These Are The Extracurricular Projects Of The World's Best Automotive Designers

These Are The Extracurricular Projects Of The World's Best Automotive Designers

Ranking, listing, and regurgitating the best work of long-lionized designers in the automotive world is a cornerstone of car-centric communication amongst enthusiasts. It’s easy but boring banter that doesn’t really evolve. It’s not like Marcello Gandini just drew the Miura and then did nothing but admire it for the next half century. 

With this in mind, we thought it could be a fun break from the norm—without straying too far from center—to look at some of the lesser-known, non-automotive work from major designers. We’ll take some deeper dives into these and other notable works in the future, but for now here are a few of our favorite “spin offs” from some of the biggest names in the book.

Paolo Martin and the Magnum Marine 50’ “La Bestia"

Paolo Martin’s resume reads like a guide to the coach-building canon. After an auspicious start at Studio Tecnico Michelotti in 1960, his path then led to influential stints at Bertone and Pininfarina during their 1960s heydays before the Turin-born designer became the head of styling of Ghia by the early 1970s. 

Throughout his tenures, Martin’s series-produced vehicles included humble French hatchbacks, imperial but slightly homely British land yachts, and lovably underpowered Italian sports coupés, but his legacy amongst enthusiasts is firmly rooted in concept cars. Martin’s sketched more than most, but he’s best known for two radical Ferrari-based prototypes: the heavily swooped and winged Dino 206 Berlinetta Competizione that can give even an Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale owner a bit of bodywork envy (above), and the radically planed Ferrari 512-based Modulo (below) that Martin brought to life just a few years afterwards—and it remains the all but undisputed zenith of angular automobiles. The Lancia Stratos Zero keeps up visually, although we feel that a Ferrari flat-twelve wins against a parts bin Lancia four-cylinder, don’t you?

But Paolo Martin didn’t limit himself to working with one manufacturer, nor did he condone off his talents on land. In his ongoing design and consultancy career, Martin has penned everything from high-performance motorcycles (the original Moto Guzzi Le Mans being a particularly pretty example) to simple scooters, to say nothing of a teapot sketch here and there. He’s also responsible for the look of one of the most hyperbolic pieces of personal transportation on the planet: the Magnum Marine “La Bestia,” a 50-foot-long offshore powerboat with over 2000 horsepower on deck from a pair of turbocharged Caterpillar diesels, and a claimed top speed of over 70 knots.

Unveiled in full metallic silver paint with highlighter-yellow upholstery in early 1994, this was and still probably is the coolest and most hedonistic way to shuttle between Mediterranean destinations at high speed.


Luigi Colani and the Schimmel K208 Pegasus Piano

Even among his peers working on the frayed and cutting edges of industrial and product design, the late Professor Lutz “Luigi” Colani was an iconoclast. He who seemingly never met an ellipse he didn’t like, Colani characterized his ovoid style as deriving from nature—“biodynamic”—where curves and radii trump rays and angles. A more cynical view of his work might suggest that many of his ideas for vehicles look like a cross between a car and a suppository, but regardless of opinion there is no denying the eagerness and willingness to push against and through boundaries. Take for example his idea for a “Le Mans” version of the Lamborghini Miura. Modifying a Miura in any context is solid ground for an accusation of sacrilege, let alone transforming it into something that looks like a high heel for a bootleg Transformer.

But as provocative as most of Colani’s cars were and still are, they weren’t all pure whimsy. There were practical (or at least technically feasible) engineering solutions in the mix more often than not, and being concerned with aerodynamics led Colani to design machines that benefited from his insight, albeit in pursuit of wholly different goals. One such car was a radically re-bodied Citroën 2CV that set a fuel consumption efficiency record in the early 1980s; another was a Lotec-modified, twin-turbocharged Ferrari Testarossa adorned in a Colani-designed streamlined body that went on to win its class in competition at the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

Outside of his wheeled and motorized endeavors, the professor was a prolific product designer whose non-automotive portfolio was vast enough to encompass disposable cutlery and home computing gear, but for all of his weirdly organic ashtrays and headphones and area rugs and everything in between, our favorite Colani piece is the grand piano he designed for the longstanding family-run German manufacturer, Schimmel. 

