Gamma Bytes: When Gamma went Mega

Of all the concepts based upon Lancia’s unfortunate ’70s flagship, this was the most significant. Enter the Megagamma.

1978 Megagamma. Image: Italdesign
1978 Megagamma. Image: Italdesign

In 1978, the motoring world gathered at the Turin motor show to gawp at the new metal and absorb the latest trends from the cream of Italy’s styling studios. Particularly those of Ital Design, already Italy’s most important automotive carrozzeria. However the reaction to this 1978 offering was initially one of bemusement, bordering on derision. Neither estate, van nor saloon – what on earth was Giugiaro thinking?

Giorgetto’s fanbase was expecting something lowslung, mid-engined and weapon-like, but Ital Design’s founder and creative leader was always more interested in packaging and with Megagamma he took this to its logical conclusion, creating the proto-monospace. A concept that would prove remarkably prescient but was not the harbinger he believed it might be. Nor was Megagamma even the first MPV. That honour falls to the car that would eventually and protractedly become the Renault Espace; a design which pre-dated Megagamma by some years but owing to internal politics and a lengthy gestation, wasn’t seen publicly until 1984.

In fact, the roots of Megagamma lie in work carried out by Ital Design earlier in the decade on the Alfasud and Golf saloons. Both were rational two-volume saloon shapes, the ‘Sud in particular making maximal use of interior volume owing to its compact power unit. In some ways, Megagamma was simply a taller variant of this concept. Based on the underpinnings and mechanical layout of the Lancia Gamma, Megagamma was 247 mm taller and 290 shorter than the donor Gamma Berlina. The floor was raised to sill-height, which in turn raised the seating H-point and by truncating the tail sharply, the overall length was reduced to four metres while increasing internal space for passengers by 170 mm.

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Critics suggested that Megagamma lacked style, yet closer examination reveals similarities to both Giugiaro’s original Golf – (especially in the tail) – and the as yet unreleased Lancia Delta in its nose treatment – two designs lauded for the quality of their styling. But Megagamma was all about the interior, its occupants enjoying the comfort of an upright seating position, a high vantage, ease of entry and an airiness which only passengers of contemporary Range Rovers could experience at the time. Despite being largely ignored when first displayed, the industry quietly took notice, not only providing inspiration for mono-volume vehicles like Nissan’s Prairie and the Mitsubishi Space Wagon, but Megagamma’s silhouette would appear in slightly more pared back form in Fiat’s 1980 Panda and the award winning Uno of 1982. And of course several generations of MPV’s owe their very existence to this concept.

Megagamma. Image: carbodydesign
Megagamma. Image: carbodydesign

Giugiaro himself remained faithful to the idea, reprising it several times – notably with the outlandish Capsula of 1982 and again in the 1984 Together, essentially an updated more stylish Megagamma which previewed the nose and door mirror treatment of the 1991 Espace. Four years later he tried again with the sci-fi Asgard, but despite his best efforts the monospace was not to be the high-rider the motoring public would ultimately take to their hearts. Not even the maestro himself could have foreseen the SUV contagion over the horizon.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

6 thoughts on “Gamma Bytes: When Gamma went Mega”

  1. Super article.

    A definite USP of early MPVs were the huge glasshouses, which afforded the ultimate luxury of space and light. Key to this impression were spindly pillars and a low belt line. The problem is that both are counter-intuitive to the impression of safety, making it difficult to win over jittery parents. Ironically, as safety legislation engorged window frames and hoisted belt lines, the appeal of MPVs began to tarnish.

  2. The picture of the Megagamma beside the Espace is a reminder of the two strands of MPV form – strict monospace and two-box. The Megagamma gave credibility to the latter, and almost certainly influenced the designers of the 1983 Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Voyager. (the Espace was in the lineage too, by way of Matra and Talbot).

    By 2001, the Plymouth Voyager had become a Chrysler, after DaimlerChrysler lost a bitter legal battle with the Plymouth Brethren over the trademark.

    Four generations on, there was a Voyager with a Lancia badge. This might seem an extraordinary twist of fate, except that such strangeness has become entirely normal in the industry we all love. Refer to Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, unless you’re given to depression – it might push you over the edge.

    In between there, were two generations of quite successful Lancia MPVs derived from a French-built van. The cardiganed chain-smoker flounced off that particular venture, and Fiat Professional now stick their badge on a Renault / Nissan / Opel / Vauxhall van made in Luton and Sandouville. If I was Sergio I’d also market it as a Lancia Jolly, but he’ll probably flog it as an Abarth Talento instead.

    1. Strictly speaking of course, monospaces date back to the pre-war era, but ideas and innovations are often predicated as much on who as what. The fact that Giugiaro, already anointed as a visionary by the motoring press espoused the idea bestowed upon it a gravitas it might otherwise have lacked. Certainly, by the time the Chrysler/Matra/Renault Espace reached the public domain in 1984, the world was prepared to view it as a serious proposition. Had Chrysler/Simca launched it during the late 1970’s it would probably have been laughed at.

      The Chrysler Voyager’s perception was slightly different – the US market’s existing enthusiasm for converted commercials perhaps giving rise to an acceptance of the ‘minivan’concept. (I do however make this comment freely acknowledging my utter ignorance of North American auto culture).

    2. I remember going in to a Peugeot Showroom, just before the 806 was launched in 1994. I was thinking of replacing my then 8 year old Espace, and asking when they’d have one in to view. The salesman, who was South African and, maybe, had grown up reading more US magazines than UK ones, asked his colleague “When do we get that new van in?” Then I realised that, yes, it was going to be just a Peugeot Expert in drag and, ghastly snob that I am, went off the idea completely. Renault were more clever with the Espace in not trying to produce a commercial version (though that would have been quite a good idea on one level).

    3. Funny how different perceptions are. In my memory, the 806 was there first and they developed it into the commercial van afterwards. Quite clever, as this made the van look like it’s a bit like like a minivan, one that was actually really comfortable and plushy in the better trim levels.

    4. We British are very sensitive to these things.I remember a designer, who should have known better, saying words to the effect of “I suppose the Espace is clever, but in the end it’s just a van with windows”. With that sort of thinking, no wonder the motor industry has always been so conservative.

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