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