ItalDesign Structura

It's hard to fault the Car Designer of the Century, Giorgetto Giugiaro. Besides having personally penned dozens of the world's most beautiful vehicles, at every turn he has worked to push the automobile forward into the future.

In 1998, his firm ItalDesign introduced this, the Structura. As a 30th anniversary present for the company, at first glance you'd wonder why they made a dumpy-looking MPV. Then again, do you think the man who designed the De Tomaso Mangusta would settle for just an ordinary MPV?

The brief is an interesting one: to transcend design by emphasizing structural form. As a result, the bodywork ignores most of the typical automotive cues and instead prioritizes function. Its hood is as long as a fingernail and its greenhouse is the simple curve of an arched bridge. But without examining it closely, you'll miss the most important detail: windows that don't open.

Modern aerodynamics have created such a terrible experience for those of us who enjoy driving with the windows down. I've driven hundreds of different vehicles, and more often than not there's a speed at which it sounds like you're descending from 10,000 ft.—like Patrick Swayze in Point Break—with the wind rushing past your ears. Our expertly aerodynamically optimized cars just don't lend themselves to open window motoring. 

At the same time, air conditioning systems have become reliable, long-lasting, and effective. So do we still need opening windows?

This simple change allowed ItalDesign to remove any extraneous fittings, most importantly door seals and the notch in a car's profile to accommodate them. While I wouldn't call the result classically beautiful, I can see the styling potential of applying non-opening windows to a production car.

Rear suicide doors allowed for function, as well as simplicity of form: the front and rear doors have no pillar between them, instead locking in the middle. The rear doors can't be opened unless the front doors are opened first. (If that's not convincing, they also fitted 10 airbags.) With an emphasis on passenger comfort, Structura had a flat floor and generous leg room—a point proven as the car was chosen as the official car for Turin's bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, no doubt time spent ferrying people around.

Right: this is a fully-functioning MPV. Based on the Audi A8. And fitted with a 5.6-litre, 420 horsepower W12 engine. It's a concept that has been driven, put to use, and enjoyed. (And even repainted and used during a recent performance of Madama Butterfly.)

Even though it was designed more than 15 years ago, doesn't it look better than you remember?