Genus Felidae

Marcello Gandini is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian car designers of the 20th century. However there is cause to suspect that he may have been allergic to cats.

(c) Motor

The life of a design consultant is fraught with reversals. All that time spent scouting for commissions, late night oil expended preparing and revising proposals only to receive the thanks, but no-thanks brush-off from the prospective client.

For the Italian car design houses, this had become a way of life – some you win, some you lose. This was certainly the state of affairs in late 1973, when Jaguar’s then Managing Director, Geoffrey Robinson requested carrozzeria Bertone (along with rivals, Ital Design) to submit proposals for Browns Lane’s nascent XJ40 saloon programme.

During the early 1970s, Nuccio Bertone’s studio head, Marcello Gandini was at the peak of his creative powers with an enviable back catalogue of design landmarks created over a few short years at Stile Bertone’s Caprie facility. During this period, it seemed the Torinese designer couldn’t put a foot wrong, but while the highlights of this purple patch are justifiably lauded, to view it purely as a series of stylistic triumphs is to deny reality.

As documented in DTW’s in-depth XJ40 profile, Bertone submitted their proposal in June 1974, which was reviewed by Robinson, Lord Stokes and John Barber alongside rival studies by Ital Design, Pininfarina and Jaguar’s own studio. As documented in historian, Philip Porter’s 1986 ‘Project XJ40’ history, the results of this styling review were inconclusive, but what was apparent from the Jaguar insiders Porter interrogated on the subject is that while Stokes had been impressed with Pininfarina’s offering, nobody thought much of Gandini’s proposal.

But looking at what was presented, this can hardly have been surprising. In 1986, UK weekly, Motor published a series of early Gandini renders for the XJ project [top of page] and what can be discerned is that of a designer illustrating some basic grasp of Jaguar’s styling heritage and in particular the delicate lines of the existing XJ saloons. While details such as the concealed headlamps and somewhat transatlantic grille treatment were unlikely to have found favour, it was in essence a reasonable, if uninspired effort.

1974 Bertone XJ40 proposal. (c) caradisiac

One which bears scant relationship to the bland confection which arrived at Allesley in early 1974. Having successfully established the basic styling theme in 1970 with the 2002-based Garmisch study for BMW, Gandini appears to have stretched and massaged it both for the Jaguar commission and for that of Maserati, who had also turned to Bertone for a luxury saloon shape to replace their Quattroporte model, first shown at that year’s Paris motor show.

But while the recently recreated BMW proposal embodied styling features readily associated with München-Milbertshofen, neither of the latter styling studies could be said to have evoked a similar sense of marque-specific recognition – the Jaguar in particular being a particularly nondescript piece of generic Italo-corporate design. It’s particularly telling that Bertone saw fit to affix a leaper to the bonnet, in a vain attempt to emphasise its identity.

But more puzzling than the creative banality of the Bertone proposal are the basic design errors that were made – a surprising lapse from someone of Marcello Gandini’s calibre and skill. From a proportional perspective, nothing quite gels, most notably the misalignment between C-pillar and rear wheel. Additionally, the awkward dipping tail treatment, a nod to Jaguar’s past, simply lends the shape a broken-backed appearance.

And while one could envisage this proposal forming the basis of a creditable large Fiat, (had the proportions been tidied up at least), of Jaguar there really wasn’t all that much upon which to hang one’s hat. Not that this deterred Marcello’s biographer, Gautam Sen, who in his 2017 Gandini retrospective lauded the Jaguar proposal, describing it as “a sharp suited bolide, that was both modern and elegant.

Sen, whose faithful worship at the altar of maestro Gandini seemingly makes few concessions to impartiality, went on to suggest that “Robinson and team liked the design enough to ask for another proposal from Bertone, which followed in 1976.” That’s one way of putting it, but according to Browns Lane insiders, both Bertone and Ital Design’s proposals were rejected outright and revised studies demanded.

