From humbler beginnings as the son of a fresco artist in the remote coastal mountain town of Garessio in the Piedmont region of Italy, Giorgetto Giugiaro was urged by his father Mario to add technical know-how to his obvious figurative talents. So, in 1952, the 14-year-old Giugiaro headed to Turin's Academy of Fine Arts.

Singled out at an exhibition by Fiat talent scouts in 1955, the Giugiaro legend began under fortuitous circumstances in struggling post-WWII Italy. He has seized every opportunity since then and has never been one to simply wait for things to fall in his lap.

I recently drove to Italdesign Giugiaro in Moncalieri, southeast of Turin, to chat with this maestro of maestros. All of the designs you see here in these accompanying photos represent only a few of the milestones in this now 51-year career. The actual total for prototypes and production cars overseen by Giorgetto Giugiaro hovers around 80 of each at the time of this writing.

When did you realize that it wasn't enough to work for a Fiat, Bertone, or Ghia, and that you were meant for greater things under your own name?

It came out of a small ambition-to do something that can be appreciated by others. Whether that meant criticism or compliments wasn't important, and there wasn't an ultimate goal that I had in mind.

I started out as an artist just like my father, then came the offer from Fiat [in 1955] and I had begun to see the world. But, only by working with a smaller shop do you start to see drawings and ideas come to life. [Nuccio] Bertone was a technical wiz. He specialized in structural aspects, though not much in vehicle styling. The truth is that at Bertone there was only me.

Then, Ghia approached me with an offer of becoming its design director. I would have people working with me who I could utilize as I thought necessary-and it wasn't a typical family operation. But, it was risky since with the Bertone name I felt protected when it came time to judge a prototype. Nonetheless, I needed to find out if I could be as good a director as Bertone.

At Ghia, I had to literally change everything I was used to doing. We did all-new styling; the [De Tomaso] Mangusta and [Maserati] Ghibli had no precedents when they debuted [in 1966].

But my family has an independent streak, and I'm no exception.

My contract with Ghia was for three years, but then De Tomaso bought Ghia [in 1967] and I really didn't see eye to eye with him. I told him that I wanted out and he wouldn't release me. Then, thanks to his secretary, I found out that he had started opening all of my mail. I brought this up to him and we agreed that I would fulfill the last year of my contract as an outside consultant under the name Ital Styling.

So, it wasn't just ambition, but a clear cause and effect that led to where we are today.

What material, such as carbon fiber, steel, aluminum, and so on, do you like working with most when creating a new exterior?

In every way, I prefer creating forms from carbon-reinforced plastic or plastic resins. Today, it costs so little and you can create any form much more easily. This material literally saved the world of styling cars when it came along. If it's a surface that doesn't benefit too much from this flexibility-doors, front hoods, and so forth-then high-grade steel is still the best.

Usually, we look at Turin and we think of the great V12 exotics. In reality, compact cars-VW Golf/Rabbit, Fiat Panda, VW Scirocco, and Passat, Alfasud-made your fortune.

These all are the cars that allowed the business to thrive. Only then can there be the resources to create futurist dreamcars, many of which end up revolutionizing the business. For important cars like these smaller models, you need to seize the opportunity. It's a chance to create everything about the car. It's by handling these types of projects that we became so good at handling all aspects of the production process.

Working with Fiat early on for these small-car projects, I'd be sitting with all of the various department heads, and I would ask all kinds of questions about every aspect of the car's manufacturing process. Because they continued to doubt that we could do what I was proposing, I asked them all individual questions about the panels, seats, and axle assemblies. They were shocked that a young stylist like me was actually interested in these things, but I needed to justify my designs in practical terms. This way of working is what got us the Golf project. The Germans didn't want to hire someone who just did style sketches and sat around waiting for feedback.

What was your first assignment when you joined Fiat in 1955?

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