The cars we loved.
In many ways car designers can seem like rock stars. While today some of us might know of one or maybe
two prominent designers by name like Chris Bangle, the profile of the auto designer was higher during the ’50s and ’60s. Names like Harley Earl had become familiar to everyday Americans, while new stars like Marcello Bertone and Battista Pininfarina were rising during the ’60s.
One of the stars of the Italian designer Giovani Michelotti. If Michelotti were a rock star he’d be Prince because his prolific list of landmark design projects include models for Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romero and Maserati.
Many of Michelotti designs were transitional in that they moved European automotive design into the modern era. Michelotti is known as establishing BMW’s early modern design language with the 2002. That car shaped BMW’s design language for years to come. Other cars designs like the Triumph Spitfire 4 mark 2 and Stag were equally important in establishing Michelotti’s general design stamp.
In fact, Michelotti was better known for his designs for British firms more than his work with manufacturers of exotic sports cars in his homeland. Many of his future and past designs for English firms would converge in one car that came about as the result of unfortunate circumstances. In the early 1960s, Michelotti purchased what was left of a wrecked Jaguar D-Type race car that had overturned at Le Mans.
Unfortunately the driver was killed, but the cars’ frame was generally undamaged. Michelotti was a vocal advocate and longtime fan of Jaguar cars and saw an opportunity to build a custom one-off styling exercise. An Italian Jaguar of a sorts without factory backing of course.
The concept would eventually be fitted with a 4.2 liter in-line six-cylinder similar to what was in the E-Type. Beyond that, its difficult to know if the engine or the chassis was modified any, but one thing was certain, the big wheels and compact proportions suggested a car every bit as fast and beautiful as any Jaguar.
Michelotti designed a body that resembled the classic GT European car that emerged during the ’60s. It’s long hood was a by product of the original Jaguar’s wheel base, but Michelotti’s Le Man’s Michelotti had cues of Triumph Spitfire lines while the squared off tapered rear resembled the Stagg.
While still called a Jaguar D-Type when displayed at the Geneva Motor Show in 1963, it looked nothing like any Jaguar ever produced. Like the Jaguar Bertone Pirana of 1967, Jaguar had little to do with it other than inadvertently supplying the engine and chassis.
As in other Jaguar one offs produced as styling exercises, Jaguar was too immersed in building its design heritage to deviate from was was being dictated in Coventery. It would have been interesting to see what a modern Jaguar from the ’60s would have looked like (to me they all looked rather old heritage like). Quad headlights and some other minor modifications to the grille might have been all that was needed to bring it into the Jaguar design cannon.
The D-Type Le Mans Michelotti as it was officially called would exchange hands a number of times and go from light metallic blue to red and back again before it landed in its current home in France.
The car offered a wonderful insight to the rapidly changing automotive evolution of European cars, especially those in England which seemed slow to adopt the more modern design language coming out of Italy. Michelotti’s studio continued designing cars that would reflect the modern sensibilities of Europe, well over 50 models by the time of his death in 1980.