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Bertone’s 1976 proposal was clearly an improvement, but fundamentally remained a country mile from where Jaguar’s engineering leadership envisaged as their preferred destination, once again rejecting both Gandini’s (and Giugiaro’s) revised efforts. However, Jaguar’s Bob Knight did concede that in his view, the Bertone study was “the most tolerable of the lot”, and from time to time is believed to have referred to it in order to ascertain how certain stylistic features had been executed.

Sen concludes that Bertone’s proposals directly inspired the final production car, and in that there is a grain of truth, albeit not nearly as much as maestro Gandini’s biographer would have us believe. Certainly, his assertion that XJ40’s rectangular headlamp units were amongst Bertone’s stylistic legacies studiously ignores the fact that Pininfarina had previously proposed a similar arrangement, or for that matter that Jaguar’s own styling team were thinking along broadly similar lines from the outset.

Carrozzeria Bertone never succeeded in obtaining a production commission from Jaguar, despite repeated attempts. There were a number of reasons for this, but the decisive one is simply that Jaguar’s design principles were in fundamental opposition to those of Marcello Gandini, a matter which came to a head with Bertone’s 1978 Ascot design study – a design which displayed no recognisable Jaguar visual attributes whatsoever.

If we agree that only Sir William Lyons was truly capable of designing Jaguars, it is perhaps unfair to expect brilliance from the hands of others. However, it’s apparent that Marcello Gandini was possessed of an equally narrow stylistic palette, albeit one which didn’t stretch to leaping cats.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

23 thoughts on “Genus Felidae”

  1. That photo of the frontal aspect does look like what ended up on the production XJ40. It’s more messy, though, with the positioning of the badge and the leaper looking cluttered.

  2. Some of these photos I’d never come across before – so thanks very much for this, Eoin!

    Gandini’s modus operandi fascinates me even more after having visited the exhibition devoted to his career at the Turin Automobile Museum. There were some fine illustrations, like the one posted at the top of this article, and some very poor ones, both signed by the man himself.

    These rough sketches probably were Gandini’s way of expressing his ideas in an efficient way, but they’re not detailed enough to serve as the basis for any professional car design. Which begs the question: Was there a specific modeller that ‘translated’ these rather coarse ideas into proper designs? And why are some of the illustrations signed by Gandini of a considerably higher artistic standard than the vast majority of his sketches – did he do these without time pressure or in his spare time? Or did someone else create these, for Marcello to put his signature below them (just like there are some illustrations signed by none other than Nuccio Bertone…)?

  3. This is an interesting companion to yesterday’s piece on Jaguar design.

    If Jaguar lost its way and went the route of retro pastiche, it is not as if it was ignoring many compelling proposals from other design houses as it did so.

    Italian design houses had a habit of coming up with a core concept and then adapting it only marginally for different clients. As you say, Gandini’s work above could easily have been a FIAT.

    Sometimes this worked, but often not. Peugeot got work from Pininfarina which was vaguely reminiscent of Ferraris, and I can’t imagine they minded too much. But any hopeful supercar manufacturer who called Gandini in the late 80s / early 90s got pretty much the same design.

    ITAL design did a concept for a new Jaguar sedan in 1990 (the Kensington?) which was rejected and then got turned into production by Lexus.

    Maybe Jaguar, for whatever reason, was never the lead client for these design houses, and so they spend insufficient time thinking about the unique properties that make a Jaguar look like a Jaguar?

    1. The bit that I will remark on is the business of the designer not giving sufficient thought to their client. Could we say that Pininfarina et al didn´t ever get the hand of method designing as in getting under the skin of the role and producing something that worked on the terms of the client? The carrozzeria´s best designs were ones for firms who wanted the Italian look – the Italians. With the carrozzeria it was perhaps understood they´d serve up an Italian dish and not a design built on the customs and preferences of the non-Italians. Maybe only Spada ever got close to doing something innately of-the-customer/for-the-customer.

