Giovanni Michelotti is known as the “founder of freelance car design.” More than 1,200 of his designs turned into production cars, buses, and trucks during his 44-year professional career. His portfolio includes designs for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Bertone, BMW, DAF, Daihatsu, Hino, Maserati, Triumph, and Vignale, and more.
At the age of 16, Michelotti dropped out of high school and apprenticed at the best car design “school” at the time: Stabilimenti Farina, Giovanni Farina’s shop. (The firm is now known as Pininfarina S.p.A.) Michelotti’s first project of his apprenticeship was to create a custom draft for a Lancia Astura, though the design never made it to production.
In 1949, Michelotti opened his studio, known as Carrozzeria Michelotti, out of his apartment. He styled the body for the Vignale-built Briggs Cunningham C3 coupe. Around the same time, Michelotti worked with Vignale on the Ferrari 212 Export spyder. His first commissioned design as an independent contractor was a variant of the Ferrari 166 Inter. It was the first of the 192 Ferraris he styled.
At the age of 59, in 1980, Michelotti passed away in his hometown from cancer, and his studio closed in 1993. He was inducted into the European Automotive Hall of Fame in 2009 and the British Sports Car Hall of Fame in 2017.
Here are five of Giovanni Michelotti’s works of art:
A rear-engined rally car great, the A108’s successor featured a streamlined fiberglass body and a lightweight, tubular steel backbone chassis. Depending on the engine, the A110’s weight was around 1,400 pounds. The car was small, with a 151.6-inch length, a 59.8-inch width, and an 82.7-inch wheelbase.
This little rear-engined, air cooled two-door brought BMW out of its financial crisis at the time. Michelotti incorporated a slanted roof into the coupe’s design. The automaker also produced a saloon with a taller roof and a convertible. The 700 lacked the kidney grille and Hofmeister kink typical of BMWs. It was also the last economy model the manufacturer would produce until the 2002 Mini. The little car proved to be a good little race car; Hans Stuck won the 1960 German Hillclimb Championship in one.
The TR4’s design eliminated the side curtains in favor of roll-up windows. And thanks to its angular rear end, it had generous trunk volume. A fixed glass rear window and roll bar were combined with a removable roof panel—the first of its kind on a production car. The first 500 cars produced had aluminum roof panels; they were steel after that.
Hino Contessa 1300
The Contessa was a little Japanese car with a front end that sort of resembled a Chevrolet Corvair, with quad headlights and a tall greenhouse. Peter Brock and his BRE Racing team raced them and finished 1–2 at the inaugural Times-Mirror Grand Prix at Riverside. A radiator located between the rear-mounted 1300-cc four-cylinder engine and the rear grille possibly enhanced engine cooling.
Bodied by Vignale, the Maserati Sebring had slanting rear edges and a generous greenhouse. Quad headlights, front fender vents, and a hood scoop also graced the Sebring’s elegant design. It had a 137-mph top speed and an 8.5-second zero to 60 mph time. When new, the Sebring’s pricing competed with the Aston Martin DB4 and the Ferrari 250 GT 2+2.