By on December 1, 2016

1971 Lamborghini LP500 Prototype, Image: Bertone

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, Image: Bertone

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, Image: Bertone
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, Image: Italdesign
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, Image: Daimler

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.

1968 Alfa Romeo Iguana, Image: Italdesign

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 Mudelo, Image: Pininfarina

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.

1970 Lancia Stratos Zero; Image: Bertone
1970 Lancia Stratos Zero

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, Image: Italdesign
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, Image: ItalDesign

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 CheetahImage: ItalDesign

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, Image: BMW

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, Image: ItalDesign

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 Asso di Quadri, Image: ItalDesign

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.

1978 DOME-ZERO, Image: DOME


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, Image: Pininfarina

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.

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74 Comments on “Wedge Wonders – the Influence of the Angular Era in Automotive Design...”

  • avatar

    OK… Ima shut up about ugly current cars for a while.

    I think that green Alfa is a queen. That’s the egg sac in the back.

    • 0 avatar

      Okay, but that Marzal is a thing of beauty; the bubble doors, the glass that extends below the cut line, etc. – it reminds me of the best of optimistic 50’s futurism (even if it’s from the 60’s). If I had €1.5 million and a time machine, I’d absolutely go back to 2011 and buy it at auction.

      Of course, if I had a time machine, getting the €1.5 million probably wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

  • avatar

    Bricklin FTW. A wedge swallowing a giant eight track cassette!

  • avatar

    So many concept cars, and yet the Triumph TR7 was the only wedge car in production that had people building triangular garages.

  • avatar

    I still love the wedge cars, and I think the Countach still looks both fresh and radical today. My favorite is the original LP400, before it was loaded down with boy racer ground effects aids. The one pictured here is in yellow, but I think it looks best in blue, the color that the original Tamiya kits were molded in.

  • avatar

    And, you forgot a car – the Mazda RX500.

    I don’t know how many times the thing was repainted, but I’ve seen it pictured in silver, argent, yellow, red, and two different shades of green. Whoa.

    • 0 avatar
      Carter Johnson

      @dukeisduke; Not forgotten, but I had to draw the line somewhere. There are a lot of other influential designs that could have been included, such as the Autobianchi A112 Runabout, Corvette 4 Rotor and the Vauxhall SRV. Great suggestion though!

  • avatar

    No. Just, no.
    Forced to choose, it would be the Audi Quartz, but only under protest.

    I’ve never been one for super cars anyway. All of these look like they started off as sketches for a cartoon sports car automobile, to be appreciated by those under 10 years of age only. Then someone accidentally built them.

    Some mainstream “wedge” cars are okay, the Honda CRX leading the pack, with the Ford Aerostar also looking decent to me. But, overall, I’m glad that styling trend didn’t continue, and didn’t evolve to the extremes (in mainstream cars) seen above.

  • avatar

    A modicum of attention to spelling would have been welcome in this article:

    “…the short overhang in the rear and cam tail more resembled racing cars than road-going ventures.” That should be a Kamm tail, named after German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm. A cam is one of those knobby things that open the engine’s valves.

    “..the C111 had gullwing that hearkened back to the prior decade’s 300SL.” The word is “harken.”

  • avatar

    No mention of the 1972 Ital Design Turin concept car that would become the Lotus Esprit.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Aston Martin Lagonda. A vehicle that was actually produced (around 650) and available for purchase for over 15 years. Not some prototype, one off or show model.

    And its electronics and interior largely matched the exterior styling.

    And of course its British siblings the TR7 and the TR8 which were marketed as wedges and represented wedge design for most automotive consumers.

  • avatar

    Great article. Extra props to any piece that remembers the Nissan S110 and S12 cars, near and dear to my heart.

  • avatar

    Some more weird, wild stuff.

    They’re somehow ugly and beautiful at the same time.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Bring back angular asap!
    The first generation Golf is as pretty as a picture.
    Now suffering from bloating.

  • avatar
    Carter Johnson

    Gosh, and I was pretty sure that by three hours in there would be a comment about the name or the name choice on the Volkswagen…..

  • avatar

    One difference between the Paninfarina Quartz and the 916 GTV that made production was that the dividing line between the clamshell hood and the front bumper became angled upwards along the doors just below the windowline (which was angled parallel to this line upwards towards the rear) and meeting the C pillar at the rear window – the silhouette became a small “3 box” sedan-coupe rather than a “2 box” fastback.

    Behind those 2 headlight circles was just a regular big 2 bulb square headlight. The way the whole hood raised was reminiscent of the 01->on MINI.

    Loved that GTV though, they still look great today – the design has aged well and not quite as unreliable as everyone let on – just needed to keep on top of maintenance – regular servicing, 30k timing belt intervals and it ate suspension bushes. Closest I’ll ever get to owning an exotic Italian sportscar.