    2. There were certainly overtones of the Kensington in the Lexus GS300, particularly in the treatment of the DLO:

      However, the Kensington design was recycled wholesale to produce this, the 1997 Daewoo Leganza:

      As to the Gandini Jaguars, the first effort, although poorly proportioned, had at least some Jaguar design cues in the treatment of the wheelarches and lower bodyside crease. The second, although better resolved, had almost none, and the side profile could be anything (other than a Jaguar!)

  4. Richard: I’ve been thinking about this too. If I’m paying for Marcello Gandini then presumably it’s because I like his designs and want some of that. I don’t want him to be constrained by the house style. The Miura was curvy and sensuous, so it’s an interesting thought exercise to consider what a Gandini Jaguar might have looked like if he’d been commissioned ten years earlier rather than in the angular and wedgy 70s.

    On the other hand, maybe the mark of a true great is to produce a design that looks like both a Jaguar and an original by a famous designer.

  5. I so much like the way Spada leaves his mark but simultaneously stays true to the Brands’ heritage and design language. Thanks mr. Herriot for mensioning him, I always thought that Zagato was the actual designer for several of Spadas works, a novice in automobile design as I am. But the question that sets in place now- and which really corresponds to herr Butt’s comment- is all about the real design work in the famous italian ateliers. Was it done by the Maestros or assigned to the not so broadly and worldly educated apprentices of the bureau, therefore leading to what mr. Elliots great article describes “as basic design errors” not consistent to the true values of the client’s brand. Great article and comments, thank you all.

    1. SV suggests that the second Bertone nose arrangement is close to that of the production car, (the first one was closer in spirit to the initial sketch) but I would equally contend that it wasn’t far removed from that of Pininfarina, or indeed many of Jaguar’s own in-house proposals.

      Two notable aspects however are the use of the leaper on the bonnet (something of an act of desperation perhaps, albeit one reprised on 2011’s B99 concept), which Jaguar had already abandoned on safety grounds and the use of the leaper graphic as emblem or badging on the early render, predating that of Jaguar themselves many years later.

      John cites Gandini’s design for the Miura, but of course, you must recall that this was apparently a design that was started by Giorgetto Giugiaro, before being considerably revised and recast by Marcello upon his arrival at Caprie. I might suggest that the voluptuous theme was one set by Giorgetto, which seemed at odds with Gandini’s later style. But the Miura tale is a rabbit warren, so let us not descend into its depths.

      Spada did seem a good fit with Claus Luthe at BMW, but it’s unclear as to how much those cars (E32/ E34) were Spada’s work and how much BMW’s own design team. Certainly, they were collaborative works. As indeed would have been the so-called Gandini cars, since the maestro would have had the benefit of a talented team around him. However, he was the creative driving force. (Which makes the results for Browns Lane even more mystifying).

      By the way, thanks for the kind words C. Christodoulou. I will pass them on to Mr. Elliott….

  6. …my apologies dear mr. Eóin and of course no need to pass the good words to mr. Elliot, they were meant entirely for you. Thanks again

    1. No apologies required – I was being facetious. However a writer does have his vanity.

      Very pleased you liked the piece…

    2. Gandini has a very identifiable style that became more geometric over time. Inevitably this kind of style goes conflict with the voluptuous British tradition. Another error is the flat rear wheelarch, a Gandini thing. I don’t think it ever worked well on a sedan, it makes the rear look overweight. With this in mind, we face the problem: either you get a Gandini Jaguar or a Jaguar Gandini. In both cases, one has to give way to the other. With Lamborghini or Citroen this was never the case since the Gandini style worked well with the proportions.

  7. I cannot shake off the feeling of how much the front end of contemporary SPA Volvos resemble the Bertone B99 concept.

    1. Definitely.

      Scale it down a bit, tweak the C pillar area and there is a P1800 in there too….

