1972 birthed a new angle for Italian sports cars
Fifty years ago, Italy’s design houses came up with a new angle. Forget freehand sketching—1972 would be the year of the protractor and ruler. Geometry teachers the world over rejoiced.
Straight lines and acute intersections would show the progress of technology, leap away from the sensuous curves of the Sixties, and follow the sharp shapes of Marcello Gandini’s ground-breaking Lamborghini Countach.
Everyone was at it, from Pininfarina to Bertone to Giugiaro and Ghia for Fiat, Ferrari, Lancia Maserati, and De Tomaso. The result was a run of angular Italian automobiles that remain as striking today as they did five decades ago.
Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2
Ferrari’s replacement for the swoopy 365 GTC/4 was a stark contrast to its predecessor. Literally the only curves to be found were the compulsory wheel arches, with the rest of the car designed around the straightest of lines by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina. This four-seater coupe sat on an extended version of the GTC/4’s tubular steel chassis and came with a 4.4-liter version of the famous Colombo V-12 fed by no less than six carburetors. Quirks? The body was steel but the floorpan was glass fiber and the rear suspension featured a hydraulic self-leveling system. It was also the first Ferrari available with an automatic transmission, but, launched mid oil-crisis, the 365 GT4 2+2 wasn’t officially sold in the U.S.A. Nonetheless many were imported and a #3-condition (Good) car would be worth $54,500 today—making it one of the most affordable classic Ferraris around.
Legend has it that Bertone persuaded Lancia to build the Stratos after turning up at the factory and driving under the barrier in the Stratos Zero prototype. That car would be revealed to the public at the 1970 Turin Motor Show, and a year later the prototype Stratos HF was unveiled. Penned by Marcello Gandini the Stratos would take over rally duties from the successful Fulvia HF with the first testing of prototypes taking place during 1972 (our excuse to include it here). Power came from a 190-hp Dino Ferrari V-6 and 500 cars were to built to meet homologation requirements, although the final number fell slightly short thanks to a change in regulations. Road versions would accelerate from 0-62 mph in just 6.8 seconds and reach 144 mph flat out while on the rally stage the Stratos was a stormer, winning the 1974, 1975, and 1976 World Championships driven by Sandro Munari and Björn Waldegård. Rallying never looked so stunning and probably never will again.
Gandini really was the wedge wizard, and thanks to Fiat his design was democratized in the form of the inexpensive X1/9. Gandini had sown the seeds with his 1969 Autobianchi A112 Runabout concept car, but it would be Fiat that put it into production as a two-seater targa-topped sportster. It looked a million dollars, but the genius was using the engine and transmission from the Fiat 128, mounted transversely amidships to keep the price down to just $3917. The little 1.3-liter engine produced just 67 hp but the X1/9 was light and agile which elevated the fun factor. Fiat built 160,000 X1/9s, most of which will sadly have rusted away by now. As a result, a Good-condition (#3) car now costs an average of just $8500. The best examples in the world command $28,300.
Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design for an entry-level Maserati was a little softer than those of his hard-edged rivals. Based on the earlier Bora, the biggest styling difference was the replacement of the glass fastback with a flat rear deck and flying buttresses. Mechanically the changes were more significant, with the Merak using the 3.0-liter V-6 engine developed for the Citröen SM, as well as hydropneumatic systems for the brakes, pop-up headlights, and the clutch. Just as in the SM, this combination of Italian and French engineering philosophies was fabulous in theory but not always so effective in practice. As Citröen shed Maserati from its stable, so the Merak would become more conventional over its 11-year lifespan. The Merak remains something of a steal compared to the Bora, and Hagerty values a #3 car at a rather reasonable $39,000.
De Tomaso Longchamp
It’s fair to say that many De Tomaso owners have a love/hate relationship with their cars. Elvis Presley famously shot his Pantera, of course, while the handling of the Mangusta was plain terrifying. The Longchamp of 1972 was a development of the unloved Deauville sedan, fitted with the 330-hp 351 cubic-inch Ford V-8 from the Pantera. Its styling by Tom Tjaarda at Ghia certainly embraced the straight lines of the Seventies, albeit rather less successfully than rivals. It therefore won’t surprise you to know that not very many were sold, despite production continuing well into the Eighties. It’s estimated that just 395 Longchamps coupes and 14 Spyders were built.