Moncalieri, Italy — Poised at his drawing board, the artist reaches far into space --of tomorrow." Slowly a form appears whose curves and angles and straight lines could be a 1988 or '89 offering by any one of a score of automobile manufacturers on three continents: North America, Japan, and Europe. Indeed, many of Giorgetto Giugiaro's ideas are traveling the highways and back roads and mountain passes of the world today.
Right now he's at the top of his trade -- one of the most sought-after automotive designers around -- with his credits running the gamut from the trend-setting Volkswagen Rabbit to the BMW M1 racing machine to the De Lorean sports car now being built near Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Giugiaro's studio, Ital Design, was set up in 1968 with the help of partners Aldo Mantovani and Luciano Bosio and is one of a half dozen world-known Italian carrozzeriem --Pininfarina, Bertone, and Ghia among them --city only a stone's throw away from the ragged peaks of the Italian Alps.
Indeed, this part of Italy is to the car industry today what Florence has long been to art.
Italian carrozzeriem have had an impact on car design that cannot be overstated. Numerous trend-setting ideas have had their genesis here.
Right up with the best of them is Ital Design.
Giorgetto Giugiaro -- controversial, always the individualist -- never shies away from the daring prototype, the distinctive design -- yet he never loses sight of the engineers, the production crew, and the car buyer.
"Dreaming counts for nothing," he declares. "It's realizing the dream that counts."
In May the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., will cosponsor an exclusive US exhibition, entitled "Carrozzeria Italiana: Art and Science of Automobile Design," and will include works by Bertone, Pininfarina, and Giugiaro. The show will highlight Italy's innovative and influential role in automobile design over the last 80 years.
Why has Giugiaro's star risen so fast and so high?
Maybe it's his energetic drive or fiery Italian nature. Certainly his designs speak for themselves.
Giugiaro, who sees himself as a "special kind of artist" -- very early rejected the traditional structure of the Turin-based Italian carrozzerie.m Maybe this alone put him on a fast track.
Instead of offering a design service alone, he would provide all the project support as well. He would go so far as to analyze the practicality of a project , design the machine tools to do the job, and keep a close eye on production times and cost. In other words, he would offer a full range of services to the carmaker who wants them. Also, his designs are good and the public buys them.
"Creativity is the simple part," he asserts, "because behind the creativity there are many technical and other problems."
Worldwide, automakers beat a path to his door.
Step into his office located down the hall on the second floor of the Ital Design building here, opened in 1974. Inside are examples of his paintings in oil and acrylic -- some on the walls, others sitting on the floor, among them Sammy Davis Jr., a Peruvian Indian family, and a clown. Giugiaro -- dressed in open-neck blue shirt, tan pants, and moccasins -- says he gets pleasure out of painting, a sense of relaxation and creativity which he sometimes longs for.
"Painting," he asserts, "is far more satisfying." Today, he doesn't have the time.
A spacious glasstop desk just inside the door is a place to think as is his large work space at the far end of the room where, with pencil in hand, his creative drive is let loose.
The inception of a Giugiaro design begins here.
"The first drawing always comes from Giugiaro," says a confidant. "He does the rough black-and-white sketches and the other people develop his ideas." However, they have to follow the target Giugiaro has set.
Perhaps the ultimate example of the firm's policy of "doing more" for the customer was the assembly line for the limited-production BMW M-1, a racing car for the West German manufacturer and a high-priced, limited-output sports car for the few motorists who are fortunate enough to buy one. Giugiaro not only gave shape to the car but built it as well. The cars were sent to Bauer in Stuttgart, an old-line coach-building firm, for final assembly and then shipped to the factory in Munich where the power train was put on.
Only some 450 cars were built -- about a dozen are in the US -- but if BMW decides to go into production again, Giugiaro may still be involved.
As a youth, Giugiaro studied painting at the Accademia de Belle Arti in Turin and later fashion design and illustrating, finally taking a three-year course in technical design.
All of this was quite natural because hadn't his father and grandfather before him worked at decorating churches and palaces?
