Marcello Gandini - Automotive Designer

Charlie Magee Tim Andrew

That Gandini is a master of design is beyond discussion and well-known, even if he is not. That he is also an excellent engineer is evident from some of his past projects, such as the Stratos. But he's also a member of that most respected (and most reviled) category of creators: an inventor. No, not the mad inventor of countless books, films, and comic strips, but the real thing, the da Vinci-like person who thinks things through, puts his ideas down on paper, and then sees them to fruition. Or tries to.

One of his projects that I've known about for twenty-some years was a complete rethinking of the design, engineering, tooling, manufacturing, and distribution of a small car. The study was done for Renault, which of course had no use for a project coming out of a one-man office in the Piedmontese countryside, however many good projects he'd done for them previously. To the modest maestro it made no difference. He had done his part, and if no one wanted to produce it, so be it. One could hope that Gandini might find a willing client for such an idea now in an aspiring country like China or India. But if anyone had the wit to approach him, it's quite likely that he wouldn't have the least trace of the work that he did in the '70s and would just want to do it all over again, even better this time.

Gandini's imposing seventeenth-century home and studio well outside Turin was purchased in 1980 after an eleven-year search that turned up only things that were "too ugly or too expensive." Once a part of the Sant'Antonio di Ranverso Abbey, the house was transferred to private ownership in the nineteenth century and needed a great deal of work - three years' worth. Gandini says it was "more a question of destruction than restoration," but he respected the original architecture and hid modern structural reinforcements, "keeping the spirit" of its appearance. Set in a park of about fifteen acres, it is difficult to access and wonderfully quiet. A pool eighty-two-by-fifteen feet is clearly meant for serious swimming, but it is also beautifully decorative. Gandini and I visited it with the family dogs, four massive German shepherds.

Within the walls, a nice L-shaped studio gives a very clear impression of the man and the way he thinks about the world. There are a few models of cars he designed, and off at one end is a small rendering of the Stratos. I have seen original renderings from many of the finest Italian designers, and none of them had the artistic quality of Gandini's work. Yet he values them very little. Asked about the Angel, he had to rummage around to come up with a gorgeous but tattered and water-spotted painting and a bent-page brochure. Past work is of no interest to him, nor does he have the celebrity-photo wall that most designers do. There was a random collection of photos in a corner, but only because "my wife took the classical painting that was here to put in the living room, and I had to do something to cover the bare patch."

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