Chances are you’ve driven in one of his creations, and possibly even owned one. And you’ve definitely seen them on roads the world over. It’s estimated some 60 million of his cars have been built; a roll call as vast as it is iconic. His career spanned six decades across numerous brands – from supercars to hatchbacks and compact MPVs (a segment he is credited with inventing), this man’s pen has created some of the best known cars in history.
His name is Giorgetto Giugiaro and he’s the greatest car designer of the 20th century. And that’s not some automotive hyperbole – that honour was actually bestowed on him in 1999.
Born in northern Italy in 1938, Giugiaro’s path was destined to be a creative one. Both his grandfather and father were artists, so it came as little surprise to the family when he left home at just 14 years of age to enrol at art school in Turin. Studying fine art by day and design at night, it was Giugiaro’s doodles of cars that first attracted the attention of Fiat’s engineering boss, Dante Giacosa, who immediately put the 17-year-old on Fiat’s payroll.
But growing increasingly frustrated at seeing none of his designs go into production, Giugiaro instead approached Italian design guru Nuccio Bertone. Immediately impressed by his drawings, Bertone gave Giugiaro a trial design. The resulting sketches became the Alfa Romeo 2000 Sprint (above) hitting the showroom floor in 1960. Giugiaro was just 22.
Alfa Romeo would remain a constant in Giugiaro’s professional life, the Italian penning designs for the company for decades. Amongst his creations, standouts include the Giulia Sprint, Alfasud, Alfetta GTV, 159 and Brera. Then there are the gorgeous concepts, the Alfa Romeo Canguro (1964) and the Iguana (1968) – the latter previewing Giugiaro’s new angular wedge-shaped style that would become a mainstay throughout the 1970s.
Above: 1968 Alfa Romeo Iguana concept
Over the decades, Giugiaro penned over 100 car designs for some 40 manufacturers working first for Bertone, before moving to Ghia, and finally setting up his own design studio, Italdesign, in 1968. He continued to work until 2010, when Italdesign was acquired by Volkswagen. Interestingly, it was Volkswagen that brought Giugiaro his greatest commercial success, the Italian penning the original VW Golf Mk1, despite concerns from within VW HQ it would be a failure.
Above: Volkswagen was convinced the Golf would be a failure
The story goes that VW boss, Kurt Lotz, commissioned Giugiaro to pen several new designs for the German brand, including the Golf. But when Lotz was replaced by Rudolf Leiding, the incumbent cancelled all of Giugiaro’s designs except for the Golf of which he said, “It can’t work, but it’s too late to change it”.
The ’70s proved a production car purple patch for Giugiaro: Maserati Bora (1971), Alfa Romeo Alfasud (1972), Lotus Esprit (1972), Maserati Merak (1972), VW Passat (1973), VW Scirocco (1974), VW Golf (1974), Alfa Romeo Sprint (1976), Maserati Quattroporte (1976), BMW M1 (1977), Suzuki Cervo (1977), Audi 80 (1978), Volkswagen Jetta (1979) and Lancia Delta (1979) all flowing from his prodigious pen. And that’s not touching the many concepts the Italian was also responsible for.
Above: BMW M1
One of those concepts, 1978’s Lancia Megagamma (below), is widely credited with ushering an entirely new segment – the compact MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). Debuting at the 1978 Turin motor show, the tall, blocky five-door hatchback drew widespread criticism for its aesthetic.
But, lying beneath that boxy exterior was a practical solution for transporting families in spacious comfort. With a raised floor sill (compared to a more traditional sedan) allowing for easier ingress and egress, the Megagamma featured high seating H-points and a taller roofline (by around 200mm over the Lancia Gamma donor platform), yet at the same time came in shorter at just under four metres in length.
It may not have sent the motor show crowd into raptures (nor Lancia parent company Fiat, which passed on the design), but by the early 1980s its influence became clear when compact MPVs, favouring the simple boxy style of Giugiaro’s concept, began appearing in showrooms around the world.
Ultimately, Giugiaro’s roll call of cars is too long to list in its entirety. Even his list of notable cars is long and storied: Fiat Panda (1980), De Lorean DMC12 (yes, that De Lorean), Isuzu Piazza (or, if you prefer, Holden Piazza), Fiat Uno (1983), Saab 9000 (1984), Seat Ibiza (1984), Hyundai Excel (1985), Hyundai Sonata (1988), Subaru SVX (1991), and Lexus GS (1993) remain notable in a field of notables.
Above: De Lorean DMC12
Not content with designing cars, Giugiaro also penned cameras for Nikon, firearms for Italian firm Beretta, and a handful of motorcycles including the controversial Ducati 860 GT. Giugiaro, now aged 80, retired in 2010, but his legacy can still be seen on roads around the world today.
Above: Lotus Esprit S1
Above: Lancia Delta
Above: Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone ‘Jet’
Above: 1969 Suzuki Carry
Above: Alfa Romeo Brera
Above: 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint
Above: Lexus GS300
Above: Audi 80
Above: Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV
Above: Volkswagen Passat
Above: Volkswagen Scirocco
Above: 1966 De Tomaso Mangusta
Above: 1986 Hyundai Excel
Above: Maserati Bora
Above: 2008 BMW M1 Homage
Above: 1963 Mazda Familia
Above: Hyundai Sonata
Above: 1997 Volkswagen W12 concept
Above: The maestro himself, Giorgetto Giugiaro, in 2016
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