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Inspiration for Rover, Citroën and Lancia: 1967 Pininfarina 1800

And no doubt inspiration for several others too: The modern hatchback owes a lot of its basic architecture to this Pininfarina prototype.

I continue to be thoroughly delighted with our Rover SD1’s design, which was of course created by the British designer David Bache. It’s an often repeated story – to the point where it has now become common knowledge and an accepted fact – that he was inspired by Italian super-GT’s such as mainly the Ferrari Daytona and perhaps also the Maserati Indy.

It is somewhat less known that he was possibly much more inspired by this 1967 prototype from Pininfarina:

I was reminded of its existence a couple of days ago when I took a picture (yet another! – as I seem to take a lot of pictures of our SD1) of our Rover – this time parked in front of a field of rapeseed. They are of course yellow this time of year. And as you can see, so was Pininfarina’s prototype.

Besides the colour, it’s painfully obvious that there are numerous other similarities. Not to the extent where you would confuse one for the other, but more in general concept and not least the execution of a couple of design details.

See what I mean?

It wasn’t until a couple of years after Pininfarina’s prototype that hatchbacks (or even just the general shape of them) properly established themselves on the market, and the Rover wasn’t introduced until 1976 – almost ten years later. The SD1 concept was initiated during the early seventies, so Bache would have no doubt been familiar with the Pininfarina. Even more so because the prototype was in fact built around a car from the same corporation i.e. the Austin/Morris 1800, better known as the Landcrab.

There were particularly two details which David Bache used virtually unchanged from the prototype: The c-pillar of the early SD1’s was covered by a black plastic panel which was ribbed in a manner which resembled the c-pillar of the Pininfarina. Sadly, in the process of one of my Rover’s multiple restorations, that c-pillar cover has been exchanged with a smooth one from a later SD1. But even much more obvious and regardless of which year your SD1 is from, there can be no discussion about the ribbed design of the rear lights. See for yourself:

These two aspects clearly suggest where Bache found his inspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with that either, as the Pininfarina concept was a stroke of genius in all of its modernity. As per usual, one might be tempted to say. I’ve always maintained that if you are to let yourself inspire, you might as well do so from the best of the best – just like Bache did. The result speaks for itself when I more than forty years later still find the Rover’s design captivating. Just like many others still do: I have rarely owned a car which has been the basis of quite so many variations of “dream car from back then” comments from passers by.

But let’s not exaggerate the point any further. Regardless where the inspiration came from, the Rover certainly has its own identity. It’s not as if anyone would ever mistake one for the other. Not even if a yellow SD1 was parked alongside the Pininfarina prototype.

This however could actually be the case when it comes to another seventies car which was influenced heavily by Pininfarina’s futuristic design: The Citroën CX.

The pictures speak for themselves. Seeing as the CX was introduced in 1974, it is chronologically perfectly possible that Opron also let himself inspire by the Pininfarina. There’s even a rumour that Pininfarina tried to sue Citroën in period for letting themselves inspire a bit too much from their prototype. However, I haven’t been able to find any concrete proof of this.

One should of course also remember that the CX from 1974 wasn’t the first Citroën to use this design language, as it was a natural follow-up to the GS from 1970.

Yet, 1970 is of course all of three years after the Pininfarina prototype, so some may suggest that the GS too was heavily inspired. But I’ll claim that the timeframe starts to slip somewhat at this point. For any company to introduce a brand-new production-ready model in 1970, not least one which utilised all-new technology from inside to out, would presumably require more than just three years of development. Therefore, I’m quite confident that Citroën had indeed found their own way to the general design ethos of the GS, which coincidently happened to be fairly similar to the Pininfarina 1800. After all, they were both chasing the same goal – improved aerodynamics.

This perhaps explains perfectly why Citroën were striving for improved aerodynamics.

But I feel it is equally undeniable, that when Citroën were rethinking and upgrading the GS design for their new top model, Opron and his team very obviously had more than just one eye on the Pininfarina 1800. Sadly though, they forgot the large opening hatchback and instead gave the CX a traditional boot with a small bootlid. Short of this minor detail, one would be hard pressed to ignore the copy-paste similarities in both proportions, silhouette and detail.

Or seen from a more forgiving angle, we could just conclude that the Pininfarina 1800 turned out to be a highly trendsetting prototype. Many prototypes are all but forgotten by the time the next season of exhibitions come around, but the illustration below shows how the influence of the Pininfarina filtered through to a wide variety of seventies cars of different brands, nationality and even market segment.

All of this leads to the question of whether BMC would have done well by putting the prototype into production as quickly as physically possible? Personally though, I’m not entirely convinced that this would have resulted in any huge success. Prototypes in general, and perhaps especially this prototype, are often so far ahead of their time, that they are at times perceived as something from another planet. The buying public may very well be wowed by them at the big international exhibitions or in the glossy brochures, but that’s not to say that they will buy one as their daily means of transport.

Keep in mind what the prototype was based on. The Austin/Morris 1800 looked decidedly different – conservative and staid:

The GS, the CX and even the SD1 almost ten years later required a degree of adjustment from the customers, mainly due to their futuristic designs. Something so radically futuristic usually works best with prototypes, and it is almost unthinkable that Austin/Morris could have sold such a car in the late sixties.

Instead, the best of such prototypes can inspire for several years after their first debut. The Pininfarina 1800 was definitely one of the very best.


One Response

  1. Tony Wawryk

    I remember the story of this prototype, which is one of the great “What if’s” of the British car industry and BL in particular. It’s still a great looking car and as you point out, Claus, one of the most influential designs of the ’70s – the CX is practically a clone.
    I agree with you that it might have been a little too ahead of it’s time, had it been built in 1967/8 – it would have been a very bold and potentially expensive move, but BL could have based the Princess, Maxi and Allegro ranges on this, thus spreading the development and production costs. An opportunity missed, in my view.


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