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?

We always presented new designs to the board using 1:1 illustrations done with colored chalk. I had started illustrating the wheels using a chrome effect I had taught myself. So, again, Rapi was one day eyeing this huge flat rendering on a wall and the first thing he noticed were the shining 3D wheels. "Who did this?" he asked. "This is crazy." My boss once again indicated me and Rapi blurted out, "Fantastic! From now on, we do it this way!"

Your legacy over the first 50 years is certainly there to see. You taught us new ways of looking at automobiles. What would you like to have happen in the next 50 years of Giugiaro?

These days, all of the big manufacturers now have their own in-house design talent, and there are several excellent schools for study. It's not like it was before and these clients don't really need our design services much per se. But, this aspect of our business can easily survive if the people above the design department in these companies have the idea to see what we can do for them design-wise in addition to the various other services we now provide.

Research services will be an ongoing service for the future. We can quickly provide information on what's happening worldwide in any segment of the market-the trends, the future ideas.

We started doing a lot of jobs with the Chinese since Fiat started severely cutting what it would pay us for our services. But, it's so much easier to work with Fiat, of course, since working with the Chinese means flying to China all the time. Thank goodness, I have [son] Fabrizio.

All we're lacking today are contracts to actually build the cars. This would be a final component, but we don't have much real need to do this.

With Bertone, you created two Ferrari 250 GT designs in 1960 and 1962, then this past year you built the GG50 prototype based on the 612 Scaglietti. They seem like natural bookends to a good career. Would you have liked to create more Ferraris?

Sure, to research and plan a production Ferrari is a logical wish. The Ferraris I've created weren't planned for production, though.

For our GG50 that we first showed last October at the Tokyo show, I went to [Luca] di Montezemolo [in 2004] and asked him, "This is my 50th year in the business upcoming. Can I create a Ferrari?" He replied, "Yes, but it must be a Ferrari. And it must be based on a 612 Scaglietti." I had other ideas in my head originally, but then I thought, a Scaglietti is a two-plus-two. It could work.

Driving a 612 around, my wife was always putting her bags in the rear two seats since the cargo space in back is taken up almost entirely by the fuel tank. So I designed a configuration that repositioned the fuel tank slightly and I made the rear cargo opening a large hatch door. I was also able to shorten the rear by 2.8 inches.

Do you know what happened? Everyone looked at this and many thought how nice that it's actually possible for someone else to have good ideas for Ferrari. This bothered Ferrari and now we're very limited as to the places where we can exhibit the car.

Where I went wrong here is that I should have bought the car outright instead of asking for one to be donated for the project. It was silly of me in that I only realized this problem after showing the car at Tokyo.

There has been commentary on "the death of Turin" in the sense of being a design center. Bertone, Ghia, Stola, Zagato, and others are seemingly dying or already dead. What's your view?

Yes, this is a constant theme around this area. What has happened simply is that over time we were all made to compete with the manufacturers' research and design centers, which didn't exist before. In the past, company bosses never thought of investing the money needed for a dedicated research department. They left all of this up to the design houses. Now, we're going up against huge manufacturers with far more money to invest than we ever could. Nonetheless, we did invest more or less at the right time. Those who didn't invest back when they might have done so at lower costs are now finding it impossible to compete.

In the past two years, there has been a large number of very significant cars having their debuts. Which three models interest you the most?

I generally am not thrilled with super-originality. What excites me the most is the perfecting of something already well done. The BMW 5 Series is fascinating work. After that, the Audi A6 is really the embodiment of its recent design language. The Ferrari 599 [GTB Fiorano] is really attractive, even though I keep wanting them to do something with more future vision. Final decisions on re-design can't be ordered by the chairman of the company, but at Ferrari it will always be this way.

There was our departmental director who did the designs, and I would do the coloring for these sketches. I was trained in painting and I used a technique common within Fiat at the time. I think the first coloring assignment was for the [Autobianchi] Bianchina. Then, I had seen various art magazines with car illustrations from an American illustrator, and I tried these techniques at Fiat. My boss looked at some of these renderings and he told me, "Why don't you use the normal techniques? I don't like these sketches. When we show them, I'll say they were all done by you." Then, there was a meeting with the executive director [Fabio Luigi] Rapi and he immediately said, "Great designs. Who did these?" And my boss half-heartedly indicated me, and Rapi exclaimed, "Well done! Do all your designs like this from now on."

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