Time Machine: 1988 ItalDesign-Giugiaro Aztec - AllCarIndex

Time Machine: 1988 ItalDesign-Giugiaro Aztec

Feb 04, 2022

Concept prototype of two-seat spider.

Mid transversal engine, full-time four-wheel drive on design by ITALDESIGN.

Open bodywork with two separate and symmetrical passenger compartments.

Steering wheel equipped with air-bag, and instrumentation with simulator of "intelligent" drive-assistance system.

The project background.

Towards a "different" sports car.

Once the layout of the mechanicals had been decided on, Giugiaro went into the product "package" in greater depth.

How should today's sports car be?

Up until the end of the Seventies, the performance of sports cars was substantially much more brilliant than that of any sedan's, and this was undoubtedly one of its advantages.

The appearance however of little rockets like the VW Golf GTI and the Renault 5 Alpine came as an intrusion into this exclusive world.

Then, the success of zippy sedans like the Saab 9000 and Lancia Thema, whose two-liter 4-cylinder supercharged engines could comfortably transport five passengers and luggage along at 220 kph, induced the engineers of many manufacturers to think about decidedly sporty versions of mass production models.

The 200 kph "barrier" is thus now within the grasp of many compacts: Fiat Uno Turbo, Renault 5 Turbo GT, Peugeot 205 GTI and Golf GTI 16V. The mid-range class of cars also counts some very fast versions: from the 215 kph of the Lancia Delta Integrale and Audi 90 Quattro 20V (both equipped with four-wheel drive transmission), to the 235 kph of the BMW M3 and the 242 kph of the Ford Sierra Cosworth.

It follows that the performance aspect, in order to remain the attraction of the product, must now reach dizzy heights in the real sports car: power in the region of 450 bhp (7-8 years ago typical of a Formula 1 aspirated engine) is now a market reality.

The mythical speed of 300 kph (200 mph) is now easily overshot by the Ferrari F40 timed at 327 kph (203 mph).

Giugiaro has wondered how far this tendency is going to go. Undoubtedly many highly advanced models with aspiring racing characteristics are coming into creation, but they have two drawbacks: an exaggerated race car appearance (like the mythical "Stradali" automobiles of the Sixties) and also, objectively speaking, they are difficult to drive.

So Giugiaro thought up a new type of sports car, whose plus factor is no longer exclusively in performance. Horsepower in the region of 250-300, and a top speed between 250 and 270 kph are quite sufficient to "guarantee" it's sportiness. Four-wheel drive, now a normal option on both luxury sedans and compacts, must be standard on a sports car.

Here, therefore, lies the need to concentrate the attraction of the real sports car in its design. In other words, to get rid of the "sedan-ish" shape - without going heavily into the race car image -moving towards an extreme and radical automobile, in some ways provocative.

In analyzing this double project (spider/coupe) it is important to emphasize how Giugiaro aimed at giving a subjective response to an objective problem-that of the new "philosophy" of the sports car: his "feeling" in terms of design. So his is a contribution aimed at satisfying what he sees as a growing need, certainly not dogmatic, neither the recipe for, nor the abstract invention of a new kind of product.

As always in ITALDESIGN, research depends on industrial feasibility. These new configurations, and especially their surface treatments, are no exception to this rule.

It should also be emphasized that the two versions are identical up to the belt-line: the differences between the ASPID and the AZTEC have been conceived in such a way that they can be built onto the mechanized structure of the spider thus also making it possible to obtain the running coupe prototype.

The exterior design.

A "two-seat barchetta" for today.

Throughout the work of such a prolific designer as Giugiaro, one can see tendencies in design where the new car is a development and enrichment of a proceeding project. So, progress is generally made in steps: sudden breaks with tradition occur rarely (but not out of the blue).

