Diamond Life

Architects and motor cars have not always co-existed harmoniously. Today’s subject however, is something of an exception. 

(c) Motori corriere.it

Richard Buckminster Fuller’s foray into the automotive world with his Dymaxion car of 1933 is frequently brought forward when the discussion topic is raised about car concepts that were simply too far ahead of their time for their own good. The radical ideas and look of the Dymaxion were indeed in clear violation* of MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) – the guiding design principle of well known contemporary, Raymond Loewy.

Two decades after Buckminster Fuller presented Dymaxion, another famed architect came up with a car design that was considered too far out at the time of its introduction: Gio Ponti. The Italian’s Linea Diamante dates from 1953 but its styling and interior concept were very much of another, future decade.

Milan native Ponti considered the car designs of the early fifties to be inefficient in terms of space utilisation and interior flexibility and saddled with needlessly gaudy, rotund styling. Together with his colleagues Alberto Rosselli and Antonio Fornaroli he developed, for the time, a wholly new style both inside and out. Ponti’s car concept was christened Linea Diamante or diamond-shaped line because of its flat panels and straight lines that were in total contrast with the curvaceous shapes that were en vogue in those days.

Well over a decade before its introduction, the Linea Diamante more or less predicted the Renault 16. Not only did it feature a generous fifth door, but like the 16 it also had a rear seat that could be adjusted to various configurations. The boot was accessible from the inside and separate from the spare wheel housing.

Ponti and his team also provided the interior with a generous amount of storage facilities. The large windows created an airy cabin in which the inhabitants -aside from enjoying better visibility-would not feel as secluded from the outside world as they would be in the typical vehicle of the era.

Ponti took advantage of his good relationship with Pirelli (he designed the Pirelli Tower in Milan) by enlisting their expertise in developing a special rubber bumper that enveloped the whole car and featured spring-based bumpers front and rear. The flat panels and acute angles of the Linea Diamante were radically different, and while their advantages could no doubt be explained and justified rationally by someone like Ponti it was another matter whether a car manufacturer – or a prospective customer – would accept it.

As a mechanical base for his Linea Diamante, Ponti suggested the Alfa Romeo 1900 Berlinetta. Unfortunately, when he approached Carrozzeria Touring they were intrigued but not interested. Ponti then tried FIAT but they too politely declined. So the Linea Diamante remained just a concept lost in time, existing only in the form a few 1:10 scale models made by Ponti and his team.

More than 60 years later however, this would change. In 1928 Ponti had co-founded the influential Editoriale Domus magazine; in 2018 the magazine was a cultural partner of the Grand Basel exhibition and in honour of the 90th anniversary of Editoriale Domus it was decided to build a full scale model of the Linea Diamante.

Centro Stile FCA, under the guidance of head of FCA Heritage, Roberto Giolito, worked together with Pirelli and produced a fine full-size tribute to Ponti’s forward looking idea. The only criticism one could level at the result was that it did not have an interior, so none of the original cabin ideas were brought to life.

Encountering the Linea Diamante in the flesh very much impresses its originality and modernity on today’s viewer, especially if he or she first sees the car and only then notices 1953 on the wall behind it.

(c) classic and performance car

Late in life, Gio Ponti was not bitter about his concept being denied a chance of volume production. Not long after his Linea Diamante, a car would be born, made by an outfit that had a bit of previous concerning automotive innovation: the Citroën DS 19.

At least in terms of the radicality and ruthless modernity of its design and engineering concept it was very much along the same lines. Ponti said: “When the Citroën DS came out, the three of us in the studio – Fornaroli, Rosselli and myself – got one each in homage to its beauty and originality“.

* That is, if MAYA had already been thought of by Loewy- but in 1933 it had not been coined yet.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

12 thoughts on “Diamond Life”

  1. An amazingly forward-looking design. Thanks for sharing the story, Bruno.

    Ponti might have done better if he had approached Citroën as his proposal looks better suited to a FWD architecture and might have influenced the Ami 8, which it resembles. (The fastback Ami 8 should have had a hatchback rather than a conventional boot.)

  2. Grazie Bruno, this is a very interesting story. I might have seen this car before, but it was not in my active memory.
    It’s a proposal much to my liking: entirely rationalist, forward looking, no fake decoration, but still nicely shaped and not boxy at all, despite the angles and flat panels.

    While it might be ideally suited for 1950s Citroën, I still think it has a very Renault air about it, especially the frontal treatment. It reminds me a bit of the Renault 8, but the fold in the middle is even reminiscent of the big Renaults of the 1920s (these again being cited by some Renault designs of the early 2000s). The yellow headlights and blue colour add another touch of frenchness.

  3. The front end reminded me of the Studebaker Avanti, but the Renault association much more appropriate. Still love the Renault 16 – there was a TS local to where I grew up, the round instruments in contrast to the strip design of the TL… that was exciting!

    1. For real excitement in Renault 16 form, you needed the TX version, with its twin headlamps (shaped to fit the grille aperture) and enlarged side/indicator lamps beneath:

      Be still my beating heart!

      I still remember being driven in a Renault 16 by a somewhat manic business colleague of mine through a British Army checkpoint on the Northern Ireland border at reckless speed in the early 80’s. I suspect he had nationalist sympathies and wanted to make a point. How we didn’t end up being shot at, or worse, I’ll never know. Perhaps the Renault 16 was not regarded as a likely choice of transport for terrorists? Had we been travelling north rather than south, the outcome might have been different

    2. One of our neighbours had a green R16 Mk1, then a burgundy red Mk2.
      One day the spring of his ‘swivel up’ garage door snapped while he was driving his R16 out of the garage and as a consequence the door fell on the car. In case of the R16 the damage ws no worse than two dents in the chrome strips running along the roof.

  4. Linea Diamante looks a lot more unusual in three dimensions than in the photos – and not because it doesn’t feature an interior, or even transparent windows. It’s a lot narrower and taller, and in that sense very much an ‘architect’s car’ like, say the Audi A2.

    These packaging-driven designs are typically rejected by many regular car customers and enthusiasts alike, on the basis of appearing hardly athletic and possibly hinting at a certain directional instability. Those prone to thinking in terms of space are far more willing and even eager to accept such compromises on behalf of what they deem to be ‘good form’. Bearing that in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that one of the men in charge of creating the Linea Diamante life-size model, FCA Heritage’s Roberto Giolito, is a trained architect.

    1. Thank you for this extra information on Mr. Giolito, Christopher. I was not aware he had an architecture background.

  5. Quite a few architects have designed cars, with varying results, of course. One of my favorites is this one, the ‘ME.WE’, from Toyota.

    The blurb says: ‘Working with Toyota since 2011, Massaud has sought to create an “anti-crisis” car that addresses contemporary human, economic and environmental challenges, bringing his independent vision and experience from outside the motor industry.’ I like this, as I think it could actually work (and I’m a sucker for B-segment cars).

    1. Hi Charles, really interesting, when you say that you are a sucker means you like? I like B and C Segments, if you have to drive, I do not like them if they are a Taxi. I really do not like the new toyota Yaris unfortunately because i like the brand.

  6. Thank you, Marco and Charles, for adding two more interesting “architect’s cars”!

  7. Hello Marco – yes – I prefer B or C-segment vehicles, as they are a convenient size for most purposes. It’s disappointing when one of your favourite brands releases a new vehicle which you’re not keen on. I must say I find the Yaris to be a bit odd looking – it reminds me of the first generation Nissan Juke.

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