivan are really very arbitrary since small car based vans have been around along time. One of the earlier vehicles was the Thames 300E introduced in July 1954, based on the Ford Anglia / Prefect 100E saloon range and it shared its bodyshell with the station wagon versions of the line.. There are probably even earlier vehicles that could claim to be the “missing link” in minivan evolution.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the fathers at church discussing Minimax, Minx and PROCO … but I never did see a pic of either Minimax or Minx until now … I googled Minimax and came-up with an interesting post on another site by Dick Nesbitt a Ford designer of the era … sheds intersting light on the whole HFII and the garagable van thing and why he didn’t jump on Minimax at the time (recession cut new program funding apparently).

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Robert.Walter, Thanks for the link; I’m doing a post on it for tomorrow.

  • avatar

    IMHO the Megagamma is no more groundbreaking than the 1955 Citroën 2CV AZUL:
    The Lancia is short and tall, but clearly only seats four or five, whereas the Espace, and later the Grand Scenic seats up to seven.

  • avatar

    Okay, so Mr. Pollock took exception to what can be read as his design borrowing from another design.

    Designers are an interesting bunch of people. They’re sort of the rock stars of the business, or perhaps a better analogy would be star athletes, since designers move around and often work for a series of companies, and it’s been that way for a while. By the time Elwood Engel’s design study for the 2nd gen T-Bird was turned into the classic 1961 Lincoln Continental, Engel was working at Chrysler, heading their design staff. J. Mays was at Audi, BMW and VW before moving to Ford. Franz von Holzhausen is in charge of design at Tesla now, after stints at Mazda, Pontiac and I think VW.

    The thing is that while they are stars inside the business, outside of people in the industry or enthusiasts they aren’t well known. Does the general public know what Larry Shinoda designed, who Tom Matano (only the most successful sports car designer in history in terms of unit sales – he did the Miata) is, or that Pete Brock drew the Shelby Daytona Coupe?

    So I can see why designers like Mr. Pollock are picky about getting credit for their designs. I can also see why sometimes they disagree about who originated a design, since car designs are usually a collaborative process, and it might be hard to apportion credit. Also, as the saying goes, failure is an orphan while success has many fathers.

    The Studebaker “Loewy Coupe” was penned by Robert Bourke, who worked for Loewy. The iconic Lamborghini Miura has about six different designers who claim paternity. Gandini is generally credited with the design, but Nuccio Bertone, whose shop did the Miura, took credit, and Giugiaro claims to have done the original sketches.

    Donald Frey died yesterday and the obits said that he spearheaded the design of the original Ford Mustang, but if you Google Mustang Designer, you’ll find that John Najjar, Phil Clark and Joe Oros have also been credited.

    Mr. Pollock could have been less terse, but I can understand why he’s sensitive. Designers don’t like to be told that they copied someone else’s work, unless as in the case of the Miata, they actually did, as Matano readily admits the design brief was to do a modern Lotus Elan. When I asked Franz von H. about the front end of the Tesla Model S and the current Maseratis, he smiled, said the he didn’t know what I was talking about (with a big grin) and then insisted that they looked completely different. And they do, but then if you put the ’10 Camaro and Challenger next to their ’69 ancestors, they too will look “completely different” in terms of proportions, overhangs, etc., but that’s why designers are stars. They have the talent to evoke something without actually copying it.

    BTW, when I asked Matano how it felt to be the most successful sports car designer ever, he said that actually he was proudest of the last RX-7 because it was his own tabula rasa design.

    A musician once told me that hacks copy but artists steal. It might be just a lick or chord sequence or they make someone else’s entire song their own. Bob Dylan’s live version of All Along The Watchtower owes more to Jimi Hendrix’ version than Dylan’s own original – and Dylan acknowledges it openly.

    Car designers are not immune to trends or fads. One generation’s tail fins are another generation’s clear taillight lenses are another generation’s gaping maw front ends.

    Still, any creative person likes to get credit for their own original work.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      “Bob Dylan’s live version of All Along The Watchtower owes more to Jimi Hendrix’ version than Dylan’s own original – and Dylan acknowledges it openly.”
      I never particularly liked “Watchtower” , and as a Dylan fan and a Hendrix fan , I don’t understand why so much fuss is made of the Hendrix version.

  • avatar


    I am surprised that no mention is made about the longitude-mounted, front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz L206D/L207D/L306D (Harburger Transporter). It is often mistaken for Volkswagen bus and is perhaps the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz vehicle, which predates the A-Class by twenty-eight years.

    The second edition, MB100, was built from 1988 to 1995. (German)


    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’ve covered it here:

  • avatar

    Wasn’t MeggaGamma one of Godzilla’s arch-enemies back in the day?

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