Volvo Tundra by Bertone

Car of the Day #54: 1979 Volvo Tundra by Bertone

Volvo Tundra by Bertone
Volvo Tundra by Bertone, front angle • Volvo Cars

In honour of the late Marcello Gandini (1938-2024) who died yesterday, a shorter story today about the best version of a styling theme that Gandini stretched to great success.

Update March 15: A badly-rewritten sentence from my notes implied that Gandini left Bertone to found Italdesign, which is of course untrue. A different, rival designer — Giorgetto Giugiaro — founded Italdesign after leaving Bertone. Shortly after, Bertone hired Gandini as his replacement. The Volvo Tundra, as far as I am aware, was done just before Gandini left Bertone in 1979 to become a freelance designer. Thank you to Geert J.S. for pointing this out! -M

Just as great artists have distinct eras, seasons even, for their work, so too did Gandini.

In the late 1970s, automakers the world over relied upon Italian design houses either on regular retainer or for one-off projects. Before leaving Bertone, Gandini had his fingers in several supposed-to-be-unique projects.

You may think YouTuber sketch artists are impressive, but this — the Volvo 343, a tadpole of a car — is what Gandini had to work with in order to create the Tundra concept. • Volvo Cars

Sometimes, Gandini created vehicles that hit the world like a bolt of lightning. Sometimes, it was a bit like this: executives from Reliant, Citroën, and Volvo walk into a bar.

“I’ve created the perfect drink for each of you, based on your unique brand image, market positioning, and sales targets,” says the bartender.

Puzzled, the executives look at the drinks and reply, “But they’re all the same?”

“Never. This one has three limes instead of five,” replies the mixologist.

The takeaway isn’t that Italian design houses needed a diverse set of clients in order to survive or necessarily that Gandini was a hero who changed the course of design forever, but that it’s an incredibly rare talent to unify entire corporations under the power of a sketch, time and time again.

Lancia is still going on about the Stratos. Lamborghini would never cast the Countach from its family tree. Hell, Renault just relaunched its 5 with many of its angles reminiscent of a Gandini-penned Supercinq.

Wherever Gandini’s inspiration came from I can’t tell you, but it poured out into the world as an incalculable amount of natural resources refined into millions of affordable hatchbacks like the Citroën BX and instant Italian sports car classics like the Cizeta-Moroder V16T.

(I know you like ’em weird ;) )

From a marketing standpoint, the era of star designers will never end. However, taken from the pen to paper to manufacturing magic and international acclaim, very few star designers have ever existed — a constellation that, certainly, included Gandini.

Volvo Tundra interior • Volvo Cars

Stand far enough away from any comparison, and all options will look the same. In a universe where all suns are considered stars, how do we classify those who have shaped whole galaxies?

Superficially, Gandini left us a bunch of well-regarded vehicles that sold well and that, in most cases, people still love. 

Up close, however, he birthed solutions for an industry that was in the midst of transforming itself from merely looking futuristic to one that embraced robotic production techniques, laser welding, computer-aided design, unibody construction, and so on. Here, his contributions to both style and function were timeless.

A true genius will make us say ‘countach!!’ and throw scissor doors in for free.

RIP, Marcello Gandini.