Ferrari and the beast

Ferrari and the beast

Can Ferrari’s design boss pull off the impossible: a handsome 4x4? Critic Stephen Bayley is cautiously optimistic…


Handsome, well-dressed, charming, humorous, cultivated and talented? Certainly. But to prove God has a sense of humour, and of proportion, Flavio Manzoni also has an extremely difficult job: capo of design at Ferrari.

Charged with projecting the unique l’idea Ferrari into the future, Manzoni faces several creative problems. If he respects a glorious past, he stands accused of unimaginative historicism. If he is boldly innovative, he will be censured for disrespecting Ferrari’s unrivalled back catalogue.

No other concern has contributed so much to the history of mechanical beauty as Ferrari. But Manzoni’s Maranello is not the same as Enzo’s. It is no longer a collective of local artisans agitated into activity by a capricious and uncompromising boss with a personal vision, but a huge industrial undertaking which is edging out of the world of cars into the voodoo of luxury branding. Its market is global, and cares not so much about, say, Pedro Rodríguez as it does about whether a new car will have stand-out in front of the Four Seasons in Tianjin.

Reflecting this, Manzoni has created a campus with striking new buildings by Massimiliano Fuksas, Jean Nouvel and other architects whose names signify international design connectedness. But, talented as Manzoni is, Ferrari faces a metaphysical problem.

Product semantics are based on philosophical truths. These, even unconsciously, guide designers towards meaningful work. But two of the truths that supported Ferrari in the past have evaporated. One: Ferrari no longer competes in sports-prototype racing. Of course, no one ever really believed Rodríguez’s 1966 330P3 was a true anticipation of a road car… But the suspicion that it might be was a powerful stimulus to both designers and customers.

Two: crowded roads, hostile legislation, NetJets and helicopters have made the idea of a grand touring car as viable long-distance transport obsolete. The result is no one really knows what a Ferrari should look like today. And this is compounded by The SUV Problem.

More evidence of God’s interest in proportion is that the ergonomically nonsensical mid-engined format allowed designers to draft exquisite, sensuous shapes. So did a car with an impressively long bonnet covering a V12. But the presently in-favour SUV format allows no such thing.

Short overhangs are required for the attack and departure angles required of (fictional) off-roading, and these limit expressive possibilities front and rear. High ground clearance brings a similar problem because cars the height of a railway carriage cannot look graceful. And then there is the sheer bulk of an SUV: it must be capacious to deserve the name, but sheer bulk rarely translates into beauty.

But we will see. A Ferrari SUV that respects the past and acknowledges the future will be a work of genius. It’s a testing brief, but as Manzoni once told me: tentare non nuoce. It doesn’t hurt to try…

The result? No one really knows what a Ferrari should look like today

Can Flavio Manzoni (right) design a more elegant family car than Rolls’ Cullinan? 

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