Cars That Could have Been Citroëns – 1980 Ital Design Medusa

What you say isn’t always necessarily what you mean.

Ital Design Medusa. Image: autoviva
Ital Design Medusa. Image: autoviva

As Europe’s leading car design consultancy, Ital Design has always been in the business of ideas, and while they could to some extent predict the future in styling terms, they couldn’t necessarily convince the industry to follow their lead, which saw many promising styling studies on the cutting room floor. But in the industry’s defence, the price of failure has always been high.

According to contemporary reports, Giugiaro had high hopes for the ‘tall car’ concept embodied in his carrozzeria’s 1978’s Megagamma, but following the industry’s somewhat apathetic response, he is said to have fused theories around maximal interior space and aerodynamic theory, the result being the 1980 Medusa. But was there more than one agenda at play?

Image: World Encylopedia of Cars
Image: World Encylopedia of Cars

Having established its body shape and proving its efficiency in the wind tunnel, Ital Design technicians built a running prototype. Said to have been concerned that its wind cleaving shape would be widely copied, they adopted the mid-engined running gear from Lancia’s Beta Monte Carlo. With mechanicals, radiator, ventilation and door mirror fitted, Medusa achieved a Cd of 0.263 – making it the most aerodynamic saloon (in road going trim) in the world at the time.

Giugiaro appeared quite serious about its potential for production telling journalist Mel Nichols;  “By moving the front wheels forward a little and raising the bonnet it’s easy to come up with a front wheel drive Medusa. Our styling model with front-drive has the same Cd.”  He claimed he could deliver 0.25 to any client as long as he was given carte blanche with the shape. That shape continued a theme established by his earlier M8 concept but also paid homage to Pininfarina’s 1968 Berlina Aerodynamica; itself having formed the basis for an entire generation of Seventies saloons, but most notably, a number of landmark Citroën’s.


The similarities were notable in the long wheelbase, soft forms, low penetrating nose, elongated front overhang and abruptly truncated rear. Medusa, despite its shield and flag logo, really had Quai de Javel written all over it.

Journalistic expectations were high that the mid-1980’s would see a new generation of super-slippery and dynamic shapes, whereas in fact what we got for the most part was retrenchment and conservatism. Illustrating just how far wishful thinking can get you, Nichols confidently predicted Medusa would form the basis for the forthcoming Lancia saloon to be twinned with Saab later in the decade. Yes, Giugiaro got the gig for that one, but the car he oversaw adhered to an entirely different theme.


But could there have been another dimension? The Italian car design universe was small, incestuous and nothing stayed secret for long. It would have been Well known that Bertone was engaged by Citroën who were planning a new mid-sized car model. Given the rivalry between them, it’s possible the Lancia badge was a red herring to take the scent off Giorgetto’s focus across the Alps. Medusa was probably too late to have impacted upon the BX programme, but perhaps Giugiaro was looking slightly further ahead. Yes I am speculating here, but no more so than Mel Nichols thirty five years ago in the pages of Car.

The Medusa had promise with just about any badge on its nose. But what it was really crying out for was a nice pair of chevrons.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

30 thoughts on “Cars That Could have Been Citroëns – 1980 Ital Design Medusa”

  1. Some interesting details, but taken as a whole I am not keen. The stance is odd, and the pragmatic approach to surfacing and shuts sucks all interest from the shape. Raising the bonnet line to accommodate a FWD architecture would have killed it dead.

    On a side note, this must be one of the earliest cars I have seen that encloses the A-pillar within the door pressing, a treatment that became popular later on, particularly on VAG products. Richard might know the technical term for this; I certainly don’t.

  2. Both the Ford Sierra and Audi 100 were seen as ‘aero’ designs – and you could make an argument for the Saab 9000 / Thema / 164 all being influenced by this trend, as were the Opel/Vauxhall Cavalier and Calibra of the very late 80s.

  3. I really like its odd stance. Witch a proper engine/drive layout this could have been a great CX replacement – five years before the XM and leaving out the ugly plastic cladding of the S2 CX.
    By the way, with a low tucked boxer engine, they probably could have kept the bonnet line nearly as low.

  4. Much of my antipathy to this design stems from the door treatment. Frameless or very thinly framed glass would create contiguous lines around the DLO from the base of the A-pillar to the base of the D-pillar. As it stands, the window frames are too disruptive, drawing attention to the individual door panels rather than the overall shape of the car.

    1. I don’t like the discordant rear bumper treatment either. Where does the swage running down the flank terminate? Why are the rear light clusters inset and of that shape? No, this does not do it for me at all. The M8 concept was far better resolved in all regards.

    2. It would alreday help to have black B- and C-pillars. On the other hand, I like the three simple, separate geometrical shape that are the side windows.

    3. I take your point. Another thing that irks is the up-tick to the three quarter glass. Citroen DLOs typically had a flat base, with a swage falling away towards the rear. I much prefer that treatment.

  5. Thanks for the reminder of this stunning car. I remember being blown away by it when it I first saw it in Autocar and it still looks beautifully elegant today. I don’t agree that it could have been a Citroën though; I think the Lancia badge suits it perfectly.

