Pitching wedges

WORKING THE ANGLES

ANDY ENRIGHT

Overrun

IT WAS THE SHAPE THAT DEFINED AN ERA OF FLEDGLING SUPERCARS AND RADICAL DESIGN STUDIES. WE CELEBRATE THE ARCHITECTURE OF ITALY’S MOST ARRESTING WEDGES

THE OLD MAXIM that if it looks right, it is right, doesn’t always apply to aerodynamics. Common sense would seem to dictate that a wedge offers a more slippery presentation to the air than a teardrop shape, but we know better now, and curves work better than corners. In the 1960s and ’70s, the leading Italian design houses of Pininfarina, Bertone and Italdesign were nevertheless wedded to the power-packed profile of a low nose, sharply raked glass, integrated bumpers and muscular haunches.

In many regards, 1968 was the year of the Wedge War. Pininfarina’s Paolo Martin introduced the Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster in Turin vying with Giorgetto Giugiaro’s one-box Bizzarrini Manta for most column inches.

Both would have to give best to a shape penned by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. His Alfa Romeo Carabo (Beetle in English; pictured p35) is often seen as the car that established the trend for such angular wrapping of mid-engined mechanicals; it also featured scissor doors, which would become a reliable supercar trope. The design ethos of the Carabo’s arresting silhouette was to engineer a supercar that would negate the Lamborghini Miura’s issue of problematic front-end lift at speed.

Gandini would go on to design a whole host of wedge-shaped wonders, the most famous of which were a couple of 1971 debuts: the Lamborghini Countach and the Lancia Stratos. The latter was preceded by the Stratos Zero prototype, the sole example of which now resides at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Not all of the wonderful wedges placed the engine behind the driver. Giugiaro’s work for Italdesign included the Alfa Romeo Caimano concept of 1971 with a 1.3-litre boxer four under the bonnet, driving the rear wheels of an Alfasud chassis with 200mm lopped from the wheelbase.

Probably the most celebrated of the dedicated show cars is the amazing Ferrari 512S Modulo by Pininfarina. Paolo Martin’s finest hour first saw the light of day in 1970. Strange to think in today’s terms but when Ferrari homologated the 512S for racing, it built 25 ‘production’ cars but couldn’t find 25 buyers. ‘Il Commendatore‘ donated chassis and engine #27 car to Pininfarina, who created a space-age wedge with two overlapping bodyshells. The creation stood 935mm high, was powered by a 550hp (404kW) V12 and had insufficient wheel clearance to effectively turn left or right. It looked nothing like any Ferrari before or since, and while never a production prospect, it might just have become the most acclaimed design study of the 1970s.

It was sold in 2014 to American entrepreneur James Glickenhaus, who has since restored it to full running condition. A small setback occurred last year when the rear end caught fire in Monaco, but if anybody can bring the Modulo back to perfect fettle, it’s Glickenhaus.

Of course, much of the appeal of these cars resides in the lesscelebrated examples. Martin’s commitment to the wedge was never as crisply defined as in his Alfa Romeo Cuneo of 1971, which featured a consistently rising beltline and then the most savagely lopped rear end.

Not to be outdone, Bertone created an even more striking design study for Alfa Romeo at the 1976 Geneva show. This was the year the Space Shuttle was unveiled, Star Wars was filmed, and the Viking probe landed on Mars. The futuristic Navajo was based on the Tipo 33 Stradale but spoke an entirely different design language, credited to Nuccio Bertone. Featuring an aggressive wedge profile with details such as headlights that popped out laterally from the front guards, an active rear spoiler and moulded GRP seats, the Navajo drew comparison to Bertone’s other contemporary concepts such as the 1974 Lamborghini Bravo and the 1976 Ferrari 308 GT Rainbow. It also pointed to the excesses of early-’80s design, an era gently curtailed by Audi’s love letter to the wind tunnel, the C3 100 of 1982.

The wedge was largely functional, undeniably dramatic, and beautifully captured the boundless Zeitgeist of its era. We’re still in awe.

ANDY ENRIGHT

“Marcello Gandini’s Alfa Romeo Carabo is often seen as the car that established the trend for such angular wrapping of mid-engined mechanicals”

FOR REAL?

Behind the lens

A MASTER OF DIGITAL RESTORATION

Yes, these are actual photographs, all taken by the man on the photographer and art director known as Docubyte. for cars of this era saw him trawling the design northern Italy and photographing cars in situ. left, a A passion houses of northern Italy and photographing cars in situ.

From there, the base images, often of a neglected car in a corner of a dimly lit garage, were treated to a full resto dusty in Photoshop. Tatty badges, cracked tyres and rusty sills were rejuvenated; a task he wryly refers to as a “loving fight”.

He’s aware that going too clean with the processing will people assuming they’re just CGI images rather than photographs, and prefers to label them ‘digital art’. have actual photographs, and prefers to label them ‘digital art’.