Top 10 Wonder Wedges
The ‘origami’ school of car design created several landmark show cars. We pick ten of the best
1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo
Unveiled at the Porte de Versailles, Paris in October 1968, this fabulous Alfa Tipo 33-based device effectively ushered in the wedge design fad. Styled by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini, its pointed snout and scissor doors signposted his forthcoming Lamborghini Countach. The car was drivable too and purportedly capable of 162mph. Studio chief Bertone didn’t want to sell it, although he did agree to loan the car to King Faisal of Jordan for a jolly in London – just about the last place you’d want to drive a one-off supercar. Predictably, the clutch soon got smoky and the car was rendered immobile.
AutoFact: The restored Carabo lives in Alfa’s factory museum, albeit minus an engine.
1969 Ferrari 512S Berlinette Speciale
Intended as ‘an exploration of new aerodynamic solutions’, underneath the Speciale’s Filippo Sapino-penned outline lay a five-litre V12 in an aluminium semi-monocoque. The donor car began life as a 312P sports-racer that had been used as a test mule. It was handed over to Pininfarina when Ferrari had no more use for it. Aside from the wheelarches, there was scarcely a curve to the entire body. The front end, unencumbered by a radiator, ensured a low frontal area; the huge one-piece plastic windscreen sweeping near horizontally to the rear engine deck, replete with three rows of lateral cooling louvres.
AutoFact: Despite its racing car underpinnings, this show-stopper was a non-runner.
1970 Ferrari Modulo
Unveiled at the 1970 Geneva Salon, this Pininfarina confection was pure fantasy. Stylist Paolo Martin (whose body of work includes the Fiat 130 Coupé) went for broke: this Ferrari 512-based machine was, according to the PR bumf, good for 223mph. From nose-to-tail, the profile was one uninterrupted curved line, rising to the driver’s seat before tapering to its cropped tail. With a flush-fitting, one-piece windscreen-cum-canopy, and 24 large holes in the rear deck to cool the quad-cam V12 engine, the most radical feature was the full-width body wraps over the wheels.
AutoFact: The Modulo won 22 design awards but was mauled by the press in period.
1970 Lancia Stratos Zero
Legend has it that Bertone created the Zero with the briefest of briefs: to design the lowest car imaginable. At just 33in off the deck, it was undeniably low, even if the British Probe 15 was lower still at just 29in tall. Marcello Gandini conjured an outline that tapered abruptly at either end, the wedge shape being further accentuated by the chiselled air-intakes that hinted at door openings, and the triangular roof-and-bonnet cominbation. Bertone’s one-upmanship stretched to a flip-up windscreen which lifted forward on hinges sited in the roof. The entire steering column tilted forward to enable access to the seats.
AutoFact: A replica appeared in Michael Jackson’s 1988 film Moonwalker.
1970 Vauxhall SRV
Given that Vauxhall wasn’t exactly well-known for creating concept cars, it's remarkable that the Styling Research Vehicle was made at all. Even more remarkable is that this mid-engined device was – cue disbelief – a four-seater saloon. Yes, really. Styled by Wayne Cherry and Chris Fields, and first seen at the 1970 Earls Court Motor Show, the SRV stood at just 41in tall but was 200in long. Power (if only theoretically) came from a 2.3-litre slant four, while the SRV also boasted electrically-adjustable suspension. A particularly groovy feature was the instrument panel, which was fixed to a pod that was hinged to the driver’s door.
AutoFact: Co-stylist Fields subsequently became a top mountain bike designer.
1972 BMW Turbo
Undoubtedly the inspiration for Giugiaro’s BMW M1, the Turbo was entirely the work of Paul Bracq. The sometime artist conceived a safety car with deformable structures made of energy absorbing composites in time for the big reveal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The gullwing doors didn’t quite keep with this mantra though – speedy escapes were made that much more difficult should you find yourself inverted. A second car was subsequently made with very groovy rear wheel spats. Both featured turbocharged 1990cc four-cylinder engines mounted amidships, special features stretching to ABS brakes and lateral acceleration sensors.
AutoFact: Both cars were constructed by Michelotti in Italy.
1971 Maserati Boomerang
Though Giorgetto Giugiaro is nowadays dismissive of this Bora-based projectile, labelling it ‘a bit of a folly’, it established design cues transposed on many of the maestro’s more mainstream creations. First shown at the 1971 Turin Motor Show, it ran under its own power by the time the following year’s Geneva Salon rolled by. Power came courtesy of a mid-mounted, 310bhp, 4.7-litre V8 engine driving the rear wheels via a five-speed gearbox, with much of the running gear being lifted from the Maserati Bora production car. The Boomerang continued to make show appearances as late as 1974 prior to its purchase by a wealthy Spaniard.
AutoFact: The Boomerang was sold at auction in 2005 for US $1,007,005.
1972 Ogle ‘Sotheby Special’
Styled by Czech-born Tom Karen, and based on an Aston Martin V8 platform, the original show car was built at the behest of the WD & HO Wills tobacco company. Its signature features included a rear chaise lounge and 22 tail lights. A second car was later constructed and used by Formula 1 hero Graham Hill. It is widely held that he drove it only once, though. After much persuasion, a third car was created for an elderly widow at a cost equivalent to four Ferrari Daytonas.
AutoFact: Each car featured a glassfibre body and heat-reflecting Sundym glazing.
1974 Ghia Coins
Built to celebrate the first anniversary of Ford’s takeover of the once-proud carrozzeria, stylist Tom Tjaarda produced this radical device in double quick time. Notable for its three-abreast seating, central driving position à la McLaren F1 and means of access via a rear hatch, it was warmly received by the motoring press despite being a non-runner. Other unusual features included a spoiler sited at the top of the windscreen. That, and a peculiar pink hue. What happened next is open to conjecture, but the much-missed Tjaarda claimed in later years that the Coins was scrapped.
AutoFact: Tjaarda loathed the Coins and wished he had never designed it.
1974 Lamborghini Bravo
With its oddly-shaped rear wheelarches, expansive glasshouse and novel ornamentation (multiple louvres front and rear), this fully-functional show car could only have been the work of Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. Unveiled at the 1974 Turin Motor Show, it was mooted as a replacement for the Urraco and was referred to internally as a ‘Baby Countach’. What’s more, the sole V8-engined prototype racked up a high mileage during the development stage, only for the project to be axed as Lamborghini lurched into financial difficulties. Again. The original show car was later retired to the Bertone factory museum.
AutoFact: The Brave prototype was sold at auction in 2012 for 588,000 euros.
Images courtesy of Rota Archive