When was the last time the humble family car paradigm was thoroughly questioned and progress made? Yes we’ve made huge strides in terms of refining and finessing details, but the overall concept hasn’t changed since Giorgetto Giugiaro defined the segment with his 1974 Volkswagen Golf.
Six years later, in 1980, everything was still to play for however. Giugiaro again – at arguably the peak of his creative stride – showed the world how the family car might progress over the next decade with the Lancia Medusa concept, first shown at the Turin Motor Show that year.
He set himself the goal of producing a spacious, practical and attractive family car with a drag co-efficient of just 0.25Cd. To achieve this required a rethink of virtually every aspect of the car, starting with its layout.
In order to keep its frontal area as small as possible a mid-mounted engine was used, effectively taking the mechanicals from a Lancia Montecarlo. In plan shape it’s an ellipse at a time when the norm was a rectangle, rounding off the corners of the car to help airflow. But it was in the details that it really shone. Pop-up lights were a given, but flush door handles and glazing – with doors that wrapped up into the roof – were completely new thinking of the sort that would reverberate throughout the industry for the next two decades.
At a time when the hard-edged wedge was the norm, here was a car with soft, flowing surfaces and hips that were befitting of its seductive mythological namesake. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the very wide, dark lower body that sat flush with the wheel surfaces. This had a joint function of cleaning up the main bodyside surface, thanks to the lack of fender flares, and also allowed the seats to be mounted further apart and lower. The scallop that runs along the beltline remains utterly timeless.
Inside, Giugiaro’s inventiveness failed to wane. Amongst the sea of brown suede and incredibly comfortable-looking seats is a rather daunting looking steering wheel seemingly littered with controls. This was the era of Giugiaro’s endless pursuit of ergonomic perfection and this initially random-looking configuration was in fact the result of tireless research and refinement.
Steering-wheel-mounted controls would become commonplace over the next decade. As would flush glazing and smooth door handles. Look at car design pre-Medusa and the designs that emerged after 1980 and it’s fascinating to see which of its elements permeated through the industry. The great news for Italdesign is that it was arguably his strongest calling card – manufacturers as diverse as Isuzu and Saab formed an orderly queue for Giugiaro’s services.