During Giugiaro's cooperation with Nuccio Bertone, for instance, the futuristic Testudo (1963) marked a break from the elegant Alfa Romeo 2000 Sprint (1960). White the traditional Alfa Romeo Giulia GT (1964) was going into production, Giugiaro was already sketching out the harmonious and severe shapes of the Canguro (1964). At Ghia he laid out the classic Maserati Ghibli (1966) and at the same time felt the need for those taut and marked lines that characterize the Mangusta (1966). Arriving then, at ITALDESIGN, the geometric extremes of the Maserati Boomerang (1971), gave rise to the squared, if toned down, shapes of the Lotus Esprit (1972) and the Volkswagen Scirocco and Golf (1974). Ten years later, he was to come back to the much softer and rounded shapes required by the Cd factor: 0.263 of the Medusa (1980).

AZTEC is a new "break": it clearly shows the need to sculpt rather than to design the shape. The smooth sheet metal is interrupted by motifs, by the embellishment of the details, by the visual revaluation of the mechanicals. It should be said that the concept cars presented in 1986 had planted the seed of this new design tendency: the transparent engine compartment of the Incas and the faired wheels of the Machimoto were the first, timid signs.

The foundation of this design project is the AZTEC spider. In reply to the rekindled interest in convertible cars, Giugiaro decided to propose a radically different shape from that of traditional spiders: the passenger compartment is divided into two symmetrical sections, two cockpits in which each occupant has his or her own "room to maneuver", protected by a thin, wraparound windshield. This idea was already expressed in the past: born more than thirty years ago on race cars (the so-called "two-seat barchettas"), it was resumed by Giugiaro in a project sketched out in March of 1959 and published in Style Auto in 1963.

The choice of dividing one passenger compartment into two separate cockpits derives from a functional approach to the convertible car concept. This approach makes it possible to protect the passengers effectively from aerodynamic turbulence, even at high speeds, and to cover the car with two plexiglass domed tops in just a few seconds, without having to fall back on the slow and too often complicated mechanisms of canvas or hard tops. Moreover, through this dome solution, it is just as easy to get into the closed car as the open car (as opposed to traditional spiders, where freedom of movement is greatly limited when the soft-top is up or the hard-top is on). The elliptical shape of the two cockpits led Giugiaro to lay out a plan view composed of two symmetrical portions on either side of the median line. The aesthetical choice fell on blending the two windshields into the overall shape, rather than considering them added parts. The outside profile of the windshields is continued frontwards by a slight relief that narrows progressively, ending in the air intake at the tip of the front hood. The same motif is to be found at the back. In this case, though, the slight relief becomes an actual fairing that, taking off from the shapes suggested by the upper connections of the windshields, descends towards the tail section. The resulting shape is quite unusual, reminiscent of two single seaters joined together.

The two domes that protect the occupants in the event of cold or wet are housed under the engine hood at the level of the rear left-hand fairing and can be assembled and dismantled quickly and with extreme ease.

Various design motifs overlap in the side view. Rising sharply from the soft line of the nose and hood are the two windshields that establish the downwards sloping movement of the two fairings towards the back.

Two roll-bars reminiscent of Formula 1 single seaters crown the area delineated by the door and engine hood cuts. When the two domes that cover the car are mounted, one can see how the shape of these roll-bars was studied so as to visually "close off" the movement of the combination windshield-dome.

One of the special characteristics of the design of mid - or rear-engined sports cars is the air intake on the rear fender for engine compartment ventilation.

Giugiaro wished to solve the problem of how to visually interpret this air intake in a different way than usual: rather than using grilles of varying widths and varying levels of integration into the bodywork, he decided to minimize visual impact and sought almost to hide the air intake.

In the middle of the door, he drew an additional window that, like on the Maserati Boomerang (1971) and Oldsmobile Incas (1986), affords excellent side vision despite the very high belt-line.

This window is not, however, parallel with the door surface, but leans in towards the center of the car by 80 mm at the door-pillar point. This recession of the window leaves space for a louver on the rear fender that, practically imperceptible, becomes an air intake (ventilating on the right-hand side the intercooler; on the left, the oil cooler).

