Marcello Gandini: The Magician of Car Design Dies at 85, His Legend Lives On (1938 - 2014)

Marcello Gandini 12 photos
Photo: Lamborghini Automobili
Marcello GandiniMarcello GandiniMarcello GandiniMarcello Gandini and the Lamborghini MiuraLamborghini MiuraLamborghini MiuraLamborghini CountachLamborghini Marzal concept carLamborghini Marzal concept carMarcello GandiniMarcello Gandini and the "new" Countach
Marcello Gandini has passed away at the age of 85, but he will go down in automotive history as the magician who designed the iconic Lamborghini Countach and Lancia Stratos. And he is the man to blame for the stunning suicide doors.
Son of an orchestra conductor, therefore having the genes of an artist, Marcello Gandini was born on August 26, 1938, in Turin, northern Italy. This was apparently a good year for the future of Italian car design because, coincidentally or not, Gandini is just 19 days younger than Giorgetto Giugiaro, lured to join the famous Gruppo Bertone styling center, because Nuccio Bertone saw something in him. And he was to see something in Gandini as well.

There must have been something about that year, for sure. Both design legends are approximately seven months younger than Leonardo Fioravanti, another Italian famous for his magic hand in drawing beautiful cars. After spending much of his creative youth as an industrial designer, Gandini's love affair with automobiles did start at a rather young age, penning his first concept car when he was only 20 years old.

His fate as an influential car designer would forever be changed when he was approached by Nuccio Bertone to occupy the blank space left by the departure of Giorgetto Giugiaro at Ghia in 1965. He would continue to serve "il maestro" for the next 15 years.

His first project for Bertone was what later became one of the most influential supercars in history, the elegant but intriguing Lamborghini Miura. It was Giorgetto who had started the project. Gandini picked up where he left off.

Lamborghini Miura
Photo: Automobili Lamborghini

Marcello Gandini said the Miura annoyed him a bit

Decades after designing it, he said: "The Miura annoys me a bit." It was his way of saying that there was still room for improvement. Two years ago, in a conversation with Top Gear, he admitted he had designed a people pleaser back then. Something that he was never to do again.

Lamborghini Cars had just been established as a Ferrari-killer three years later with the 350 GT, and "Don" Ferrucio needed a ground-breaking flagship model to continue his onslaught on his Modena foes. Since there were no boundaries or rules to be followed for this project, young Marcello Gandini put his vision to work and came out with something the world had never seen before.

"Fight not to do what others have already done, do not repeat yourself either," he used to tell his apprentices. At first, they had no idea what he was saying. But it took them a very short while to know exactly what he meant.

It's almost natural these days to observe a race-ready looking car on the road every couple of weeks or so (depending mostly on exactly what part of the oil-rich countries you reside in), but to see a mid-engined car on the road in the 1960s was like revealing the face of Virgin Mary while peeling a potato. Jaw-dropping.

Lamborghini Marzal concept car
Photo: Automobili Lamborghini
The Bizzarrini-designed V12 engine was a nice compliment to the elegance of the car's lines and ultra-low body. This was only the beginning of a soon-to-be prolific and long-lasting relationship between Marcello Gandini and the Sant'Agata Bolognese supercar-maker. His next job for Lamborghini was on the Marzal concept car.

Since the Bertone studio was, at the time, suffering from "acute hexagons," the car had to resemble, in one way or another, a hexagon when looked upon from certain angles. This criterion, along with Gandini's own let's 'use a lot of glass on this one idea,' didn't quite stir up Ferrucio's Lamborghini likeness-gland in a good way, and Marzal remained a one-off design.

Its heavy use of glass (almost 50 square feet!) made the car look more like a collectible space-ship toy and was considered too much even for the most eccentric tastes, even though Gandini and Bertone had envisioned it to be almost production-ready.

For this reason, the car's mechanicals were based on the Miura, and it was a running model. Its mid-positioned inline six-cylinder was, in fact, half of a Miura V12.

Gandini's Carabo had nothing to do with the Volkswagen Beetle

Not letting his ego take a blow from Ferrucio's refusal to build the Marzal, Gandini started work on his next assignment, the Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo concept car. Even though "Carabo" means "Beetle" in Italian, the car had no connection whatsoever to the epitome of the 'make love, not war' era’s car, the Volkswagen Beetle.

Its most striking feature, besides the influential wedge shape and the 'I love vegetables more than life itself' kind of color, was the scissor doors. These doors later became known (and trademarked) as LSDs. No, they don't have anything to do with the truth serum wannabe from the MKULTRA project, LSD in the automotive world is simply an acronym for "Lamborghini Style Doors."

More concepts and road-going cars continued to flow from Marcello Gandini's pencil in the following years, but only one stood out and changed the supercar world ever since.

It was none other than the "we come in peace" Lamborghini Countach, which more than made up in looks what it lacked in the performance department. An unofficial study (ok, ok, it was conducted by myself) says that more than 90% of male teenage bedrooms had at least one poster with the Countach in the 1970s and '80s. Gandini described it as a work of art. It had its own soul. It wasn’t trying to please anyone.

The impact Gandini's UFO-like creation had on the supercar world really gave him the entry ticket to the hall of fame for car designers, even though the man he replaced at Bertone was voted Car Designer of the Century (ed, Giorgetto Giugiaro).

In 1980, he stepped down from his hard-earned position as Chief Designer Officer for Bertone and started his own freelance operation, just like many other great car designers did before him.

Even though without a heavy name like Bertone behind him, Lamborghini requested his services once again, only this time for the more-down-to-Earth (compared with the Countach) Diablo.

The Citroen BX came to life out of his pen in 1982. In 1984, he found the right pencils in an era when digital design was a futuristic dream and came up with the Renault 5.

Gandini designed a truck, a helicopter, and a nightclub 

Gandini teamed up with Maserati in the 1990s to design the 1990 Shamal. The second generation of the Maserati Ghibli in 1992 and the fourth generation of the Quattroporte in 1994 were also his creations.

In the late 1990s, he shifted to other dimensions of design and went into what was pretty much uncharted territory for him. Industrial and interior design became his soft spots back then. He also designed a nightclub interior in Turin. He even drew the body styling of the Heli-Sport CH-7 helicopter and a truck.

Even in his late 70s and early 80s, he could brag about a sharp mind and a hand that never surrendered to trembling. He declined car projects because he did not like where car design was going. Gandini came from a whole different era and had a whole different vision. However, his vision was far from being outdated. It was exactly the opposite. Still unconventional, futuristic, head-turning like the doors of the Countach.

Marcello Gandini and the "new" Countach
Photo: Automobili Lamborghini
However, it was not just milk and honey between Marcello Gandini and Lamborghini. In 2021, in an interview with Mitija Borkert, the designer of the new Countach, a small-scale model showed up. Borkert presented it to Marcello Gandini, describing it as his "personal tribute to Maestro Gandini," designed as a basis of a celebratory model to be presented at Pebble Beach in August, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Countach.

Gandini insisted he had no connection whatosever with the scale model and that the design did not reflect his vision and spirit. "A spirit of innovation and breaking the mould which is in his opinion totally absent in this new design," a press release indicated soon after the interview.

His legacy remains in the space-age wedge shapes he penned during the years, even though most of his designs are best known for their "function follows form," not vice versa. And when we come to think that Marcello's father was trying to drag him into classical music, look at what we would have been missing...
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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