The ink on the marriage license is still drying, but Volkswagen and Italdesign-Giugiaro — which officially merged earlier this week — are hardly strangers. In fact, the two firms have been courting one another for nearly four decades.
Any Volkswagen nut will be happy to tell you that Italdesign founder and chief designer Giorgetto Giugiaro helped style the original Passat, Golf/Rabbit, and Scirocco, but we’ve delved a little further into the Italdesign archives to see how deep this relationship truly runs. We’ve rounded up eight great VW-Italdesign collaborations for you here — while some are simply rolling sculpture, others have had a profound influence on Volkswagen history.
1970 VW-Porsche Tapiro
The notion of an entry-level Porsche roadster — built with some help from Volkswagen — wasn’t a horrible idea, but the blocky styling used on the 914 was divisive, to say the least. Giorgetto’s solution was simple: take one 914/6, strip it down to the floor pan, and replace the awkward bodywork with a sleek coupe body.
The “folded paper” look may have been commonplace in the 1980s, but a decade prior — when the Tapiro was unveiled at the Turin motor show — the result was rather groundbreaking. Gullwing doors provided access to not only the interior, but also the engine compartment and luggage bay — a subtle nod to the DeTomaso Mangusta which Giugiaro himself styled during his tenure at Ghia.
Unlike many concepts, which are little more than large plaster models, the Tapiro was a fully functioning automobile. After two years of touring the auto show circuit, Italdesign sold the car to a Spanish industrialist. Legend has it the Tapiro served as his daily driver until it was bombed by a group of striking workers. The remains – which were never reassembled — currently rest in Italdesign’s corporate museum.
1971 Volkswagen Karmann Cheetah
In the early 1970s, German coachbuilder Wilhelm Karmann GmbH was already responsible for building the slinky Karmann Ghia and drop-top Beetles for Volkswagen — but it also helped build a small, conceptual sports car for VW and Italdesign.
As was the case with the Karmann Ghia, the coachbuilder had virtually no say in the Cheetah project. The sleek, angular lines — fitted over a modified Beetle floorpan — were entirely the product of Giugiaro’s imagination. Karmann did, however, have a part when it came time to design the roof. A soft top, which sported a translucent sunroof panel over the cockpit, slid down the length of the car’s sidebows and could be neatly tucked between the seats.
Obviously, the Cheetah never made it into production — a pity, for Fiat found a fair amount of success with its Bertone-styled X1/9 facsimile, which came to market a year after the Cheetah premiered at the 1971 Geneva motor show.
1973 Audi Asso Di Picche
Italdesign and Karmann teamed up once again in 1973 to craft a Volkswagen concept car, but the finished product would have a much more profound influence on other production vehicles than the Cheetah before it.
Although Audi was enjoying the fiscal stability provided by new parent Volkswagen, it was Karmann who approached Italdesign with the idea of creating a concept coupe built off the Audi 80. At the very least, the company had a vested interest in the project — should VW/Audi brass enjoy the proposal, Karmann felt it could attain a contract to mass-produce the car.
Dubbed the Asso di Picche (Italian for Ace of Spades), the finished product looked nothing like the humble 80 it was built upon. Giugiaro envisioned a sleek, wedge-shaped coupe with a slender nose, long hood, and a short, angular fastback. The show car looked nothing like any other Audi model at the time — arguably, the only visual link to the 80 was the front fascia, which sported a full-width grille housing large quad headlamps and the fabled four-ring logo.
VW executives liked the car, but didn’t push it into production exactly like Karmann hoped. Instead, it called upon Giugiaro to pen the first-generation Scirocco, which bears a striking resemblance to the Asso di Picche — gaping grille and all. Lucky for Karmann, it found a way to score a contract building the bodies for the little sport coupe.
Giugiaro eventually extrapolated the Asso di Picche into a line of “Ace” concepts. The Asso di Quadri (Ace of Clubs), shown in 1976, was built from a BMW 320i, and bears a remarkable resemblance to the second-generation Scirocco. The Asso di Fiore, unveiled in 1979, was a dead ringer for the 1982 Isuzu Piazza/Impulse.
1986 Volkswagen Machimoto
Many have tried to meld the stability of an automobile with the open-air sensation of a motorcycle, but few attempted to do so like Italdesign did with the 1986 Machimoto concept.
Using the 1.8-liter, 16-valve I-4 from the then-current GTI, the Machimoto was a low-slung, topless speedster with unusual rear wheel skirts that were de rigeuer on ’80s show cars. The Machimoto’s true claim to fame, however, lurked within the cabin. Instead of traditional seating, Giugiaro called for two banks of saddle seating, allowing the driver — along with seven passengers — to straddle the seat as if it were a motorcycle.
At the time, critics lambasted the idea of a VW-cycle hybrid, but perhaps Giugiaro had the last laugh. In 2006, Volkswagen showed the three-wheel GX3 concept, and reportedly came very close to pushing the hardcore trike into production.