  8. Nobody ever “got” Jaguar the way William Lyons got it, and it is very evident in all the vain attempts that has been tried since his departure. Whatever it was he infused in the marque and the cars nobody has been succesful in replicating that formula. It is evident Gandini didn’t even try because he couldn’t even understand what it was. So what is it in that je ne sais quoi? What was it that Lyons could embody with his body and soul that no one has been able to grasp? He cracked the code, and he took the secret with him to his grave. And nobody has been able to crack that code and recreate the formula since…

    1. Ingvar: I don’t believe Lyons understood it himself, hence his reported inability to articulate it when asked. My own view is that it was the result of decades of incremental steps towards some form of aesthetic ideal, which existed purely inside his mind. This process of iterative advancement, combined with his innate reserve and his well reported good taste for matters of appearance, probably saw to the rest.

      Nobody else could achieve it, simply because they weren’t Sir William Lyons. But of those who tried, I would argue that Jaguar’s own internal stylists (left to their own devices at least) came closer to it than the Italian carrozzieri – (Series III apart).

    2. I’ve seen it with Palladio and the golden ratio. People have used that ratio since antiquity as the non plus ultra of harmony and balance. But the fun thing is, it is only an approximation. One is fooled if one thinks it’s an ideal to be put before all others, because perfection simply doesn’t exist. It’s an ideal to strive for divine harmony, but it will never be achieved by mere mortals. But it is something to strive for, and people will spend their lives trying. In that I can see Lyons spending “decades of incremental steps towards some form of aesthetic ideal, which existed purely inside his mind.” And therein lies the krux, you need a lifetime of experience and another lifetime of experimental work seeing it through.

    3. Big cats are truly few and far in between on these streets, back then as it is today. The first time I ever laid eyes on one in sheet metal (on TV who could forget Thatcher’s Series III anyway, with the little curved tail lights?) was in my teenage years, either a Series I or II, but more likely a II. Abandoned in a workshop, a thick layer of dust on creamy white paint, propped up on stilts, the silhouette was all at once voluptuous and magnificent, and so incredibly beautiful. One would be hard pressed to expect any teenage boy to appreciate the finer details of an obscure motor vehicle, but I distinctly remember peering into the cabin: luscious skin of dead animals everywhere, many chopped up trees, and ivory switchgear (I believe it was the gear knob). Modern cars have no soul; they’re almost entirely like kitchen appliances, for the buying people who can’t be fussed and for the selling bean counters to make a fast buck. Without any disrespect to the amazing people at Browns Lane (and Sir William), I wonder perhaps if these truly were automotive masterpieces of last century – and like all masterpieces, you can’t better it, can’t surpass it, can’t make another… That era has passed, today what we have are mostly appliances! (I’d be very happy to hear disagreement)

  9. With all due respect to Sir William’s legacy, he wasn’t perfect, and he had some excellent help. This design is attributed entirely to Malcolm Sayer:

    Keith Helfet (favoured by Lyons himself):

    Peter Stevens (for TWR):

    Tony Southgate:

    Tony Southgate with Ian Callum (for TWR):

    Ian Callum (TWR):

    Michael Robinson and Adrian Griffiths (for Bertone):

    1. Gooddog: I would agree that Sir William made several mistakes along the way, but would counter by asking, what great artist hasn’t? As I’m fond of repeating, Lyons was utterly reliant upon one or two incredibly talented technicians who worked in wood and metal and could almost intuitively realise Sir Bill’s instructions, ‘furry’ sketches, hand gestures and (in later life) sweeps of his walking stick. What Lyons possessed (according to those who worked closely with him was an extraordinary eye for line, light and shape.

      In terms of assistance, people like Bob Blake, Cyril Crouch, but in particular, Fred Gardiner, who worked alongside Lyons for about 25 years on styling were the unsung back-room boys behind the gasps of affirmation on the motor show circuit. Sayer however was in an entirely different league, and someone upon whom Sir William relied to an increasing extent as he edged towards retirement.

      However, Lyons had little input upon the racing Jaguars, being content to leave it to those who understood it. There is little doubt that he brought his influence to bear on the C and D-Types in that they both embodied a recognisable Jaguar fluidity to their silhouettes, but he would defer to Sayer in absolute terms, having realised that the Cromer-man’s calculations couldn’t be bettered.

