The cars we loved.
There was a time when nearly everyone wanted in on Italian design, if only to acknowledge that they were part of a hip and modern automotive design movement. For old line marques like Jaguar, the ideal of Italian designed cars with the big cat emblem on the hood was probably not something to be taken seriously. After all Jaguar had a rich design heritage that nearly all cars with the cat on it adhered to. Besides, it was the pinnacle of Britain’s Anglo driven design heritage. By the late 60’s that was more true than at any time for the Coventery based company.
Recognizing this, a few industrialist hipsters like the London Daily Telegraph’s publisher John Anstey sought to commission a “Italian designed Jaguar”. Even if Jaguar itself would have no real part of it. It would be a way to show that Jaguar was cool enough to know what the styling trends were, even if it was too proud to employ them in any of its own cars. The donor car would be Jaguar’s finest, a E-Type 2+2. Of course the E-Type was a beautiful car in its own right that could stand up to anything coming from Marcelleno, but being the basis for an Italian fusion made the one off concept look plausible to the public.
The publicity stunt designed to promote Mr. Anstey’s paper worked, as the Bertone designed car would be a hit at the 1967 Earls Court Motor Show in London. The Pirana as it was known was designed by Marcello Gandini, fresh from scoring a hit with the Maserati Marzal. The angular low sling lines were atypical of any Jaguar from the past or the near future as it turned out. Built in five months, the steel body was placed on a shortened wheelbase. Mr. Anstely insisted that the Pirana be built with existing components from production cars. The result was a beautiful interior that was familiar in materials, but far superior in execution to any of Jaguars current products. Parts bin shopping from Jaguar also meant that the exterior would look futuristic while the interior had a bit of that old world charm that any ’60s era Jaguar represented. It must have embarrassed the suits in Coventery that the Italians were able to produce so graceful a cabin from their own parts bin when Jaguar quality was hit or miss at the time (mostly miss).
The 265 hp 4.2 inline six under the long bonnet started up and sounded and felt like any other E-Type as it was connected the same 4 speed manual transmission. The Pirana would make the rounds at auto shows in New York and Montreal before settling into history and obscurity. The brief flirtation Jaguar had with Bertone would be immortalized by 1:43 scale toys, but go no further. Some even referred to the car as a Bertone as the public lost memory of the concept. Jaguar’s replacement for the classic E-Type took no stylistic direction from the Pirana at all. The only concession to new was the fact that the Malcom Sayer designed car had no input from Sir William Lyons.
The break with tradition did not yield a bold departure from the Jaguar’s design legacy, established over the past 20 or so years. Instead, the 1975 XJS would be a big heavy grand tourer. Saddled by the twin traumas of the 70’s era traumas (emissions and import regulations), the XJS could only look the part of fast despite having a 5.3L V12. It was comfortable like the Pirana, but excessive heft would make the 20 hp advantage over its forbearer moot. All was not lost however. Anyone wanting a Pirana could have the next best thing in the form of a Lamborghini Espada in1968. The Espada was a continual evolution of the Pirana‘s shape which itself was a evolution of the Marzal concept.
Later Italian design collaborations with Jaguar would produce interesting concepts like the Giugiaro Kennington (1990) and the Bertone B99 (2011) among others. In each instance Jaguar seemed to pass on the concepts direction, often to the benefit of other carmakers desperate for design direction (Daweoo Legua and the Kennington).
Fast forward nearly 50 years later and the Pirana is once again the center of attention. After showing up on Ebay in less than show condition, the Pirana was restored in time to be in the public eye once again. In 2012 the one off Pirana was the centerpiece at the Concorso Italiano in Monterery California. The event was a celebration of 100 years of Bertone design.