  6. I do take the points about the door frames, and Chrisward1978 is also right about the kick up at the rear 3/4 glass and rear bumper thing, but … it’s beautifully clean, elegant, passenger friendly, and I’d buy one tomorrow if Citroën built it. One question; does anyone know its length? It looks very long, which would help it to appear elegant, or is it the elegant design that lends it the appearance of length?

    1. According to it is only 4405mm in length! Like, wow!

    2. From my reference material, it was roughly BX-sized which got me wondering if the Maestro had that programme in mind, but the timelines don’t really work. The BX’s styling would have been settled by 1980. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to scale up to CX size had PSA been interested.

      I can see why Mark James thinks it would have made a convincing Lancia, but by then this silhouette was synonymous with Citroen so they would have been criticised for aping the French firm. Additionally, by 1978, Lancia’s styling direction had already been codified – some might say ossified under Mario Maioli’s leadership. Radical looking Gamma Berlina’s were out and stolid looking Prisma’s in.

    3. I guess that with this length and the given proportions, the height might be, umm… not very passenger friendly.
      And, about the rising window line – we could see it as pointing towards what Citroën brought us with the XM and the Xantia. This design is certainly more beneficial for boot volume than what we see in the CX.

  7. “On a side note, this must be one of the earliest cars I have seen that encloses the A-pillar within the door pressing, a treatment that became popular later on, particularly on VAG products. Richard might know the technical term for this; I certainly don’t.”

    They’re called autoclave doors.

  8. The package screams Citroen. Bertone and Citroen together took that profile and gave it real depth on the XM. I hadn´t put the Medusa into my personal history of the XM´s evolution. Now I see it it seems quite apparent that the actual XM had roots in this car as much as Marc Deschamps famous little sketch. His drawing shows the surface character of the car; the Medusa shows the package and Citroen fine-tuned all the details to make the XM properly Citroenesque. If I was writing up a history of the XM the Medusa would go into the moodboard for the influences, without a doubt. Citroen/Bertone´s dropped window line was a formal innovation that managed to get away from merely bending the expected DS/CX window graphics a bit.

  9. I’m not entirely sure this particular iteration of the aero style has the requisite Citroen ‘look’, personally. However, the next development on the theme – the Orca – is another matter. I think it has more to do with the XM’s development than the Medusa as well.

    1. That and the later evolution, the Marlin, actually. Check out this glasshouse and tell me that the XM’s is not a blatant ripoff:

    2. Not knowing where these two came from, I’d have attributed them to Renault. There is a lot of R25 and R21 in these designs. The glasshouses have some XM in them, but the rear overhangs are too long for Citroën, and the Marlin’s notchback certainly doesn’t fit.

    3. Makes sense. The R21 was one of GG’s, and the Marlin’s influence can also be traced to some extent through the Eagle Premier.

    4. Actually, the Marlin is a good place for questioning when ‘inspired by’ (and even the best design feeds off what went before) becomes ‘rip-off’. Because there are overtones of both Audi 100 C3 and Sierra front end (or maybe Probe III). But in the case of the Audi, I recall that Giugiaro freely admitted that was his inspiration, since he had qualified admiration for the 100, but felt the overhangs spoilt it. But looking at the XM glasshouse, I do agree it seems, at best, ‘heavily inspired by’

  10. The Renault 21 hatchback, introduced when the range was facelifted in 1989, is pure Orca. The Safrane owes it a lot too.

  11. Medusa- 1980. The Orca is from 1982 and Marlin is from 1984. Of the three cars, the Orca is the least relevant. The 1985 Subaru XT might be too late to be an influence. You can see the dropped window line on the 1972 Lotus Eclat (hard to justify, perhaps). Perhaps a look at the 1981 Opel Tech 1 might be in order: floating roof, blacked out pillars and an extra pane of glass aft of the C-pillar?

  12. At risk of attracting the ire of various DTW denizens, to me the XM (and the BX before it) perfectly exemplifies why this hard edged styling direction was the end of Citroen as a major force. Citroens always looked like space ships, but softer, romantic forms made them approachable to the lay person. The introduction of hard edges and disruptive graphics gave their cars a discordant, unfriendly air. Citroen tried to row back later, giving us the softer edged Xantia, but by then the goodwill towards the brand had all but dissipated.

    1. I have to take issue with the BX and the public response. It sold really well. The XM´s problems lay not in the styling but in the death of sector it occupied and the irritating quality issues that bedevilled it. Maybe better engines would have helped. It never won a test but never failed. The XM has a smoother profile than any Citroen that came before it. The perception of angularity stems from the window-line and the crease running down the side. It´s actually a very smooth car.

    2. Although the CX can trace inspiration back to a Pininfarina design, it felt suitable Gallic. I did feel at the time that the square arched BX direction looked too ‘Italian’, by which I now realise I meant it looked like the Gandini rent-a-design that it actually was. But I’m not knocking it any more. Not in the world of the C5. And the XM is gloriously distinctive.

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