65 years in the making, Gio Ponti’s advanced saloon was, in 1953, the right idea at the wrong time. it’s finally been built – and it was worth the wait… Story by Gary Axon.
OBSCURATI CURIOSITIES FROM THE AMAZING WORLD OF ITALIAN CARS
The gestation period for a new car transitioning from concept to production reality can often be a painfully slow and arduous one. Italy has had its fair share of long-lead production waits, including the Lamborghini Countach and current Fiat 500, both of which appeared in production form three years after their initial concepts were first shown to test the water and whet the public’s appetite.
But the record for a car being conceived to finally being built must go to the ‘Linea Diamante’. This was first revealed in 1953, but only became a physical reality 65 years later, in 2018. The Linea Diamante (Diamond Line) was created by the influential Italian architect and industrial designer, Giò Ponti (1891-1979), the creator of the iconic 32-storey Pirelli Tower in Milan – acknowledged as one of the world’s most ‘elegant’ skyscrapers – and the famous Superleggera chair. He was also the co-founder of the respected design and architecture magazine Domus in 1928. A key reason why it took 65 years to for Ponti’s Linea Diamante pass from a forward-thinking paper-only prototype to a full scale vehicle – it debuted at the recent Grand Basel car exhibition in Switzerland – was that his 1953 vision was simply too advanced and radical for its time. In an era when car design was characterised by large, swollen shapes, small windows and dark, claustrophobic interiors (the contemporary bulbous Fiat 1400 and Standard Vanguard, for instance), the sharp-edged Linea Diamante began with an aerodynamic teardrop shape and soon developed into the more angular and futuristic Diamond Line with flat-form body panels and a generous glass area to flood the cabin with light.
The car’s dimensions allowed a generously-proportioned interior and a spacious, pioneering ‘hatchback’ boot. Its profile was perhaps mimicked by Pininfarina’s influential BMC 1800-based Aerodinamica concept almost 15 years later, a car that sired the Citroen GS and Citroen CX.
Ponti also added innovated all-round rubber bumpers, in collaboration with the Pirelli tyre company, just like the early Fiat Panda, with spring-mounted ‘buffers’ front and rear.
Ponti’s original drawings and 1:10 scale models show that he’d planned his Linea Diamante to be built on an Alfa Romeo 1900 Berlina chassis. He sought a production partnership with Milan-based Carrozzeria Touring, which was rebuffed, so then turned to Fiat for production of a subcompact model, which was also refused. 65 years on, this fascinating car was finally brought to life for the inaugural 2018 Grand Basel, with a full-sized model created by a team of experts, led by FCA Heritage director and father of the current Fiat 500, Roberto Giolito. He collaborated with Pirelli and Editoriale Domus, reflecting their historic connections with Giò Ponti‘s farsighted concept. Pirelli even provided period early 1950s tyres to the correct Alfa Romeo 1900 specification as a fitting tribute to this remarkably advanced car.
If Ponti’s ‘right idea at the wrong time’ automotive vision had been accepted and built in the early 1950s, imagine what the cars we are driving today might have looked like…