      Regarding the photos above, Keith Helfet’s original XJ41/42 proposal was not only favoured by Sir William, but was the very last Jaguar design he actively participated with, visiting Jaguar’s styling studios every two weeks (more frequently when something was bugging him, according to Helfet) to cast his eye over progress. There is a lot of direct Lyons involvement in that car, which makes its stillborn fate all the more poignant.

      The saloon proposal below it is believed to have been a study for a post-XJ40 saloon from the pen of former Jaguar designer, Cliff Ruddell, which dates from the late 1980s. Very much in the spirit of Lyons.

      XJ220 was another Helfet design, one which channelled Sayer’s XJ13 and was very much in a similar idiom to that of his XJ41/42 proposal. But I would file this under Sayer, rather than Lyons – although the latter would undoubtedly have approved.

      The TWR mid-engine cars are to my eyes, irrelevant to this discussion.

      The proposal below them has a far more convoluted story. Known internally as XX (or internally as double cross), then NPX, it came about from the ruins of the XJ41/42 programme. Its styling is correctly attributed not only to Ian Callum, but to Keith Helfet, with contributions from Geoff Lawson and Jim Randle. It later mutated into the Aston Martin DB9, which was mostly Callum’s work. I don’t know if that murky and shameful tale can ever be told in its entirety.

      As to the B99, I think I’ve gone on record about that already. Its wheels are far too large to harmoniously support the body. Bertone could never get the proportions (or detailing) right when it came to Jaguars. But what we can say is that in this, they were at least consistent.

  10. Thank you Eóin for your perspective and steady eye. I did not know about Cliff Ruddell. His XJ90 proposal really strikes me as an incredibly sensitive and powerful extrapolation of the so-called “Lyons line”.

    Regarding the TWR cars, I was trying to better understand Callum’s evolution and history in comparison to Lyons’ interactions with his collaborators, and got a bit carried away.

    It’s kind of you to bring us B99 fans back down to earth as well. Yes it is something of a cartoonish hot rod.

    1. Gooddog: Mr. Ruddell joined the Jaguar styling team at a similar period to that of Mr Helfet. I get the sense that there was a degree of competition between them insofar as they both offered proposals for XJ41/42 and XJ220, both of which were decided in Helfet’s favour.

      I believe that Ruddell contributed several alternative proposals for XJ40 towards the latter stages of its stylistic gestation, which I would dearly love to see. However, it seems unclear exactly what the scheme illustrated directly refers to. While it’s probably logical to suggest it was an alternative XJ90 proposal, Ruddell I seem to recall referred to it as a coupé XJ40 scheme. Either way, I concur. It’s rather good.

      XJ90 is a car that deserves a bit more DTW attention. In my view it may well be Jaguar’s ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ moment. One of these days I’ll commit some words to HTML.

      My apologies for being a hopeless pedant on the subject. I’ve spent more time than I can ever regain down this particular rabbit hole, and I’m still no wiser…

  11. Eóin, Many of us may now look forward to reading your further thoughts on XJ90 sometime in the future.

    To correct my error, and similar rumours and whisperings propagated on the internet… from http://www.cliff-ruddell.co.uk/Ruddell-Gallery-1.html , referring to the very photo I posted which has been mislabeled as an XJ90 proposal:

    “on the quarter scale GRP version of the [XJ40 coupe] design I taped it up as a 4 door, predating the XJ90 by several years, although I don’t recall ever hearing the designation XJ90 until I read Nick Hull’s book!”

    Just above this photo on Mr. Ruddell’s site one can see a version of coupe proposal itself. And you have already posted a photo of a slightly different version of it here : https://driventowrite.com/2019/02/18/1979-jaguar-xj-series-3-profile/#comment-52319

    1. Yes, please, Eóin. Although I’ve seen gooddog’s image above before, the XJ90 is a bit of a mystery to me, so your knowledge on this would be much appreciated.

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