The silver-haired man in the gray silk suit was staring at me. I was sneaking glances at him, too. I’m sure he was wondering what the young girl in the overalls and long fuzzy hair was doing in the private back room of the Detroit Public Library’s National Automotive History Collection.
Because that’s what I was wondering about him. I was a mere twenty-six years old, working on my first big story as an automotive journalist, the thrilling history of fuel economy. He asked my name, and I introduced myself and told him I worked for Car and Driver magazine. I was so new therefresh from a layoff at the Chrysler Proving Groundsthat it even sounded like a lie to me. But this elegant man (who had yet to introduce himself) acted delighted to meet me and launched into an enthusiastic monologue about the wonders of the automotive world, about how my life had just begun and what a fabulous life it would be, and about how he had been so blessed for thirty years that it still made him shake his head at his great good fortune.
“Why, only last week, I was in Italy with the sun shining brightly as I walked down the street with Giugiaro. Isn’t life incredible?” he said. Who is Giugiaro? I thought.
I, of course, knew nothing then. Far less than the average car freak who regularly reads this magazine. For one thing, the only car magazines I had picked up from time to time back then featured mighty Dodge Rams in extreme off-road situations on their covers. I lived in deepest Michigan and hadn’t heard of racing that made left and right turns. I’d neither seen an Opel nor heard of Stirling Moss or Tazio Nuvolari, nor had I been to Europe. And I certainly had never heard of this Giugiaro guy.
But the rapture passed from the then-director of General Motors Design, Chuck Jordan, to me at that moment in the library. He made me feel like the luckiest person in the world, a feeling that has never left. And he made me want to meet Giorgetto Giugiaro.
That happened within a matter of months. It was my first trip to Italy, back when Fiats still weren’t good enough to be sold in America but were sold here anyway. It was an extravaganza of a press trip, the kind for which Fiat public relations had become famous among our peers, and the likes of which I haven’t experienced in my twenty-three journalistic years since. Every day was a whirlwind of eating, drinking, and prizes. The funny thing is, there was a lot of driving, but there was no driving of anything that was sold in America. We drove single-seat, open-wheel, formula Abarths at a nearby airstrip. We drove Fiats with terrible, droning, experimental CVTs. But mostly, we were driven around in big Lancias by chauffeurs wearing dark glasses and packing heat, in response to the antisocial activities of the Red Brigade at that time.
We toured factories and museums and wind tunnels. We had two-hour lunches, followed by lectures on diesel-engine technology, followed by dinners with so many courses we had to send emissaries to the kitchen to beg the chef to stop cooking. But the best was the tour of the three big Turin design houses: Pininfarina, Bertone, and Italdesign.
Pininfarina was too famous to be home. We were given a brief tour of the facility, a nice parting gift, and the bum’s rush. Bertone was another story. The old man himself came out to greet us in the driveway among an array of his wildest late-’70s concept cars. I had become a world-rally fan, and it was the first Stratos I had seen in the flesh. That’s all I remember of the Bertone visit. That, and the fact that he spied me, the only woman of the group, grabbed my arm in a death grip, and didn’t let go until we left. And that he designed the Alfa Romeo Giu-lietta the year I was born.
But the visit that resonated most was with the young Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had left Carrozzeria Bertone (where he’d been hired as head of styling in 1959 at the ripe old age of twenty-one) in 1965 for a two-year stint at Ghia before opening his own carrozzeria in the Turin suburb of Moncalieri. Giugiaro received us shyly around a big table and answered our questions through a translator, all the while sketching car after car on scraps of paper that were fought over the second he left the room.
Knowing virtually nothing at that point in the dawn of the best career I could never have dreamed up, I had no idea that Giugiaro had already designed the pretty 1961 BMW 3200 CS, the 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia GT, the De Tomaso Mangusta, and the Maserati Ghibli, Bora, Merak, and Quattroporte. He had already done the crisp Lotus Esprit, the fabulous BMW M1 supercar, and the seminal (1973), Scirocco (1974), and Golf (1974).
This year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Italdesign-Giugiaro, from which some eighty production cars of makes from around the world have been realized. That sounded like a lifetime until it dawned on me that I have shared two-thirds of that lifetime, with Giu-giaro making regular appearances along the way. During these past two decades, I have met the entire (and entirely jolly) Giugiaro clan: mom, designer daughter Laura, and heir to the dynasty Fabrizio. I once went on a lark to Monza with Fabrizio and the wacky seven-seat Machimoto and did hot laps with a bunch of Italian Formula 1 drivers. I rode around Geneva in the even wackier Structura and went to the Monterey historic races at Laguna Seca in Fabrizio’s favorite concept to drive, the Nazca.
I own one precious bag of marille, a Giu-giaro-designed pasta commissioned by the Italian government, and I still have a pair of shoes Giugiaro designed in an unsuccessful stab at entering the world of fashion.
I once spent three days in the bowels of Italdesign, not speaking a word of Italian, chronicling the madness of preparing three concept cars at once for the Turin motor show. I have been ringside at countless Italdesign auto-show unveilings, some successful, some not so successful. Senior editor Joe Lorio and I just spent a week driving across northern Italy in Italdesign’s most famous carsa story we’ll be bringing you next month.
But for now, it just seems amazing to note that we have been privileged to have lived at the time of one of the world’s greatest car designers. Can you believe that only last week, I was in Italy with the sun shining brightly as I walked down the street with Giugiaro? And I have to say, isn’t life incredible?