In 1999, a group of 130 automotive journalists and industry leaders voted Giorgetto Giugiaro the Automotive Designer of the Century. It’s easy to understand why. Among his designs are some of the most iconic vehicles ever produced – the Alfa Romeo 2000, the DeLorean DMC-12 and the Volkswagen Golf. But this designer’s work has gone beyond the sidewalk to include some surprising products you might not associate with the automotive world. Here are five things you need to know about Giugiaro, who is 83, and his work.
He designed the Alfa Romeo 2000
Born in 1938 in the small town of Garessio, south of Turin, in the Italian region of Piedmont, Giugiaro did not have to look far for inspiration. His father, Mario, and his grandfather, Luigi, were both artists. Mario encourages his son to try his hand at industrial design, a more lucrative and less bohemian career than painting.
Giugiaro enrolled at the Golia design school in Turin where he learned art during the day and technical design, taught by Fiat engineers, at night. Dante Giacosa, Fiat’s technical director, noticed Giugiaro’s sketches and found them promising. At the age of 17, Giugiaro was hired to work with the Turin-based automaker.
Nucio Bertone, of the design house Gruppo Bertone, poached the young prodigy four years later. Bertone asked Giugiaro to come up with a design for a new Alfa Romeo and the resulting sketches were so good that Bertone immediately sold it to the automaker. This design became Giugiaro’s first car, the Alfa Romeo 2000.
He is responsible for a pop culture icon
Giugiaro worked at Gruppo Bertone for six years designing Ferraris, Aston Martins and other Alfa Romeos before joining another Italian design firm, Ghia. It was there that he invented the beautiful and revolutionary DeTomaso Mangusta and Maserati Ghibli, two low-slung wedge-shaped sports cars.
While it was common for designers to focus on the beauty and aesthetics of the vehicle, what was designed on paper didn’t always translate well to the real world. This was not how Giugiaro approached design. He looked at the design through an engineering lens and always considered the feasibility of his creation as it relates to the production line. This practicality distinguished him.
In 1968 he and Aldo Mantovani founded Italdesign Giugiaro, where he applied these principles to the creation of over 200 models, including the Lotus Esprit, Saab 9000 and Subaru SVX. Italdesign was also responsible for the DeLorean DMC-12, which would become a popular culture icon thanks to its role in the “Back to the Future” film franchise.
He replaced the Beetle
By far the most successful of all his creations is the first generation Volkswagen Golf released in 1974. Volkswagen approached Giugiaro and asked him to come up with a replacement for the aging Beetle. He will use his folded paper design method, inspired by Japanese origami, to come up with a revolutionary form for the new “people’s car”. Its rectilinear styling was ahead of its time, and also cheaper to produce than the flowing, curvy designs common in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Golf’s premiere sent a wave through the industry and influenced design cars for the next four decades. With over 35 million units sold, the Golf alone would have cemented Giugiaro’s status as a living legend.
He designed more than cars
Giugiaro was a prolific designer, including in the non-automotive world. Some of his other works included the Fiat ETR Pendolino commuter train, the Porto Santo Stefano promenade in Tuscany, a 7000-pipe organ in the Notre-Dame de Lausanne cathedral in Switzerland, the Nikon F3 camera body, espresso machines for Faema and even a series of watches for Seiko.
One of them, the Seiko 7A28, was brought to the screen by protagonist Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, in the 1987 film “Aliens”. Director James Cameron teamed up with Italdesign Giugiaro to create watches that are instantly recognizable, but would not look out of place on an alien planet in the year 2176.
He even left his mark on the typical Italian food offer – pasta. Voiello, a subsidiary of pasta giant Barilla, asked Giugiaro to design a new noodle in a form it could mass-produce. In 1983, Giugiaro’s pasta, called Marille, became the world’s first “designer-designed” noodle. Its intricate curves, inspired by an automobile door seal, proved difficult to cook, even al dente. Coupled with Barilla’s poor pasta distribution, it never really took off and was a flop.
He’s still an influence
From cars to trains and even failed pasta, Giugiaro was a prolific designer whose functional and practical pieces are as good today as they were when they were created. The Giguiaro-designed Mk1 Golf GTI is a coveted car and, for some automotive connoisseurs, the best ever made. Italdesign Giugiaro is still active today and employs approximately 900 people. It was sold to Audi and Lamborghini in 2010. Giugiaro’s influence can still be seen today in the automotive industry. The Hyundai IONIQ 5, a cutting-edge retro-futuristic electric vehicle, was inspired by the 1974 Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept, a Giugiaro design that also inspired the DeLorean. Receiving the title of Car Designer of the Century is no small feat, but Giugiaro’s many accomplishments speak for themselves.
Giorgetto Giugiaro isn’t the only automotive designer to work outside the automotive world. Here are three more examples:
Marcello Gandini, Another legendary Italian designer from Turin famous for designing the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo also designed the Heli-Sport CH-7, an ultra-light single-seat helicopter. A version of it still remains in production today.
Audi R8 designer, Audi A5 and the seventh generation VW Golf, Walter Da Silva also tried his hand at luxury cameras. Its Leica M9 Titanium camera is trimmed in napa leather, the kind you’ll find in high-end Audis.
Adrien Van Hooydonka Dutch designer and BMW Group design director best known for his work on the 2001 BMW 7 Series, but also redesigned the Emeco aluminum stacking chair which debuted in 1951. The chair retains the feel of the original but is more modern. and made from recycled plastics.