More to Marcello Gandini, the father of supercar design, than the Lamborghini Countach

It wasn’t all supercars and Italian exotica for the great Italian designer. Gandini’s affordable family cars like the Renault 5 and Citroen BX were also significant

Lamborghini Countach LP400
The Lamborghini Countach, produced from 1974 to 1990, is probably Marcello Gandini's best known design. Its name is a Piedmontese exclamation of shock and surprise, apparently inspired by the reaction of the craftsmen who worked on the original prototype

Marcello Gandini, one of the car industry’s most important and influential designers, died last Wednesday at the age of 85.

His may not be a household name, but if you’ve even a vague interest in cars you’ll certainly be aware of the Lamborghini Countach, probably the most famous of his designs.

Its iconic wedge shape came to life from Gandini’s drawing board in 1974, a real-world manifestation of his stunning 1970 concept car, the impossibly low and space age Lancia Stratos HF Zero. By then he had already established the ‘supercar’ blueprint with the beautiful drama of the seminal Lamborghini Miura (1966).

Lamborghini Miura SV
Before the Countach came Gandini's almost impossibly beautiful Lamborghini Miura, often credited as being the first 'supercar'

The son of a composer and orchestra conductor, Gandini grew up in Turin but the musical career he was expected to pursue was derailed by a box of Meccano he received for his fifth birthday.

Engineering and design became his destiny, with his career taking off at Carrozzeria Bertone, which he joined in 1965. In the late 1970s he went freelance.

Lancia Stratos Zero
Marcello Gandini's highly influential Lancia Stratos Zero concept was a wedge-shaped stylistic bridge between his Lamborghini Miura and Countach

It wasn’t all supercars and Italian exotica, either (as well as Lamborghini and Lancia, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati, De Tomaso, Iso and Alfa Romeo benefited from his pencil). Gandini’s affordable family cars were no less significant, while he also designed vans and trucks.

“It is easy to create a supercar: you have very few limits in terms of budget and fantasy,” he said.

Italian car designer Marcello Gandini
Marcello Gandini died on March 13, aged 85

“It is much more difficult to create a normal production car, where budget, reliability and practicality are the fierce enemies against which a stylist has to fight.”

BMW 5-Series E12
The original BMW 5-Series saw Gandini and another storied designer, Paul Bracq, join forces to create a saloon whose elegance has rarely been bettered

He was co-designer of the 1972 BMW 5-Series, a generation known as the E12, a tremendously important piece of work which not only set the template for the next 30 years of BMW design but also influenced how all other executive saloons ought to look. It is a testament to the essential rightness of that original 5 Series that the marque has long been unable to recapture its elegance and proportions, and seems to have now given up altogether.

The origami-creased Citroen BX, launched in 1982, was another Gandini creation. It was third time lucky for his take on a family car - Turkey’s Otosan and Volvo had rejected the concept by the time the French took it on - and it proved very successful, with 2.3 million examples sold over its 12-year production run.

Citroen BX
Citroen's BX and Gandini's reworking of the Renault 5 sold millions in the 1980s, as ubiquitous as his supercars were rare

The BX’s mix of galvanised steel and plastic composites were cutting edge in the early 1980s but today it is common for cars to mix materials, whether to save weight or build strength in the right areas - another example of Gandini’s farsightedness.

More utilitarian was his 1984 redesign of the Renault 5, dubbed the Supercinq. It emphasised that whether it be humble city cars (he also designed the original Volkswagen Polo) or vastly expensive machines like the Lamborghinis with which he was synonymous (he did the Diablo too), Gandini was a true master - a maestro - of his craft.

Renault 5 'Supercinq'
Renault 5 'Supercinq'
Fiat X1/9
The delicate Fiat X1/9 put Gandini's supercar design cues into an affordable package
Lancia Stratos HF Stradale
The world's special stages also benefited from the Italian's vision of a rally car, the Ferrari-engined Lancia Stratos, which was dominant during the second half of the 1970s