Hailed by Pininfarina as a celebration, Nautilus marked the final act in an unravelling relationship dating back to 1951.
The same year as 406 Coupe’s began leaving Pininfarina’s San Giorgio Canavese facility, the carrozzeria displayed Nautilus at Geneva; a concept for a full-size four-door luxury saloon, said by the coachbuilder to be “an exciting stylistic exploration of the high class sporty saloon, created as a tribute to our partnership with Peugeot.” But behind the scenes, this already souring relationship was entering its death throes. With Murat Günak appointed as Peugeot styling director in 1994, one of his first acts was to enlarge the styling team to bolster both numbers and influence; the aim being to further eclipse the Italian coachbuilder and favour the in-house team.
So although Nautilus was based on mechanical components from Peugeot’s contemporary 605 flagship, Pininfarina stated the concept was not intended as a production car, more a statement of the carrozzeria’s capabilities. One could say Pininfarina was hedging its bets by presenting the vehicle as a design solution – either for Peugeot or indeed for someone else entirely. In fact Nautilus was only the latest in series of conceptual meditations on the contemporary luxury saloon; those being the 1956 Florida, the 1967 Berlina Aerodynamica, and the 1980 Pinin. [The latter singularly notable for being a stylistic dead end].
The original concept was credited to Pininfarina stylist, Ken Okuyuma. Styling was a departure from the traditional formal sedan style and while front-drive mechanicals were employed, the car’s proportions and volumes suggested rear-drive. Certainly in silhouette, it was a shape that could have adopted itself to more than one rival manufacturer at the time.
The main body forms were a carefully contrived series of interlocking volumes employing soft features with highly defined corners and edges. Lorenzo Ramaciotti, General manager of Pininfarina’s Studi e Ricerche told journalists, “We had complete freedom with the Nautilus, though there is a hint of Peugeot in some details.” These being elements of the tail lamp formations, although the headlamp and grille treatment themselves appear to foreshadow subsequent Peugeot style. But who influenced who one wonders?
It’s tempting in retrospect to view Nautilus as a last-gasp attempt to re-engage with a client who had already made the decision to walk away but undoubtedly Sergio Pininfarina could see that particular cause was lost. More likely, it was a veiled rebuke; a means of showing both Peugeot management and the wider automotive world exactly what PSA were abandoning so blithely.
Nautilus wasn’t wasted however. Elements of its shape can be seen in Ken Okuyuma’s 2003 Maserati Quattroporte V, itself a Pininfarina creation and undoubtedly a more deserving recipient of the Italian carrozzeria’s talents. Meanwhile Peugeot threw forty six years of styling heritage away on a whim. What stupefying folly.