Ask any aficionado who the greatest car designer of all time is and Giorgetto Giugiaro will be the name on most lips. Responsible for more than 200 vehicles, equating to some 60-million production cars on the road as well as dozens of concepts for the world's finest car brands – not to mention cameras for Nikon, electronic organs for Bontempi and even a type of pasta – he is without equal.
Born on 7 August 1938 in Garessio, northern Italy, he started his career with Fiat in the mid-1950s, aged 17. Joining Bertone in 1959, his first signature cars included the 1963 Alfa Giulia Sprint GT and 1964 Alfa Canguro concept. After a brief stint at Carrozzeria Ghia from 1965, he co-founded Italdesign with Aldo Mantovani in 1968.
This firm's list of hits is so long you need to take a deep breath, but try these production vehicles for starters, by turns practical and glamorous: the 1969 Suzuki Carry, 1971 Maserati Bora, 1971 Alfa Sud, 1974 VW Scirocco, 1974 VW Golf Mk1, 1978 Audi 80, 1978 BMW M1, 1979 Lancia Delta, 1980 Fiat Panda, 1993 Lexus GS300 and 2005 Fiat Grande Punto.
Add a few beautifully quirky ones too – like the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 that starred in Back to the Future and the unusually-windowed 1991 Subaru SVX – and the diversity of brand and package is incredible.
Concepts are equally numerous and important, starting with his low and angular wedges of the late ‘60s onwards like the 1968 Bizzarrini Manta, 1969 Alfa Iguana, 1970 VW Porsche Tapiro, 1971 Alfa Caimano, 1972 Maserati Boomerang, 1972 Lotus Esprit (later immortalised in James Bond's The Spy who Loved Me) and even the 1974 Hyundai Pony. Then there were the mid-‘70s MPV trailblazers – the 1976 Alfa New York Taxi and 1978 Lancia Megagamma – long before Renault, Mitsubishi or Chrysler's minivans.
Or the radical future-facing packages like the 1982 Capsula with its skateboard-style chassis and powertrain onto which various customisable bodies could be added, the 1986 Machimoto that re-imagined the Mini Moke for Space 1999 and the barn-doored, but tiny and cuboid 1992 Biga.
Then there were concepts that led directly to production vehicles like the softer-shaped 1993 Lucciola eco-influenced single-box city car that spawned the Daewoo Matiz and the stunningly curvaceous 2002 Alfa Romeo Brera concept, which morphed into the Brera production car a few years later.
Now, aged 74 and after more than 50 years in the business, he's still involved, despite selling Italdesign to the VW Group in 2010. Car Design News had the pleasure of spending a day with this giant of design at his Turin HQ to talk about the secrets behind his greatest designs, what he's learned along the way, his new role within the VW Group and why he's not to be trusted with hand grenades.
Car Design News You were from a time when there was no such thing as a car design course, so what influenced you to start designing cars?
Giorgetto Giugiaro How does a person come to the place where he or she is? I would say it's a random process, there's no plan and it happens gradually. I come from a family of painters. It was a world of colors and shapes and I attended a high school whose main focus was art with the idea to follow that into university. But then I felt the need to experience a sort of autonomy and not to rely on the support of my family, as conditions after WWII were difficult. So I learnt technical drawing.
CDN Who else influenced your career choice?
GG My painting professor was the uncle of Dante Giacosa [the designer behind the Fiat Topolino and 500] and he told me the profession of painting would not be easy, especially as I had not been brought up in a rich family. He said the industrial world needed people with a creative gift.
Through him I was invited to produce some work – hedonistic ones! – but what truly convinced Mr Giacosa at Fiat to recruit me at 17 years old was this double track of a three-year course of technical drawing in the evening while studying art during the day.
CDN Starting a three-year evening course of technical drawing at 14 you must have had a very grown-up attitude for a teenager?
GG Painting, my father explained to me is just one side of artistic creation, a 2D style of creation. A sketch of a table is very different from an executive drawing of how to actually make that table. I was very good at portraits but he wanted to bring me back down to earth.
CDN Was the notion of being a car designer even an aspiration back then?
GG No. When I was recruited by Fiat that world was all new to me. I started designing shapes of cars in black and white, then someone added color, and little by little I was asked to design more – a wheel or the side of a car. I learned all the technical aspects of designing a car but after four years I thought, "I want to become an artist again". I realized after years of being a mason within a crowd it would take years to become the architect.