Having freed the rear fender from the customary and cumbersome air intake, Giugiaro proposed an innovative concept. In place of a continuous sheet metal surface, we find - on both sides - a real "service center" with a highly sculptured design.

The middle of each "service center" is equipped with three push-buttons that, through a numerical combination, will both activate the various functions and unlock the trunks and rear wheel fairing.

On the right-hand side you'll find the control for the O.M.C. engine oil system (a small tank mounted in the engine compartment will automatically top up the oil and, in the event of substitution, drain the sump by means of an electric pump). You will also find the digital gauges of the level of the cooling liquid and brake oil; and a removable thermometer housed in the tool compartment (which also gives access to the engine belt area). In addition, we find the air intake for the intercooler and a gauge that shows the level of the air filter's remaining filtering capacity, a hydraulic lift to raise the car, a 12-volt DC jackplug socket and the gauge of the engine oil draining point.

Inside the main flap to the "service center" is a fixed lamp that, thanks to its articulated arm, offers hands-free illumination of the wheel area and engine compartment.

Housed on the left-hand side are the fuel filler and relative level gauge, two compartments containing the removable electrical spanner (used to unscrew the wheel nuts), an electric torch, a compressor with an extractable manometer to check and increase tire pressure and a fire extinguisher. As on the right-hand side, there is also a hydraulic lift, a 12-volt DC jackplug socket and an articulated-arm fixed lamp.

With their simplicity, the front and rear end masses contrast and compensate for the sculptured harshness of the sides.

The front end reveals two air intakes on the bottom part of the bumper and a pronounced air intake at the base of the front hood (that also houses the lids of the double circular pop-up headlights). The placement and shape of these air intakes derived from a functional rather than aesthetical choice: Giugiaro decided to build into the bumper a generous spoiler to create downforce (the aerodynamic flow is diverted by the spoiler through the two air intakes on the bumper and comes

out on the nose near the hood). In this way, besides increasing the front downforce of the car at high speeds, it was possible to house the radiator in a tunnel with excellent ventilation.

The side-view mirrors sport an unusual feature: placed on the outside of each windshield, their forward-facing surfaces are fitted with lower beam lights that can be flashed without having to wait for the lids covering the main headlights to lift up.

The back end is extremely rounded and characterized by a thin, horizontal light bar dominated by a generous spoiler in carbon fiber, made in cooperation with Molding Systems of Castellaccio di Paliano (in the province of Frosinone). The engine bay and luggage receptacle are reached by lifting the large, one-piece rear trunk, hinged behind the passenger compartment. Three transversal air intakes lie at engine compartment level in the two fairings that resume the movement originated by the windshields, and a high rear brake light is housed at the end. Completing the rear-end view is a generous bumper housing the license plate holder, together with double rectangular exhaust outlets on the left and two lights on the right. These supplementary fog and reverse lights mimic the size and shape of the exhaust outlets.

Despite the two-part construction of the doors getting into the seats is simple and requires no special maneuvers. Opening the actual door (hinged in the usual fashion flush with the front bumper) releases the upper part of the cockpit (hinged gull-wing style at the center of the car). Once in the car, you first close the door and then the movable part of the cockpit.

The car's exterior dimensions (4270 mm length, 1970 mm width, 2600 mm wheelbase) enable considerable roominess for a two-seat, mid-engined vehicle: 1120 mm separates the brake pedal from the rear seatback, 70 more than in the Maya. There is also plenty of room for luggage: the main receptacle lies behind the engine and has a usable volume of 258 dm while small items can be stored in the front compartment (where the spare wheel is lodged). The total volume is 296 dm³.

The interior design.

Two symmetrical passenger compartments.