It’s called the Pegasus, and it would look equally at home in the back corner of a modern Formula 1 garage as it would in Prince’s living room (who was among one of the very few owners of the piano). Besides the massive pieces of sculpted fiberglass that make up the case, the Pegasus also features a hydraulically actuated lid to further blur the line between instrument and art installation. Schimmel has reportedly produced just over a dozen of these since the 1990s, but those willing to be on the waitlist—the company will only make a couple each year—can still get one in the color of their choice.


Tom Tjaarda and the 1961 Expo Alweg Monorail

Born in Detroit and all but destined for a life in Italy, Tom Tjaarda quickly became one of the foremost car designers during the 1960s and 1970s upon his relocation abroad, and he continued his career designing cars into the 21st century, working along the way with Ghia, Pininfarina, and at one point as the head of design at Fiat’s in-house studio before starting his own firm. Tjaarda had a hand in many a Ferrari grand tourer, he is responsible for the beloved Fiat 124 Coupé, as well as arguably the best-looking Corvette (the one-off Rondine concept), but his most widely recognized work was done while at Ghia, for DeTomaso. 

It seems only too fitting that the car that best symbolized the popular collaborations between Italian manufacturers using American-made engines was designed by an American expat like Tom Tjaarda. The original Pantera design is one of many lofty watermarks in the automotive sector, but despite Tjaarda’s father being a car designer, the young Tom never saw that for himself growing up. Fate obviously had other intentions, though Tjaarda still dabbled in other disciplines. He did a series of custom furniture pieces and other home furnishings at the beginning of his career, but there is one obvious outlier. 

If you’ve heard of Alweg, it’s probably because the German company was the manufacturer chosen to build Disneyland’s popular monorail attraction. The company still exists today as one of the world’s leaders in single-rail locomotion (we assume it’s not the busiest sector), but in its earlier years it was keen to get its name out there and wanted to be included in Turin’s Expo ’61 event—think of an Expo as akin to a world’s fair in terms of large-scale displays of engineering and design—so Alweg turned to Ghia to help make their monorail look the part. Ghia enlisted one of its young designers to helm the exterior and interior design of the train cars, and so Tom Tjaarda added a monorail to his burgeoning body of work.


Giorgetto Giugiaro and a Sci-Fi Seiko Chronograph

What links the designer of the Volkswagen Golf to an astronaut locked in claustrophobic combat with an interstellar alien horror? Did you guess a Japanese quartz watch from the 1980s?

Sigourney Weaver’s character in Aliens wears an odd and almost brutalist looking chronograph throughout the film, her robust little Seiko seemingly impervious to the acid blood of the xenomorph. The otherwise simple but handsome watch has a unique design for its stopwatch pushers, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just something thought up by the art department to look futuristic in a few scenes, but this watch was actually a production model designed for Seiko by Giorgetto Giugiaro before starring in the film that made it (somewhat) famous.

Giugiaro, founder of Italdesign and GFG Style, artist behind such cars as varied as the BMW M1 and Alfa Romeo 105-Series Giulia, should need little introduction. His credits also include work on the Ferrari 250 SWB. And the Fiat Panda. And the Lotus Esprit. From the working class to the superfluous, Giugiaro’s vision simply translates—as it did whenever he turned his eye away from cars. His other projects include pistols for Beretta and cameras for Nikon, but for now we’ll keep the focus on this special Seiko. 


Giugiaro designed a number of watches for the Japanese manufacturer, but the “Ripley” Seiko 7A28-7000 is the most intriguing, and not just because of its connection with the film franchise. Although quartz movements are generally looked down upon in comparison to their more artisanal and complex mechanical cousins, some of the vintage quartzes can still garner enthusiast attention for their place in horology history. In this instance, Seiko used the “Ripley” to show off its new 7A28 movement, making it the among the world’s first quartz chronographs with an analog display. Seiko re-released the iconic Aliens wristwear in 2015 with additional colorways, but we’d prefer the patina and provenance of one of the originals from 1983. 

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Great article.


I still want a Seiko 7A28-7000

Lewis Honey Baked Hamilton

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