Starting at age 17, Giugiaro worked in the Fiat styling center for four years and finally went to work for Nuccio Bertone, the preeminent Italian stylist.
Describing himself as a pragmatist, he says all of his training combined to make him a "special kind of artist."
With his fertile imagination, diversified training, and artistic flair, the 40-year-old car designer says simply: "I imagine something concrete which can then be realized."
Indeed, he's his own worst critic. When he drives through the mountains north of here, what he sees mostly are the cars and not the scenery, adds one of his long-time associates.
After all, a Giugiaro-designed car may not reach the road for three or four years after he's through with it. When he sees the car on the road, he thinks: "I did this work four years ago; it's bad and I don't like it."
Back at the drawing board, he uses the experience to improve his designs for the future.
Today, aerodynamics is at the heart of design. The burgeoning cost of gasoline is compelling designers all over the world to come up with more fuel-efficient shapes. Thus, the name of the game is to make a car move over the road with the least resistance and, at the same time, cut the weight.
The frontal area of an automobile is of great importance, according to Giugiaro, because the smaller it is the less drag. However, interior comfort also is important to him. Thus, he seeks a balance between high mileage in a car and inside comfort.
In doing so he gives fresh meaning to elegance in metal.
To get the best aerodynamic shape, the roof should be as long as possible, he explains. At the same time, the stylist has to avoid a too-square back which, he declares, "is not good." A frontal wedge shape is best. Also, the door blend into the roof, as in the Medusa, an "idea car" introduced at the Turin Motor Show last May: and the underbody of the car is covered.
But this is not the whole story at all.
"While aerodynamics is important," asserts Giugiaro, "I will not renounce my emphasis on the beauty of a car and the practical approach to its design. It all goes together," he adds.
He once told a reporter: "I'm tired of dropping into a bucket and having trouble getting out again."
Sometimes it's very hard to get a design accepted today, complains Giugiaro. For Example, when a customer to a car shape customer often is accustomed to a car shape and judges all other shapes on the basis of what he knows.
"If you submit a shape that he does not know, he automatically rejects it," says the stylist. "It's the same thing with music."
When Giugiaro takes on a job, he speaks with the directors or the people on the top rung at the company who, in turn, transmit to him the parameters of the job to be done. Thus, he already has some conditions to be met. Sometimes a company is more willing to take a chance.
In the early 1970s Karl Lotz head of Volkswagenwerk AG at the time, gave him the order to come up with a design for the successor to the aging VW bug. The shape which he gave to the Rabbit (Golf in the rest of the world) was, at the time, highly unconventional. With few changes, the car went into production and has had a sharp impact on the design world ever since.
The rest is history. Indeed, many cars, including VW's mini-Rabbit, the Polo; Audi 50, Opel Kadett, Ford Fiesta, Renault 14, Chrysler Sunbeam, Fiat Ritmo (Strada in the US), and the Chrysler Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon have all adapted the design because of its practicality for a small, front-wheel-drive vehicle with high visibility and inside room. Some of the cars are not sold in the United States.
Indeed, the Rabbit set a standard for small-size sedans of the 1980s even though Sir Alec Issigonis actually pioneered the concept in 1959 when British Motor Corporation, one of the several companies which subsequently became BL Ltd. introduced the Mini.
Looking at his job today, Giugiaro asserts: "I believe my work to be similar to that of a sculptor who, with time, refines his expressive ability without losing his creativity. If, in the past, I had to be original at all costs. I now look for a balance of form, for the expression of something more refined, more polished, with a certain kind of class.c
The chances are very high that he will achieve it.
About 5 percent of his work is in industrial design, such as the Nikon camera and Necchi sewing machine. This helps his image because it keeps his name visible throughout the world.
Everyday Giugiaro feels he has to prove himself all over again. "In one day, " he says, "I could lose everything if I make a mistake."
What does Giugiaro do for fun? "Putting my workers under pressure," he replies, adding: "I like to run a motorcycle in the Alps." Also, he's a very good skier and enjoys taking pictures.
Most of all, he likes to give shape to cars.