1988 Audi Aztec/Aspid
The idea of a futuristic Audi-powered, Kevlar-bodied, dual-cockpit speedster concept entering limited production is quite absurd — but that’s exactly what happened to the Italdesign Aztec.
Italdesign prepared three concept cars — the Aztec roadster, the Aspid coupe, and the Asgard minivan — for the 1988 Turin motor show. In spite of their different bodywork, each featured a rear-mounted, turbocharged 2.5-liter Audi I-5 mated to an all-wheel-drive system cribbed from a Lancia Delta Integrale. Both the Aztec and Aspid bore some resemblance to Giugario’s 1984 Ford Maya concept, save for the unusual-looking rear fenders and wheelskirts.
All three designs were simply intended to be show vehicles, but a Japanese industrialist — smitten with the looks of the Aztec — bought the production rights to the car, and pushed the car into limited production. Each car was identical to the concept, and ran buyers nearly $750,000 a piece. At least 18 were completed, although a production run of 50 cars was originally planned.
1995 Lamborghini Cala
Talk about déjà-vu. Eight years before Italdesign was hired to design the Lamborghini Gallardo, a smaller, more affordable Lamborghini, it was hired to design the Cala — a smaller, more affordable Lamborghini.
Lamborghini’s portfolio was bolstered with the 1990 launch of the Diablo, but the company had no replacement for the less-expensive Jalpa, which died in 1988. At the time, parent firm Chrysler saw no need to replace it, but that mentality shifted once the Indonesian Megatech consortium took over in 1994. A less-expensive Lamborghini — perhaps one utilizing a V-10 — was seen as key to introducing new customers to the brand and expanding the company’s marketshare.
Megatech wasted little time — the L140 program was launched soon after it bought the company, and early prototypes (which closely resembled Diablos) were shown to dealers that November. The public would have its first look at the car come March of 1995, when Italdesign unveiled the Cala at the 1995 Geneva motor show. Lamborghini executives hinted the car was a preview of the new “baby Lambo,” and even let some journalists drive the functioning show car on the open road.
Sadly, the project never came to fruition. After the Indonesian owners ran into a number of legal, fiscal, and political troubles, Lamborghini was sold to Audi, and the Cala was shelved. Executives, however, still saw value in a smaller Lamborghini, and ultimately pushed for the addition of the Gallardo to the portfolio. A wise decision, as it’s now the brand’s most popular product.
1996 VW W12 Syncro/ Roadster
How do you showcase a wild new engine design? If you’re Volkswagen, you hire Italdesign to place it within a wild new supercar concept.
By 1996, the Volkswagen group had cleverly devised a new range of W-pattern engines — including a 5.6-liter W-12 — for premium offerings like the Audi A8. Although engineers admitted the engine was nearly four years away from production (indeed, it wasn’t offered in the A8 until 2001), CEO Ferdinand Piech wanted to display this new piece of tech at the 1997 Tokyo motor show.
Piech turned to Italdesign, commissioning a supercar built around both the W-12 and his company’s Syncro all-wheel-drive system. Fabrizio Giugiaro — Giorgetto’s son — delivered a long, wide coupe with the 420-horsepower W-12 placed behind the driver and passenger. VW dismissed the car as little more than a concept at the time, but several months later, the company showed a roadster variant at the Toyko show, and suggested a limited number — 200 examples, perhaps — could be built at a cost of $175,000 a pop.
That never happened, but the W12 supercar didn’t fall by the wayside, either. By 2001, it re-emerged on the auto show scene — again at the Toyko Motor Show — but in a more powerful form. The W-12 itself was bored out to 6.0-liters, and was now capable of throwing down 600 horsepower. VW, in the meantime, promised a production run of 50 cars by 2002, each carrying a price tag of $200,000.
Those plans were also scuttled, but the six-liter W12 managed to set a 24-hour speed record in 2001. Engineers lapped the Nardo Circuit in Italy for a whole day, covering 4800 miles at an average speed of 200.6 mph.
1999 Bugatti 18/3 Chiron
This wasn’t Italdesign’s first stab at a Bugatti coupe — but it was the first true step in creating today’s incredible 16.4 Veyron.
Although Italdesign had styled a number of Bugatti concepts (including the 112, 118, and 218 sedans) while Romano Artioli owned the firm, none really impressed Volkswagen, which purchased the company in 1998. Instead of developing another large luxury sedan, VW commissioned Italdesign to craft a Bugatti supercar to succeed the EB110.
Built upon the chassis of a Lamborghini Diablo VT, the 18/3 Chiron — unveiled at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show — was an aggressive, angular beast of a supercar. Power — all 555 horsepower — was derived from a 6.3-liter W-18 engine, displayed to the world thanks to an exposed engine cover. The interior was remarkably basic, although it was trimmed in saddle-colored leather with blue accents.
At the time, Volkswagen officials suggested a version of the Chiron would be launched at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, and could potentially reach production by 2002. This time around, VW honored its word: the 16/4 Veyron concept shown in Japan was visually (if not mechanically) similar to the Veyron EB 16.4 that went into production in 2004.