Wedge Wonders - the Influence of the Angular Era in Automotive Design
Though it may seem hard to believe, we’re only a month away from celebrating the 50th anniversary of the start of the Wedge Era in automotive designs.
To those of us who still think of the Countach as a sharp enough design to be considered cutting edge, this is a sad reality. Yet the prototype of what would become the 1980s poster child was first shown in a hard-to-conceptualize 1971.
The influence of the angle extended far beyond the Countach in the 1980s. It also started before the scissored doors opened on the stand in Geneva in 1971 and was seen in many more marques than just those wearing the Raging Bull. Even more impressive than its age is the reach of these designs, some of which are still being refined today. So, let’s take a look at some of the interesting and influential doorstop shapes and where they later found a home.
1967 Lamborghini Marzal
Styled by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, the 1967 Marzal brought the exotic looks of the designer’s 1966 landmark Miura design to a four-post platform. However, unique features such as the large split passenger windows and more angular nose pointed towards the production Espada from 1968, along with other influences on Gandini cars like the Alfa Romeo Montreal. Citroën appears to have borrowed some styling for the 1970 SM. Rival Ferrari took note, as the 1971 365 GTC/4 bears a striking resemblance to this shape.
1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo
Gandini came firing back in 1968 with the “watershed moment” Alfa Romeo Carabo. If the Marzal had been pretty angular, the Carabo was nothing but angles. This design was the face that launched a thousand (or so it would seem) supercar designs, most notable the also Gandini-designed Lamborghini Countach a few years later. Beyond the radical shape, the Carabo pioneered the scissor doors that would become signature soon after in the Lamborghini (and, more recently, Honda Civics). However, the influence can be seen in cars ranging from the Maserati Merak and Lamborghini Urraco to the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB Berlinetta Boxer and the Lancia Stratos, even into the 1980s with the Vector W8.
1968 Bizzarrini Manta
Not to be outdone by Gandini, countryman Giorgetto Giugiaro produced the Bizzarrini Manta as a contemporary to the Carabo. With the glass now brought far forward, continuing the plane of the nose, it really was a very unique design that would pilot a different direction in wedge form design. Influence of this design would be felt for decades, from the Lotus Esprit to the Maserati Merak and Bora. Squint, and it’s not even particularly hard to see the design evolve into much more recent Lamborghinis like the current Huracán.
1969 Mercedes-Benz C111
Mercedes-Benz caught the wedge bug in 1969 and introduced some quite radical test designs with the C111. The design seemed to take elements from both the Manta and Carabo, but produced a shape which managed to look unique. As with the Marzal, the C111 had gullwing that hearkened back to the prior decade’s 300SL. Many elements of this design would find their way into production models like the aforementioned Ferrari 365 GT4 BB, as well as the Maserati Merak, Lancia Montecarlo/Scorpion, and a few others.
1969 Alfa Romeo 33/2 Iguana
Giugiaro’s ItalDesign brought a less extreme version of the wedge to the 1969 Turin Motor Show. While not as outrageous as Gandini’s Carabo, the Iguana hinted at a much more production-friendly design, paving the way for models like the Maserati Bora. Similarities to the Tom Tjaarda-designed De Tomaso Pantera and Gandini-sculpted Lamborghini Urraco are also present. Look closely, and you can see some links to the Alfa Romeo GTV6, as well.
1970 Ferrari Modulo
Pininfarina wasn’t about to allow Gandini’s Bertone and Giugiaro’s ItalDesign to hog the limelight, so in 1970 it introduced the even more extreme Modulo. Based on a 512 racing chassis, the extreme design at first seems to hold little in common with any road-going variant of the prancing horse. However, closer scrutiny reveals many key features which found their way into the Modena firm’s next creation — the 1971 365 GTC/4 BB Berlinetta Boxer.
If Pininfarina tried to steal the show from Gandini at Bertone, he one-uped the firm with the simply outrageous Stratos Zero design. Moving the wedge even further forward, the short overhang in the rear and Kamm tail more resembled racing cars than road-going ventures. Still, elements of this design would appear in the much more tame 1973 production Stratos, as well as other Bertone designs such as the 1976 Lamborghini Silhouette and later Jalpa, as well as the 1978 Triumph TR-8.
