Colani Ferrari Testa d'Oro

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Do looks matter?

Maybe a better question is: do looks matter in the face of aerodynamics? That's what I wonder, especially if the subject of this discussion has been designed by Luigi Colani.

You may already have an opinion on his work, but typically he's a pretty divisive figure in the design world—especially with statements like, "I'm not a designer, I'm a 3D philosopher"—something he said to Car Design News in 2007.

And by the way: his melted shapes aren't generally born in a wind tunnel, either…

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With a father who worked as a movie set designer and a mother who was an actress in Poland, Lutz Colani (later changed to Luigi when a newspaper profiled one of his early projects) was born in 1928 and from an early age had an immense interest in form, shape, and nature.

In a classical sense, this is exactly what you'd need to be a sculptor, and indeed that's what his  early work reflected: an aerodynamicist who was obsessed with basing his work on nature.

This makes sense, of course—who's to say a few decades of computer modelling and wind tunnel measurements have anything on millions of years of evolution and natural selection?

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Colani, while influential in the world of design, isn't exactly a household name compared to other automotive designers, which is a shame. He's one of the very few that tries to clothe our big mechanical beasts of burden using lessons learned from nature—something rarely seen in car design.

Sure, you can say they're unconventional or ugly, but there's always a method to the madness…

People often forget about his background in aerodynamics, which influences every design he completes. Credentials include a stint at McDonnell-Douglas in California for new materials research and the bodywork for the first sports car to break the 10-minute barrier at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. 

If you're wondering, it was a 1300cc Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider with closed bodywork; Colani's changes lent the car a 210 km/h (130 mph) top speed…in 1957. He was commissioned to design the body by none other than Carlo Abarth.

Ok, we've established that Colani has credentials beyond what you may have thought. So let's fast forward 32 years to 1989 and the birth of the Testa d'Oro.

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First shown as a styling mock-up in 1989, the Testa d'Oro was a project with one goal in mind: win records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Long dominated by American muscle cars and aircraft-derived concepts, the yearly competition is an incredible display of human ingenuity—there are few places on this earth where you can show up with something you built in your garage and push your creation past 200 mph!

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In the late 80s, Colani was obsessed with Bonneville, designing streamlined motorcycles and cars for different vehicle classes. I remember the creations from the June 1990 issue of Road & Track—the one with the yellow mid-engined Corvette concept on the cover.

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Starting with a largely standard Ferrari Testarossa, Colani turned to tuner Lotec for engine modifications.

Ferrari's V12 engine was punched out to 5.0-litres and given two turbochargers, for an output of at least 750 horsepower and 660 lb-ft of torque—well above the standard car's 428 horsepower.

The Lotec modifications retained the car's catalytic converters, generally a large drag on a car's power output.

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The 1989 mock-up's swoopy lines gave some indication of how the car would look, by 1991 the car had similar lines overall but a design that more realistically wrapped itself around the car's mechanicals.

Was it quick? Absolutely—the Testa d'Oro broke the record in its class, hitting 351 km/h (218 mph) in 1991. 

Putting that into perspective, that's substantially more than the then-world's fastest car, the Ferrari F40. It could do just 201 mph (324 km/h.)

What's not to like about a supercar with bodywork inspired by nature that can travel above 200 mph?

Sources / Recommended reading