Two symmetrical passenger compartments resulted from the layout of two separate cockpits. It was decided to envelop the occupants in shape: each seat is surrounded by the continuous form of the arm-rests, dashboard and central tunnel. An Instrumentation panel in the shape of a truncated sphere sits in the middle of each cockpit. Almost half of the space allotted to the driver's instrumenation is taken up by the analog rev counter, the speedometer and level and temperature gauges lying beneath it. All of the main controls are to be found on the sides of the glare-proof flap, while the steering wheel rim (quite large due to its being fitted with an air-bag) houses the cruise control, horn and flashers.

The fuse box is lodged in sight at the top of the instrument panel. Within easy and immediate reach and thanks to a graphic display of the functions, the fuses can be replaced without having to turn to the instruction and maintenance booklet.

The passenger's instrument panel repeats the shape of the driver's controls. A semi-circle resembling half of a steering wheel acts as a handle; in place of the Instruments is a liquid crystal display that will furnish the passenger with information requested of the trip master by means of the keyboard located between the handle and display screen - all with the purpose of involving the passenger in the allure of this aeronautically-inspired interior, almost to the point of becoming... a co-pilot.

Tomorrow's motorists will have at their disposal intelligent systems offering a wide range of information that will help make all trips simpler, faster and safer. With the intent to promote the use of such equipment, ITALDESIGN has fitted AZTEC out with a computer that, as yet not able to receive external information (due to the lack of specific telecommunication networks) works as a pre-programed simulator so as to highlight some of the advantages these systems will be able to offer.

Developed entirely by ITALDESIGN, the software enables the simulation of eight functions:

- GUIDE: shows the shortest way to reach a destination with the Turin Show as a starting point. The program sees the city divided into four areas: Center, Pericenter, Hill and Exit (to get to suburban areas). Through special disks the maps of other cities can be viewed.

- TRAFFIC: shows the intensity of traffic by means of a color code (green = flowing, orange = congested, red = jammed). As a support to the GUIDE program, it can indicate the fastest route in accordance with the traffic density (choosing only the streets with flowing traffic).

- WEATHER: displays on a general map of Italy the current weather situation and forecasts, sea and wind conditions and the temperatures in the major cities.

- SPEEDWAY: shows the way to reach, by highway, one of the 18 regional capitals with highway networks, and displays a series of warnings (slow downs, roads closed to traffic, alternative itineraries, poor weather conditions in the routes to be covered).

- CHECK: an intelligent check-control system that signals any abnormalities in the car, and indicates, the remedies or expedients to solve the problem.

- ALTIMETER: an altimeter with both graphic (vertical bars) and numerical display.

- SAFE DISTANCE: indicates the safe distance to keep from the vehicle in front and shows the amount of braking space, in meters, available at the given speed.

- GRADIENT: shows the gradient angle of the road being travelled over.

The functions of this system are operated through combinations of three keys; the monitor is housed at the center of the tunnel.

The seats, with a supportive anatomical shape, can be adjusted electrically fore and aft and in height. Rake is adjusted manually. The steering wheel and instrument panel are adjustable in height.

Being a spider, no side windows have been provided: to put your arm out when the car is closed, all you have to do is release the top part of the cockpit (which continues to protect the occupants from the rain).


Dimensions (mm)

overall length - 4270

overall width - 1970

overall height- 1175

wheelbase - 2600

front track - 1670

rear track - 1660

front overhang - 1010

rear overhang - 660


make - Audi 200 turbo

position - mid transverse

architecture - 5 straight cylinders

displacement - 2226 cc

power - 250 bhp (190 kW) at 6200 rpm


drive - full-time 4WD

gearbox - 5-speed manual


Audi - engine and gearbox

Blaukpunkt - car stereo

Canonica - wheels

Hella - rear lamps

Molding - Systems rear spoiler

O.M.C. - engine oil automatic compensator

Pirelli - tyres

TRW-Sabelt - seat belts

Based on the original press release by ItalDesign-Giugiaro

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