It is nearly impossible to have a neutral opinion about the designs of Swiss-German designer Luigi Colani. Over his long career he has been lionised as a genius, a polymath of the first order, a Leonardo Da Vinci of our time. But others see him as ‘the nutty professor’, the carnival barker of a bizarre quasi-aerodynamic aesthetic, and out of touch with the realities of design for the world of everyday living.
Colani has designed everything from household items to cameras to kitchens, an entire house, visionary cities, trucks, planes, yachts and, of course, cars have been subjects of his design explorations. His personal design language, something he has called biodynamic, certainly has given a unique shape to objects he has created.
Part of that is due to Colani’s obsession with the aerodynamics of vehicles, both for speed and efficiency. He has built numerous aerodynamic concepts and tested them at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Seeking to break a world record for the fastest production car, he set out in the late 1980s to modify a Ferrari Testarossa to accomplish the task.
The Testa D’Oro seems was fitted with a Colani-designed body for the 1991 Bonneville trials, although the body has since been further modified to the car we see today.
It features an outrageously long and flat air splitter at the front, jutting out like a giant tongue. Many of Colani’s designs have spoilers, air dams, pontoons and the like to make the initial engagement with the air and break it into flows that will easily slip over the car. But the Testa D’Oro’s air splitter is an extreme example, and limits the ability of the car to ever be driven on a regular road with intense forward planning.
The nose of the car itself is pulled into a taut, oval fish-mouthed shape with an air scoop for the braking system. Over and beyond the nose, where the hood should be, is an enormous windscreen with virtually no curvature – a giant flat plate of glass.
The body rises over the front wheels, but dips back down again, leaving space for a large curving side window above. Unlike many of today’s designers, he is not afraid of designing a large, sculptural glasshouse.
The glasshouse tapers away as it passes over the Ferrari flat-12 sitting amidships. The body, which was minimised at the doors rises over the rear wheels and forms a short deck. Below this it terminates in a reverse-sloping fascia that contains the exhaust ports and cooling vents for the brakes.
The rear of the body terminates in a soft organic design- no sharp surfacing or jarring angles here. Colani explains, “Why should I join the straying mass who want to make everything angular? I am going to pursue Galileo Galilei's philosophy: my world is also round."
For technical assistance with the powertrain and interior, he turned to Lotec in Germany. The team there installed twin turbochargers to the Testarossa flat-12, taking power to 750hp. They also painted the engine’s heads gold, giving the car its name.
Lotec also modified the interior, giving it a spartan racing feel with (mostly) analogue gauges, racing controls, spartan metallic interior floor plates and finishes and a pair of very uncomfortable-looking bucket seats.
As for the Bonneville experiment, the Testa D’Oro did not set the world record for fastest production car. But, with driver Michael Strasburg at the wheel the car achieved a speed of 351kph (218mph), enough for a record for production cars with catalytic converters.
Now approaching 90, Colani still designs and builds at his workshop near Karlsruhe in Germany, and still claims to be 30 years ahead of his time. And although he has not reached design icon status of the Italian Masters, he still occupies a unique, if outlier, even outré, position in the world of design.
Loved or hated, there is no denying his voluptuous, expressive creations are quite the counterpoint to the chaste boxes that fill our carparks. The Testa D’Oro shows us that sometimes a bit of fantasy and a lot of horsepower combine to produce record breaking – and inspirational – results.