words by pablo deferrari photo authors unknown
I didn’t want to believe it. All through art school, the realization set in that all of my favorite artists and designers weren’t exactly original. Dali, Picasso, Basquiat, Rodgers, Toulouse-Lautrec…all of ‘em somehow influenced by another artist or movement. Then I began seeing it in my own designs and art, it was inevitable, the more you surround yourself with your kind, the more you become like them and inadvertently blend their styles into yours. Car design was no different.
The 928 was highly original…truly. But to whom? Certainly not the generation responsible for its creation. I think if you’d ask someone of my generation, born in the seventies, then yes, the 928 is something that we’ve never seen before when it was launched…as if from outer space. Not so for our parent’s generation if they were at all savvy in the realm of car design.
"...the Italians had superhero design powers that every car manufacturer sought…"
The creators of the 928 were from a generation that witnessed a major shift in car styling. The 60’s brought with it some of the most futuristic designs that rolled on four wheels, especially from the Italian design powerhouses of the era. Sure, American, Japanese, French, English, German, and even Communist Czechoslovakia had radical designs coming out of their respective factories, but the Italians had superhero design powers that every car manufacturer sought…and if they didn’t seek their design prowess, they were influenced by it.
Much like the French had Haute Couture (high fashion) design houses like Dior, Givenchy, and Chanel, Italy had the equivalent in car design. Bertone, Pinin Farina, Zagato, these were the big three that automotive and private heavy-hitters went to when they wanted something unique, something no one had ever seen before, something that would set them apart from the status quo. One car manufacturer in particular decided to further an already controversial design into the depths of the unorthodox…Chevrolet. Their candidate? The Corvair.
Already bumming superb engineering from Porsche with their version of an air-cooled flat-6, Bill Mitchell, who in 1958 succeeded the legendary Harley Earl, became the Vice President of Styling at GM had other plans for the Corvair. You see, Bill was out to change the chrome excess and fat fin thinking that Earl established with a more avant-garde mindset. What he decided to do was give Pinin Farina and Bertone a Corvair each and have them come up with a concept fit for the European market...that’s where the fun began, and Bertone nailed it.
It was called the Testudo, the Latin root word for turtle. The creator of this industrial sculpture was Giorgetto Guigiaro, a young designer in his third year at Bertone. What he penned was a sharp waistline crease running around the car (extended by the front and rear bumpers) dividing the body into a top and bottom half. The end result was somewhat reminiscent of a turtle’s shell.
The Testudo was a complete departure from what was in vogue at the time, notably the smooth, uncluttered design free from anything that disrupted its lines. In order to achieve this look, the pop-up headlamps were flat against the body and still visible, the bumpers were fully integrating utilizing wrap-around polycarbonate tail lamps (a never before used technology), and a forward hinged canopy allowed access to the cockpit. And because the engine was in the rear, the front was devoid of any openings that would’ve normally existed had it been placed there. Fix a set of wings (preferably of delta design) to the body and it was ready for take-off; clearly it had more in common with aeronautics than anything automotive.
It literally had the press and auto enthusiasts alike falling over themselves. The design set the benchmark for automotive styling from that point on and would continue to influence other designers for the next five decades. One of those designers was none other than Anatole Lapine, who worked alongside Bill Mitchell at GM during this time in “Studio X” on a variety of top-secret and experimental designs.
Anatole acknowledged his love for the Testudo…the impression was cast.