Giorgetto Giugiaro has been working in the world of design since the age of 17. He will turn 82 on August 7. In 2009, he confided in the (paper) magazine LIGNES/auto by revealing a more intimate aspect of his astonishing personality. An interview that is still exciting, eleven years later!
Giugiaro’s on time. He spins from one building to another, from automotive design to industrial design. He wants to see everything, to follow everything… When he settles down in front of us, he’s relaxed. It’s true that the interview he gives us is more intimate, because we wanted to get to know this exceptional designer better. Let’s first talk about his father who instilled in him his love of Art…
He is the one who pushed and encouraged me in this approach to art but also to design. When I was a kid, he forced me to draw and draw again after my classes. After school, I accompanied him to different companies where I discovered technical genius, totally different from artistic genius. At the beginning, I was rather oriented towards painting… My father wasn’t a hard person but he knew how to be severe! For example, after my artistic drawing lessons, he wanted me to draw a landscape or a portrait every day and every evening I had to present my work. I was like all children of my age, I would have liked to play ball. It was at that time that I learned to draw quickly and efficiently. I made several drawings in one evening that I presented to him day after day; that gave me a little time to go and hit the ball!
When I took my art classes in Turin, my father arranged for me to take classes in addition to the technical school. The artistic and the technical were quickly linked in my life. There, I obviously didn’t have time to play ball anymore… It was drawing morning, noon and night. It was during this period that I greatly appreciated my teacher Eugenio Colmo (known under his pseudonym Golia, above). He was in fact the uncle of Dante Giacosa, the great Fiat design engineer (below, the four views of Giacosa’s Fiat 500).
I remember that one year, for the end-of-cycle exhibition, Eugenio Colmo pushed me to make humorous cartoons of cars. I made drawings of cars that day when I wasn’t interested in cars at the time. Giacosa (below) has seen my drawings. He wanted to create the Fiat style center and he asked me to follow him when I was only 17 years old!
From Fiat to Bertone
I went to Bertone’s to buy myself… a pair of skis! It was at a time when Bertone was deprived of his favourite designer, Scaglione. And Scaglione would go to work whenever he felt like it. Nuccio Bertone contacted me to ask me what I was doing at Fiat. I brought him some drawings that I had drawn at night because there was obviously no way I could show him my work for Fiat. The problem was that he didn’t believe I was the author of the drawings I showed him. So I asked him to entrust me with a car to draw and he gave me the project of the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint coupé (below)
I drew this coupé, in color during the night. Bertone sees them and the next day calls me and tells me that Alfa wants the car. It was starting to cause a lot of problems because I was a Fiat employee! Bertone didn’t beat about the bush and asked me how much I earned at Fiat. It was 80,000 lire at the time. He offered me 120,000! 50% more. Ma, va bene! I signed in November, I got my skis, but they were very surprised at Fiat! I was also surprised afterwards because I was alone at Bertone, I worked day and night, Sundays included, and in the end I earned proportionally less than at Fiat. But at Bertone’s, I understood and loved that I could see my projects come to fruition in the wake of the drawing, it was marvellous.
Bertone makes his life easier
In order to integrate Bertone while he is still under Fiat contract, Giugiaro asks Master Nuccio to help him escape from… military service! “Bertone had assured me that I was going to avoid it, but in March I received the little piece of paper and here I am, obliged to do my military service. I’m going to see Nuccio Bertone to remind him of his promise! Finally, I am incorporated into the Alpine Hunters, near Turin. Bertone rented me a room where I drew in the evening after my military obligations. Every Friday, Bertone came to see me to comment on the design of my creations of the week. It was during this special period that I designed the Giula GT (above).
Bertone’s after Giugiaro
As always, after a departure (Giugiaro leaves Bertone and is replaced by Gandini), a lot of drawings are left in the boxes. I must admit that the Miura was already quite advanced before Gandini arrived. I didn’t know it had to be a Lamborghini and my drawings are finally quite close to the final version. They date back to 1964. This story pushed me to never leave unfinalised drawings… A project must never be left unfinished, you have to go to the end of the idea and the development… (above, drawing of the Miura signed Gandini)
From paper to economy
For our drawing work, we used transparent tracing paper, which was still very expensive in those days and had to be used sparingly. As a result, it was quite profitable, unlike today’s designers who spoil things quite a bit, as if everything was a gift! At Fiat, we had an eraser and a pencil. I remember that the drawings of the cars we were working on were practically black with corrections. We erased the lines to iron over them, and then, when the paper was too dirty, we put a new layer on top and then another paper for the colours. This period produced some pretty amazing drawings. When I arrived at Bertone’s, the means were not the same! Bertone wasn’t yet working with transparent paper. I used a kind of yellow paper, which was more for technical drawings… He reminded me more of a paper for collecting dust! All of this makes us understand what kind of well being designers are working in today! That said, you have to understand that at the time, Bertone wasn’t just saving money on paper. He couldn’t bear to have the lights on when it was daylight and I must admit that I kept that spirit in me. Here at Italdesign, in the middle of August, when all the lights are on, I’m the first to point this out to my designers, who then think I’m a cheapskate!
