Domus unveils Gio Ponti’s car at Grand Basel

65 years after its conception, Gio Ponti’s visionary Linea Diamante takes shape. We’ve talked with the promoters of the project.

Gio Ponti, Linea Diamante, 1953. Realizzata per Grand Basel dal Centro Stile FCA nel 2018 in collaborazione con Domus

It is said that history is often ‘the right idea at the wrong time’. In 1953, Gio Ponti – in collaboration with his colleague Alberto Rosselli – conceived a car designed according to design principles still unknown in the automotive industry of the time. Two decades later, many cars would have caught up with the principles embodied in Ponti’s automobile, such as the Renault 16 of the mid 1960s or the first-generation VW Passat seen in 1972. After 65 years the Linea Diamante takes shape on the 90th anniversary of Domus magazine, founded in 1928 by the Italian architect and designer. The car was unveiled today at Grand Basel, the first and only exhibition to present cars in a context strongly characterized by references to the world of art, design and architecture. The initiative stems from the collaboration between Centro Stile FCA, Grand Basel, Editoriale Domus and Pirelli as a technical sponsor.

The ‘Linea Diamante’ is a full-size model, crafted with meticulous attention to detail by a design team directed by Roberto Giolito, Head of FCA Heritage, upon specifications outlined on Ponti’s original drawings. In a nod to its original collaboration with Ponti in 1953, Pirelli supplied period tyres of the correct specification for the model chassis and year. Originally conceived to be bodied on the chassis of an Alfa Romeo 1900 saloon car, Ponti first sought a partnership with Milan based Carrozzeria Touring and then turned to Fiat for production of a subcompact model, but the design was rebuffed.

“When we were approached with an idea of constructing Gio Ponti's visionary car, we enthusiastically endorsed the project. The collaboration links perfectly to Domus, now 90 years young and founded by Gio Ponti in 1928,” says Maria Giovanna Mazzocchi, President of Editoriale Domus. “We rose to this tough challenge with enthusiasm, and we take pride and satisfaction in the results.”

“Taking on the subject of Gio Ponti’s car design means rewriting the history of automotive design while anticipating its evolution,” explains Prof. Paolo Tumminelli, chairman of Grand Basel's Advisory Board, who initiated the project in 2017. “Beyond their aesthetic quality, numerous solutions proposed by Ponti in terms of design turned out to be brilliant. First, the daring choice to reduce to a minimum the height of the front before giving the bonnet an angular profile, less to improve aerodynamics, than forward visibility. [...] Ponti’s line was political; if not democratic, then at least anti-status quo and at the avant-garde of the emerging pop culture. More than a car, the Diamante is a piece of critical design, indisputable intellectual in nature and, as such, was not an object that was immediately ready for mass production.

Taking on the subject of Gio Ponti’s car design means rewriting the history of automotive design while anticipating its evolution

“The Diamante car project is an important testimony of Ponti’s vision and ability to create innovative works with a strong personality,” says Roberto Giolito. “Ponti observes in car bodies ‘... the strong incongruity of bulges of unnecessary bulk, with absurd internal voids...’, and traces with great ease the lines of a slender volume, made of clear dihedrals, decomposing the various parts as intersections of volumes into one another.” To realize the model, Giolito and Antonio Erario, designer at FCA Style Center, identified themselves in the so-called “white coats”, who were the most talented model makers of the time. “They knew so much on how to make a car that sometimes decided to devote even more energy than they should in advising the designer on certain choices. I have known this generation of technicians so well (today we would call them sculptors), that I am very nostalgic now.”

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