1970 Porsche Tapiro
Giugiaro followed up the splash the Manta made in 1968 with the Porsche Tapiro in 1970. Based on a 914, it took the elements of the Carabo, Iguana and Manta and fused them into a design that would become Giugiaro’s signature in the future. It also hearkened to the late 1960s De Tomaso Mangusta with its center-hinged, gullwing engine cover. It should come as no surprise that it was Giugiaro at Ghia who penned that design. The Tapiro predicted the basic shape that would be develop into the 1971 Maserati Bora (also designed by Giugiaro) and the later DeLorean DMC12. Some influences of this design can also be seen in the 1974 Bricklin SV-1 and even the 1984 Z31 Nissan 300ZX and Honda CRX.
1971 Maserati Boomerang
The 1971 Boomerang took the Tapiro concept to an even more extreme level, but also closely resembled Gandini’s earlier designs. While the internals were based upon Giugiaro’s Bora design, the most obvious link is to his later designs — the Lotus Esprit, Maserati Quattroporte and DeLorean DMC-12 — though the 1974 Aston Martin Lagonda comes to mind as well.
1971 Volkswagen Karmann Cheetah
The wedge design started to head from the realm of supercars to more pedestrian applications as early as 1971 with the Giugiaro designed Volkswagen Karmann Cheetah. The profile was all angles and nothing like the Karmann Ghia, resembling the Bertone-designed Fiat X1/9 from 1972. It’s also hard not to see some elements of the 1984 Toyota MR2 and Nissan Pulsar EXA.
1972 BMW Turbo
Paul Bracq’s 1972 BMW Turbo concept seems to have drawn sharply from the earlier Gandini, Giugiaro and Pininfarina designs. The resulting creation was still quite striking and would reappear in a revised Giugiaro-designed M1 for 1978. Bracq’s Turbo concept wasn’t done, however, as elements continued on into the BMW Z1 and 8 Series in the late 1980s.
1973 Audi Asso di Picche
Just as he had in the 1971 Cheetah, Giugiaro continued ItalDesign’s path towards affordable wedges with the Asso de Picche in 1973. Instead of a mid-engine supercar, the Asso di Picche was based upon the front-wheel drive, front-engine Audi 80. Many of the design elements hinted at the pedestrian distribution of Giugiaro’s talents — one can easily see the Quattro’s C-pillar and rear quarter windows, along with the first generation Scirocco and Golf, Lancia Delta and even Maserati Kylami. Some aspects can also be seen in the S110 Nissan Silvia Coupe (200SX) and its S12 replacement.
1976 BMW Karmann Asso di Quadri
Giugiaro smoothed out the design of the Asso di Picche with the 1976 Asso di Quadri. Unlike the front-drive Audi, this was based on a BMW E21 320i chassis. Assembled by Karmann, though evolutionary to the earlier Picche design, obvious design cues from the 1981 designs for the second generation Volkswagen Scirocco (Karmann) and Isuzu Piazza/Impulse (Italdesign) are present. Even some links to the BMW 8 series are found here.
The DOME-ZERO might not seem particularly revolutionary after viewing the designs above; in many ways, it was simply a rehashing of the Carabo design. But the updates and greenhouse felt a bit more production-friendly than the extreme Italian designs. The influence of this design seems pretty straightforward, as it seems to predict the lightly revised 1985 Subaru XT and General Motor’s Pontiac Fiero.
1981 Audi Quartz
In 1981, Pininfarina took the Quattro development of the Giugiaro-penned Audi B2 and created the even more angular Quartz concept. The bodywork was made from aluminum and Kevlar — quite revolutionary for the time. But while this design would disappear for a bit, Pininfarina would break it back out in the 1993 Alfa Romeo GTV. There is some resemblance to the Chris Bangle Fiat Coupe from the same year, as well, if not the U.S.-spec second-generation Acura Integra.
More by Carter Johnson
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