From Isuzu to Alfa Romeo
At the time when I created Italdesign with Mantovani, I had maintained very good relations with Isuzu from the Bertone period. For them, we worked on the 107 coupé but also on two other vehicles as well as on Mitsubishi and Suzuki projects, well before the work for Alfa Romeo. One day, engineer Rudolf Hruska comes knocking at our door and asks Mantovani to design a project close to the Fiat 128, with front-wheel drive, but with a more generous interior space. Mantonvani asks for which brand we have to work for, where the model will be produced and other information. Hruska couldn’t tell us anything. Nothing because nothing existed at the time, neither the factory, nor the engine, nor the specifications. Yet this was the project for the Alfa Romeo Alfasud!
It was pretty amazing. At our insistence, he took a piece of squared paper, drew a very rough sketch with a wheelbase decided in haste, a trunk capable of swallowing four suitcases and a Boxer engine (he wanted it…) installed in the front. The entire technical layout of what was to become the Alfasud was thus drawn freehand… With these measurements, we defined a habitability greater than that of the 128 and I put these measurements on paper, as I had always done. Then I made the first sketches… then I realised that I didn’t know where the tank was to be positioned. I asked Hruska and he said it was our job to find out. So we did everything on this car, everything except the engine and the suspensions! It took a lot of organizational effort, a job that was very useful for the rest!
Fiat gets angry!
When Hruska asked us to work for Alfa Romeo, we first asked for a little money to start this titanic work! Because it wasn’t just a question of style with this project, but of all the engineering, or almost all of it. And it was only then that he revealed the name of the company we were going to work for: Alfa Romeo! At that point I thought that if we worked for Alfa, Fiat would kill us! It was all the same about a new product, a new factory. It was a very political decision to make and we said yes, because it was a real job. Fiat’s reaction was swift. Mantovani’s wife who worked there had to leave the company and the young engineers and designers I hired were often approached by Fiat to join their ranks. It wasn’t an easy time!
The secret history of the Golf…
The Golf project was born at the end of the 60s. A group of Volkswagen engineers accompanied by the Italian importer came to the Turin Motor Show in 1969 and in December the group called me and told me that VW was asking me to make a car capable of replacing the Beetle. Of course, I am delighted and from January 1970 I am in Wolfsburg where the managers actually tell me that they want Italdesign to work on a whole range of models, and not just one! I was completely flabbergasted, I had a kind of deep respect for these Volkswagen people but I found it incredible that they would entrust me with so many projects.
I later asked the VW importer in Italy why VW had chosen me over Bertone or Pininfarina. He replied that during their tour of the Turin Motor Show in 1969, out of the six cars they had selected, four had been designed by me. VW’s general manager thought that if, out of six cars, four had been designed and drawn by Giugiaro, VW would have no worries: Italdesign would necessarily find the right solution! What is completely crazy is that they wanted to sign a ten-year contract with me… We got to work very quickly and in May we first presented the Passat and then in August I presented the Golf.
I remember that the VW managers came here from Germany to see the prototype but at that time, the managers were no longer the ones I had had my first discussions with. At that point, I told myself that it was all over; I called Mantovani to tell him that his ten-year contract was over! In fact, one of the new VW managers came from Audi. He wanted the Passat to be based on an Audi platform and he also wanted to launch the Audi 50, rather than the Golf… Besides, he didn’t like our Golf, he didn’t understand it, but the industrial situation was so bad that the shareholders decided to go ahead and produce our project. The boss was not happy but he was obliged to respect the shareholders. We were saved!
…and that of the Fiat Panda.
After the Alfa Romeo Alfasud episode, relations with Fiat will return to normal with Giugiaro, when Carlo de Benedetti, managing director, comes to business. “He visited us with the aim of designing a very economical car with an engine produced in Poland. His goal was to produce a car “à la française”, like the 2CV or the R4. It was a few weeks before I went on holiday. I told him that we would see this at the beginning of the school year, but he asked me where I spent my holidays. I had planned to go to Sardinia but what I didn’t know then was that he had a house in Sardinia! So he asked me to work during my holidays and to submit my drawings to him at his house in Sardinia!
So in August 1976, I left with my blue Canson paper and worked in the afternoons instead of going swimming. I arrive at his house on August 15, I ring the bell and the butler tells me that Carlo de Benedetti is not there. No problem, I suggest he comes back the next day. But he tells me that Mr. de Bendetti has returned to Italy… I had just drawn what the Panda would become during my holidays and all my work was falling through. It was all for nothing! When it was my turn to return to Turin, I learned that de Benedetti had left his post. The same morning, his successor called me to tell me that the project was continuing and that I was still in the running. The car was saved. So were we!
Giugiaro, demanding boss
Let me tell you an anecdote from the late 1970s. Some of my collaborators were beginning to talk about how Italdesign would be nothing without them. When these words came back to me, I decided to study the Medusa project on my own and to carry it out outside the company…
One morning I called everyone in, revealed the car and explained to them that, contrary to what some people imagined, without them Italdesign would have existed! I had drawn the car in secret.” That day is a memorable day in the company. So Giugiaro is a pretty tough boss. “No, I’m a demanding boss, because I’m demanding with myself. I want things to pass with my intuition. It’s true, maybe I’m a talented castrator because I want to see everything and, above all, I can’t accept projects that I don’t have in my head! ” Giugiaro, smiling in front of the camera, but pugnacious in the role of the manager…
INTERVIEW COLLECTED IN 2009 BY CHRISTOPHE BONNAUD