Gatto di Caprie

Bertone’s Marcello Gandini had about as much luck with leaping cats as he did with prancing horses; this 1977 proposal being another in a long line of cars which could have been Citroëns. So much so, it ended up becoming one.

“The only Jaguar thing I want to see is the leaper on the front!” 1977 Bertone Ascot concept. Image credit: (c) Car Design News

Over time, the Italian carrozzieri made numerous attempts to reimagine the work of Jaguar’s stylists, but with decidedly mixed results and limited success. Pininfarina, Ghia and Bertone had reconfigured various Jaguar models during the 1950s, while Michelotti also once rebodied a D-Type along radically different lines. But despite Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons maintaining both cordial relations and a weather eye on the major Italian styling studios, it took Bertone’s 1966 S-Type based FT concept to really capture his attention.

The first complete Bertone concept by senior designer, Marcello Gandini, the four-seater coupé was seriously evaluated at Browns Lane in both styling and engineering terms, with the Jaguar board that year exploring possible production. Gandini, like many within the Italian design community was keen to gain a Jaguar commission but time and again would prove to be disappointed.

1976 Bertone Rainbow. Image credit: classicdriver

Throughout the first half of the 1970s Gandini created a series of concept and production cars which redefined sports car styling. In 1976, Bertone displayed the Rainbow concept, based on the chassis and running gear of the Ferrari 308 GT4, the carrozzeria’s first production commission from Marenello.

Knowing that Ferrari’s links with rivals, Pininfarina were nigh-unbreakable, Gandini created an uncompromising, dart-like, highly conceptual piece of automotive sculpture which polarised opinion. Very much part of the radical Bertone aesthetic at the time, Gandini’s shapes were intended to shock and awe, but by the second half of the decade, he appeared not only to be losing his touch, but taking Caprie in ever decreasing circles.

Bertone’s Ascot was his 1977 Turin motor show-piece. Based upon the floorpan and running gear of the Jaguar XJ-S, a car the design community appeared to view with similar perplexity (if not outright derision) as the motor press, not to mention more traditionalist elements of the Jaguar customer-base. By now, Gandini had become inured to rejection from Browns Lane, having previously lost out to Pininfarina for the revisions to the existing XJ saloon (Series III) and having both XJ40 proposals (1974 and ’76) turned down.

Ascot was, on the surface of things, as uncompromising a take on Jaguar style imaginable, with little or no consideration as to how it would be received in Coventry. After all, he already knew the answer. Employing the styling motifs which had become familiar from a succession of exotic concepts which had become something of a house style, Ascot displayed little or no Jaguar visual cues at all. Or did it?

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While something of an amalgam of contemporary Caprie-esque styling cues, the fastback silhouette at least nodded Coventry-wards, as did the lengthy rear overhang. Another notable stylistic detail was the use of ‘buttress-shaped’ framing around sections of the DLO, a grudging reference perhaps to those of the XJ-S. But fundamentally, strip away the more outré details, and Ascot is revealed as the 1966 FT recast for a new decade.

However, one should also consider the situation at Browns Lane in 1977. Jaguar’s saloon project was mired in endless styling reviews with their BL parent renaming it Leyland Cars 40 (LC40). Stylistic decision making rested with engineering, which was headed by Bob Knight and Jim Randle respectively, both of whom were traditionalists to their fingertips and given the level of BL interference at the time, would have had little time for a design as radical and (let’s be frank), uninspired as this.

1977 also saw the Porsche 928’s debut, marking the beginnings of a gradual shift to softer forms, away from the Italian paper-dart aesthetic, albeit one which still had some way to run. And run on it did, Ascot directly influencing Bertone’s FW11 Anadol / Reliant concept of the same year, the 1979 Tundra for Volvo, and the production design for the 1982 Citroen BX.

Ascot’s best angle? Image credit: (c) carstyling

Indeed, one could retrospectively ascribe more double chevron styling tropes to the Ascot’s shape than anything from Allesley, but we’re all geniuses in hindsight.

Following the Ascot, Bertone and Gandini abandoned their Jaguar ambitions, but the following year, Cambiano re-entered the conversation with another XJ-S based concept which was received with a good deal more seriousness at Browns Lane. But that is for another time.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

7 thoughts on “Gatto di Caprie”

  1. If you can’t get the Jag front right, you shouldn’t be working for Jaguar. Yes, some of these were Citroëns in all but name. At least the XF designers understood this.

  2. Looking at the fastback, it’s also one of the ‘cars that could have been Opel Monzas’, probably a bit too pointy and progressive for the Opel clientele of the late 70s.
    A Citroën it could be for the detailing (it already carries some hints of XM), but the proportions tell me that it’s not.

  3. The carrozzieri’s consistent failure to ‘crack’ Jaguar is among the more amusing aspects of automotive design history.

    Pininfarina should, theoretically, have had it easy to do a Jag, as the stylistic core values of either company aren’t miles apart at all. And yet, XJ Series 3 facelift apart, even they struggled to emulate Sir William’s design ethos, although their XJ40 proposal was the best of a decidedly lacklustre bunch, just as Elio Nicosia’s XJ Spider was infinitely superior to the Ascot and, arguably, even influenced Jaguar’s own XJ41 design.

    Bertone, on the other hand, always had too obvious an identity of its own to truly gel with Jaguar, particularly with Gandini in charge. In his prime, he’d thus push the car design envelope like nobody else, but once he’d run out of juice (which would’ve been about the time he put pen on paper to draw the decrepit Rainbow), all that remained was a blocky, heavy form language lacking any delicacy – not to mention a baffling disregard for proportions – that was instantly recognisable, but left little space for any marque’s own flair.

    Maybe Gandini was at a point by then when he wouldn’t allow Nuccio to have any say in ‘his’ creations anymore. Maybe he’d just run out of ideas. But regardless of the reasons for it turning out this way, Ascot’s ham-fisted aesthetics betray an overwhelming arrogance/ignorance towards the stylistic quality that make up a Jaguar.

    And before anyone asks: I’m not retroactively giving Giugiaro carte blanche. All his Jaguar concepts, from the dull XJ40 proposal that supposedly ‘inspired’ his Maserati Quattroporte III, to the rather misbegotten Kensington were defined by the fact that he obviously never grasped what Jaguar was about either.

  4. Is the Ascot’s bonnet supposed to double as a helicopter landing pad?

    Baffling details on concept cars are not unusual, but this is something else.

  5. “Gandini’s shapes were intended to shock and awe, but by the second half of the decade, he appeared not only to be losing his touch, ”
    Does this make Gandini the Sixties’ Bangle?

  6. Gandini is so incredibly hit and miss. Also, he peaked very early in His career. The Miura may be one of the most beautiful cars ever made. The Countach is of not beautiful so incredibly brutal in its sheer presence, those two alone would make in to the hall of fame. The rest? Always trying and striving for excellence and never really getting there. And with his pet peeves getting really contrived with time, like the angled rear wheelarch following him into the 90’s.

    1. Gandini is not an exception – few people have more than a few good cars in them. Much car design is not about innovation but making something look halfway acceptable. That is a huge task in itself. Making a stand-out car is like expecting someone to climb Everest Mountain and also write a memorable sonnet once at the top, every single time.
      From another perspective, Ingvar is right and Gandini offered us a lot of turkeys too. Qvale Mangusta.

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