In Memoriam: Marcello Gandini, an Automotive Design Master

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

The world lost one of its preeminent car designers today, as Marcello Gandini has passed away at the age of 85. Though perhaps best known for the flashy and outrageous Lamborghini Countach, Gandini’s pen was applied to many other Italian, German, French, British, Japanese, and Swedish concepts and production designs. Gandini’s prolific portfolio of work made a permanent mark on automotive design.

Born on August 26th, 1938 in Turin, Italy, Marcello Gandini was the son of a conductor. Interested in automotive design from a young age, he first attempted to break into the business in 1963 at the age of 25. Speaking with Giuseppe Bertone (1917-1997), his employment was ultimately denied by Giorgietto Giugiaro (b. 1938), a man of the same age who was the head of design at Bertone. 

Bertone kept Gandini in mind, and in two years when Giugiaro left the firm Gandini was immediately hired. He would work for Bertone for a total of 14 years, and created a dedicated studio, Stile Bertone. The studio worked exclusively on concept cars and prototypes, and before long auto manufacturers hired Bertone so Gandini could pen their design.

It was at Bertone that Gandini would draw up the majority of Lamborghini’s early vehicles, catapulting the new brand beyond the super car and into exotica territory with his daring, forward-looking designs. The first Gandini-designed Lamborghini was the Miura (1966-1973). It was one of the first examples of a car with a mid-engined layout and only two seats, and used a transverse V12.

In 1967 Gandini designed the four-seat Marzal concept, with its see-through glass door panels, and a silver metallic interior. The design was distilled into the production Espada, the company’s first four-seat grand touring sports car. Espada was a size up from Lamborghini’s previous 2+2 designs at the behest of Ferruccio Lamborghini. 

The following year Gandini invented the scissor door, used on the Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo concept. The design was put into production a few years later in the Lamborghini Countach, and continued on its successor the Diablo. Numerous other cars have used the Gandini scissor door design over the years. Alfa Romeo selected Gandini’s design for one production vehicle, the Montreal of 1970.

His work on the 2+2 Lamborghini Urraco show car in 1970 inspired Ferrari, who ventured away from their Pininfarina ways and employed Bertone to design the Dino 308 GT4. The Dino was a 2+2, the first V8 Ferrari, and the only Bertone design Ferrari ever used. On the Lamborghini front, Gandini also designed the Bravo concept, Jarama, P140 concept, P147 Acosta concept, and the Diablo prototype. The Diablo design was ultimately finalized by Tom Gale at Chrysler, who also designed the LX platform Chrysler 300.

Gandini designed multiple vehicles for Fiat in the 1970s, including the midsize Dino coupe, one of the company’s final large family cars the 132, and the X1/9 that was marketed in the United States as the Bertone X1/9 by Malcom Bricklin. Though low in production figures, Gandini designed what became one of the most famous rally cars in the world, the Lancia Stratos. The Stratos won the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975, and 1976. Stratos was the result of Lancia taking a chance on Bertone, as (like Ferrari) the company had previously used Pininfarina to design its vehicles.

In between high-end exotic designs, Gandini also designed mass-production vehicles. He penned the very first BMW 5-Series of 1972. The Innocenti Mini, an Italian take on the Austin Mini debuted in 1974. A year later the first generation Volkswagen Polo launched with a Gandini design. Polo was accompanied by the more upmarket Audi 50, which was also designed at Bertone. Gandini shaped the five-door Citroen BX production car, and created a very similar concept called the Tundra for Volvo.

Gandini designed three different cars for Italian sports car maker Iso, of which the Lele was produced from 1969 to 1974. Around that time he was also responsible for the design of the Maserati Khamsin. Maserati worked with Gandini independently after Bertone, on cars like the Ghibli (1992-1998). He also designed the front-drive Citroen SM based Maserati Quattroporte of 1976, the rear-drive BiTurbo based Quattroporte of 1994, and the 1990 Shamal coupe.

