Maybe Italian supercarmakers should revisit the past modus operandi of hiring the services of external styling houses. A recent case certainly gives food for thought in this regard.
Bertone: gone. Italdesign: Volkswagenised. Pininfarina: part of the Mahindra conglomerate. The Italian carrozzerie have seen better times than today, that much is certain.
Quite a lot of that is to do with a certain bejumpered CEO, but flexible production methods and the industry-wide trend to establish in-house styling expertise also play important roles.
With the days of the grand Italian styling houses numbered, it would be foolish to expect another Pininfarina-designed production Ferrari or a Bertone-penned Lamborghini to ever make it to the streets again. We’ll have to make do with designs courtesy of the respective in-house teams, currently headed by Flavio Manzoni (Ferrari) and Mitja Borkert (Lamborghini).
Whereas the latter hasn’t got any track record yet at Lamborghini (being most famous for the shape of the Porsche Macan), Manzoni’s Ferraris haven’t been heart-stopping affairs, hyper exclusive LaFerrari included. But credit where it’s due: the most recent effort of Borkert’s predecessor, Filippo Perini, must rank among the most ridiculous cases of defamation in automotive history. The Italdesign Zerouno certainly bears no hallmarks whatsoever of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s former enterprise. Which is, in a sense, quite some achievement, but a shameful one nonetheless.
So, in a nutshell, the corporate approach to styling hasn’t done the Italian thoroughbred sports car maker many favours. Which could be attributed to changing times and tastes. If only there wasn’t Ken Okuyama.
Okuyama-san is, for those unaware of the man, the superstar among Japanese designers. His own design consultancy has helped shape furniture, tableware and Shinkansen trains. The coach building arm of Ken Okuyama Design meanwhile built a handful of limited production sports cars, mostly Lotus Elise-based. These cars are the Kode series.
Before he embarked on establishing his own design business, Okuyama had been, among other posts, chief designer at Pininfarina. Okuyama, who is trilingual, had overseen cars as diverse as the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Ferrari Enzo and the Maserati Quattroporte V during his Turin stint.
Bearing this background in mind, one could come to the conclusion that Ken Okuyama knows his Italian design. With the unveiling of his new Kode 0 flagship model, this conclusion is proven to be fact.
One does not need to compare the Kode 0 with its Lamborghini Aventador base car to be impressed. But it helps. Whereas the Lamborghini is a typical Perini-era effort in that it’s slightly overwrought and heavy-handed, which results in it being hardly as charismatic as its extreme proportions and form language would suggest, the Kode 0 understands that a dramatic design needs to be staged.
Too much shouting results in white noise. However, more muted shouts are all the more effective if they occur during a stretch of silence. Which is why the Kode 0 is far more reduced a design. The creases and feature lines it does boast all serve a clear stylistic purpose. This results in a supercar that’s far more dramatic for its relative simplicity. And a supercar that can get away with metallic green accents.
In cinematic terms, the Aventador is a Michael Bay movie: loud, conspicuous, overloaded with effects. The Kode 0, by comparison, is a James Cameron blockbuster. It may not be subtle, but it knows that good staging isn’t about the number of explosions per minute.
Hopefully, the next time one of the Italian sports car makers intends to produce a spectacular halo model, they’ll give Okuyama-san a ring. He knows a thing or two about Italian design.
The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com