Marcello Gandini, legendary supercar designer, loved kei cars

The automotive world is still mourning the recent passing of legendary designer Marcello Gandini. One might assume that the much-revered designer of some of history’s most desirable supercars would drive something incredibly exotic. Something from his long résumé of iconic works, perhaps. A Lamborghini Miura? Maserati Ghibli? De Tomaso Pantera? Nope. As it turns out, Gandini was particularly fond of small Japanese cars, and when he got behind the wheel it was in his personal Suzuki Wagon R.

The revelation comes from motor journalist Kenji Momota, who served as a technical consultant on the comic Countach. The manga by Haruto Umezawa ran from 2004 to 2012 and followed the exploits of a young man who is gifted a Lamborghini Countach LP400, one of 151 ever made, by a mysterious billionaire. Think Initial D with supercars, featuring everything from Ferrari F40s and Bugatti Veyrons to AW11 MR2s and R32 Skyline GT-Rs.

In the process of researching the story, Umezawa and Momota visited Gandini at his home near Turin, Italy in 2006. According to Momota, Gandini lived in a remodeled monastery atop a mountain road. When they arrived, the writers were surprised to learn that Gandini drove a European-spec Suzuki Wagon R.

“The Wagon R is the best,” said the designer of the Lancia Stratos and Alfa Romeo Carabo. In fact, Gandini had positive things to say about kei cars in general. “The best car design in the world is definitely the Japanese microcar,” he told Momota.

Very few actual kei cars were sold outside of Japan, the Suzuki Wagon R being the biggest exception. Even then, the European model Gandini would have owned was slightly larger than kei class regulation, longer by 6 inches and wider by about 7.5, and came with a 1.3-liter four-cylinder instead of the standard 660cc. One wonders if he ever had the chance to drive a mid-engined kei sports car like Honda Beat or Mazda Autozam AZ-1.

In addition to his supercar work, Gandini also designed regular vehicles like the Citroën BX and E12 BMW 5-series. He even designed some of Europe’s most popular small cars, like the VW Polo/Audi 50, Autobianchi A112, and Renault 5 Turbo, so his affinity for Japan’s compacts might not be as weird as it sounds. Gandini’s work on designs like the Alfa Romeo Montreal, Lamborghini Diablo, and Bugatti EB110 (as well as the Nissan AP-X) may grab the headlines but, as it happens, the man was a true, well-rounded enthusiast of all cars great and small.

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8 Responses to Marcello Gandini, legendary supercar designer, loved kei cars

  1. Franxou says:

    I cannot remember who said this, nor how exactly it was said, but I remember a car designer celebrity explaining how it was easier to style large cars, and that the real challenge was to make a styling work for a small car, it makes sense that designers would like good small car designs.
    I do too. Smaller is better, lightest is best!

    • DesigNerD says:

      Absolutely. Styling supercars is easy for example, the proportions means rather generic design still looks great. The best designers tend to challenge themselves on unconventional proportions and even brands

  2. Richard says:

    Why not include a picture of the man in your article?, always good to have a face to a name also respectful in this case I think.

  3. jidoshaojisan says:

    Always wondered why Countach is pronounced Cown-tack (Kauntakku) in Japanese.

    The wiki says:


    Apparently Lamborghini decided to sit the pronunciation debate out, and there is no official pronounciation in Japanese, but the wiki article pronounces/spells it Kauntakku, just like the comic.

  4. WedgeCarsAreUglyExceptStratos says:

    “ Always wondered why Countach is pronounced Cown-tack (Kauntakku) in Japanese”

    Isn’t it obviously just the normal expectations of spelling? Many or most people would pronounce it that way based on the written word.

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