Along the way, Gandini developed a signature characteristic: A forward and upward shaped rear wheel arch. It persisted through decades of his work, and made spotting a Gandini design easy. More exotic car work in the Seventies was completed for De Tomaso, where he designed the Pantera, and in the 2000s the Bigua which was sold as the Qvale Mangusta in the United States. Nearly on par with the Countach for outlandish design was the Cizeta-Moroder V16T. The 6.0-liter 16-cylinder hyper car saw only 13 examples produced, and looked fairly similar to the Diablo.

Gandini went on to design the crazy rear-engined Renault 5 Turbo of 1980, and the important second generation Renault 5 in 1984. Renault also hired him later to design the Magnum, a European market heavy-duty truck that was produced from 1990 to 2013. Gandini left Bertone officially in 1980 to work independently on automotive, interior, and industrial design projects. Work in the Eighties and Nineties continued with production vehicles from De Tomaso and Maserati, along with concepts like the Nissan AP-X, and the prototype of the Bugatti EB110. He also dabbled in residential architecture, interiors, and helicopter styling. 

Gandini’s design legacy on the automobile is permanent. Impactful vehicles like the Miura, Countach and Stratos are the stuff of posters, or perhaps screen wallpapers in more modern times. Today we bid farewell to a legend.

[Images: Lamborghini, seller, BMW, seller, Maserati, BaT, Renault, BaT]

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Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 14 comments
  • 1995 SC 1995 SC on Mar 14, 2024

    MMMmmmmmmm......Stratos. One of my poster cars as a kid

  • Zipper69 Zipper69 on Mar 14, 2024

    Classic designs, where form followed function.

    Now that AI, algorythms and cost/benefit calculations rule styling, I fear such incredible designs will never have a modern counterpart.

  • Wjtinfwb Job cuts and EV's... is that a winning strategy? You're locked in to substantial labor expense after the UAW agreement signed a few months ago. And EV's ain't exactly flying off the shelves en masse. Get the new Charger out already, it's been teased more than the Bronco and Supra were combined. Get a real Hybrid option out for the RAM trucks and big Jeeps that consumers will buy. Consider bringing back a Gen 3 Hemi with an aluminum block, direct injection and perhaps a Hybrid option to counter the Toyota debacle and get a jump on GM. Dump the Hornet and build Dodge a version of the Jeep Compass they can actually sell. A Dodge with Alfa bones isn't compelling to either brands fans. Fix the Durango's oil cooler problems to avoid alienating police departments nationwide. Do you want every cop in the US driving an Explorer? Freshen up the Pacifica and get Chrysler a cool sedan or wagon that can create a buzz like the 300 did more than a decade ago. And fix your dealers, they are by a large jackasses. Plenty of opportunity for improvement.
  • 3-On-The-Tree True that’s the worst beat down in history.
  • Jalop1991 Tesla has made getting repairs a real headache for some owners, as the automaker hasn’t allowed them to get work done at third-party shops. That policy has led owners to seek  class-action status against the company,So, move next to the airport then complain about the noise.Got it.
  • Jalop1991 One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign companyNational Lampoon, May 1981.
  • ChristianWimmer This W126 example looks very nicely maintained and very clean inside and out. Definitely owned with love and respect. I can see Bill from Curious Cars selling this thing! My father drove a second hand bare bones facelifted 1985 Mercedes 300SE W126 back in the day until the early 2000s which eventually got passed down to me. The previous owner had only paid extra for a sunroof and automatic transmission. It had black cloth seats, no A/C, manual windows, no cruise control and those ugly plastic hubcaps which were so common on 1980s Mercedes’. I drove the 300SE for about seven years and enjoyed the comfort and pretty low running costs: reliable and also relatively fuel efficient. If you drove it normally you could get it to sip 9 L / 100 km. Motor oil consumption was pretty high as it got older needing a top up with 1 L of oil every 1,500-2,000 km, but this was apparently normal on the 3.0 inline-6. A comfortable long-distance cruiser and it even “handled” pretty nicely when you attempted to drive it in a 50% sporty manner on some backroads. After the free-for-all parking lot it usually parked on got demolished and parking such a huge barge became a problem, I ended up selling it to a local classic car club which still own it to this day and display it at classic car shows. Great memories of that car. 420SE/SEL and the 560SE/SEL are nice but the thirsty motors are something of a turn off.