  • avatar

    Wedge cars are what I used to draw when I was a little kid – high in the back and low and pointy in the front. I’m pretty sure I owned a Saab Viggen because it kind of reminded me of my designs from childhood. :)

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought that the generally-outrageous character of Lamborghinis demanded a big rear wing, but this article brings up something I’ve long wondered about.

    Why are round cars considered beautiful and angular ones ugly? Why is an XKE thought to be sexy, whereas a GNX is derided as “looking like the box it came in?”

    Far from being ugly, the lines of angular cars endow the vehicle form with a sense of purpose. They’re confident and no-nonsense. They know where they want to go. The artistic minimalism is intoxicating. The overall effect is one of a vehicle sure of itself and its purpose. A faceted shape defined by a minimum of carefully-chosen lines.

    Contrast that with too many new vehicles, whose styling and panel lines meander and zigzag about as if lost, with no confidence or purpose. Or the organically-shaped jellybeans of the 90s, like a Viper or Taurus.

    See, my theory is that an angular car evokes TECHNOLOGY. It looks like a machine. To most people, technology (and I mean that in the sense of ‘manmade object’ rather than ‘computer’) is hard, cold & unfeeling.

    An organically-shaped car looks like BIOLOGY, and most people just seem to feel more comfortable with flesh and blood than machinery.

  • avatar

    Ferrari Modulo, not “Mudelo”

    Especially the Carabo, all of these are among my favourite car designs of all time. Gandini was a genius.

  • avatar

    Also the Karmann Cheetah looks a lot like an X1/9.

    • 0 avatar
      Carter Johnson

      @CoreyDL, for sure. The Autobianchi A112 Runabout was really the X1/9 genesis, but to me that Cheetah gets a lot closer to the production model than the A112 did.

  • avatar

    Giugiaro did the first Esprit as well.–FuQ38w2Z04/T2xir_Gg5II/AAAAAAAABSM/e_48cHKz_b4/s1600/lotus-esprit-s1-1967-5.jpg

  • avatar

    The C111s were a design and engineering tour de force.

  • avatar

    The one I’ve never been a fan of is the Modulo. Too out there.

  • avatar

    I for one am really enjoying these historical articles. Thanks, Carter, for taking the time to write these!

  • avatar

    Why is it these concepts look almost mainstream and today’s concepts hurt my soul?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The Countach can’t be beat.

    But I do like the 1973 Audi Asso di Picche shown here.

    The De Tomaso/Ford Pantera was mentioned, but it was a real car whose exotic looks and mundane Ford drivetrain were an intriguing combination.

    How about the Ford GT40 – too race-car-ish, not angular enough?

  • avatar

    Good stuff, Carter. That’s when cars of the future really looked like they came from the future. I was a big fan of the C-111 too….

    • 0 avatar
      Carter Johnson

      Thank you, @galloping_gael. I love the C-111, too, and especially enjoyed getting to see them in person at the Daimler museum. The C-111-3 is especially cool, but interestingly took a lot of its lines and inspiration from the pre-War record cars. Those were really cutting-edge designs in the mid 1930s.

  • avatar

    Wonderfully researched article, thank you! I had, as a kid under 12 or so, almost all of these as Hot Wheels, Matchbox, or one of a bunch of British diecast brands (my father took trips to England often as the North Sea oil platforms went up, and often brought me cars). I have many of their remains still in a can in the attic.

    When I got close to driving age my attention was all on attainable American Muscle, and I forgot about most of these crazy flights of Euro-fancy. It’s really nice to see them all again.

  • avatar

    Crazy how many production designs came out of these styling exercises. The BMW Turbo looks like an M1 with it’s roof cut off, the Audi Quartz is a prototype Alfa GTV, and the BMW Asso looks like a clean mk2 Scirocco.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The ad campaign for the Triumph TR7 stressed its modern cutting edge wedge like shape. “The shape of things to come”

    Numerous sports cars were influenced by the TR7, from the 1st generation RX7 to the MR2.

  • avatar

    You missed one:

    • 0 avatar
      Carter Johnson

      @arfelix, good suggestion – as I mentioned before, quite a few were actually left out as I was looking to tangible connections to production cars and didn’t really have unlimited space. All of the various iterations of wedge designs could make a book by themselves. The Bulldog is pretty interesting, but also pretty late – it appeared the year after the DOME and, as with that design, really copied much of the earlier Italian work. Thanks for reading and the suggestion!

  • avatar
    formula m

    Great article!
    The BMW Turbo and the i8 share similarities with the inlaid rear design

  • avatar

    May I add 1969’s Ferrari 512S Berlinetta Speciale to this list ?

  • avatar

    Hey ! My 2G CTS is all angles !!!!

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