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Celebrating the glory of the ill-fated Wedge cars

The term "wedge car" was one given to vehicles of the late 1960s, 70s and 80s that had a distinctive wedge shape. People know them when they see them and many believe this was the true birth of the modern supercar era.

It's hard to pinpoint who exactly began the wedge car phenomenon. Most likely, it was a continuation of a progression towards more aerodynamic thinking in vehicle design. Most would say that the 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo from Gandini was the first, but that same year saw Toyota introduce a concept called the EX-3 that was decidedly wedge-shaped and the Ferrari P5 and P6 Pininfarinas that year were definitely wedges as well (as was the 512S Berlinetta Speciale the next year). All were likely progressions of the De Tomaso designs of two years previous, with the Pantera and the Mangusta having a wedge look.

Regardless of who really began the design trend, it was one that defined supercars for several years, with vehicles into the 1980s sporting the distinct (and generally non-aerodynamic) wedge. Nearly everyone got in on the act, including Japan, Europe, and the U.S. Maserati and Lotus embraced the idea, Chevrolet and Ford fiddled with it, and the Japanese used it to further brand themselves in a leery market.

The car most people likely identify immediately as epitomizing the wedge concept is the Lamborghini Countach from 1971. Designed by Gandini for Bertone, the original concept had elements we usually associate with one-off concepts: scissor doors, a powerful look, and a design that for sure would never see the streets. It was translated into the basically unremarkable LP400 and 500 models.

The Countach was a direct takeoff of the earlier Alfa Romeo Carabo, which had also been designed by Marcello Gandini of Bertone. In fact, side-by-side, the two concepts are almost twins with the Alfa having a more refined, light-footed look compared to the Lamborghini's heavier stance and larger hind quarters.

In between the Alfa and Countach showings, Ferrari put out the PF Modulo concept (1970, pictured). Hitting the Geneva Motor Show that year in a storm, the Paulo Martin concept won many design awards for its ultra-futuristic (and wedge-shaped) design. Pininfarina was not planning to produce the concept in physical form, but changed their mind after the massively positive reception, eventually using a Ferrari 512-S race frame to create the tiny 935mm high PF Modulo.

The next year, 1972, Maserati took a mockup from the Turin Motor Show and made an operational concept for the Geneva Motor Show as the Boomerang concept. Designed by Giugiaro at ItalDesign, it was shown next to his Lotus Espirit M70 and has therefore forever been confused with that car (which eventually went to production).

The Espirit M70, for its part, was based on a widened Europa chassis and went to production in 1973. It saw decent sales figures and was featured in the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me and saw a resurgence during a limited redesign offering in 1987.

Not to be outdone, of course, Detroit tried to get in on the act. In 1969, General Motors' Holden research and development group produced the Holden Hurricane RD001 – probably one of the more innovative designs they came out with during that decade. The low 990mm stance meant that normal doors weren't practical, so a self-opening canopy was created, which swung forward over the front wheels. The seats also rose up and over under their own power to make getting in and out even easier. This same basic design was later used in the 1990s Batman movies starring Michael Keaton.

The Germans tried their hand at the wedge design as well, with BMW showing off the E25 Turbo in 1972. Released to celebrate the Summer Olympics in Munich that year, the car became the inspiration for the M1, the 8-series, and the Z1. The car's outer design, however, was nothing compared to the huge number of innovations inside, including an advanced radar system to warn drivers of objects outside.

In '74, celebrating Ford's first year as the new owners of the Ghia name, Tom Tjaarda created the Gia Coins concept, which featured a weird rear-entry setup and odd 3-abreast seating arrangement. Many have wondered if Tjaarda created the car out of spite, since it was met with almost universal sneers.

That year, though, Lambo came back with another wedge, this time as the 1974 Lamborghini Bravo. Laughingly called the "greenhouse from Bertone," the Bravo featured a huge amount of glass canopy. It's distinctive louvers on the hood and tail were both ornamentation and proposed airflow controls, according to designer Gandini. The car was a one-off, but managed to cover over 40,000 miles before being retired to the Bertone museum.

By the mid-1970s, though, the wedge design concept had become old hack and was largely dropped. A few manufacturers took the idea to heart, however, with cars like the Aston Martin Bulldog, the Lotus Etna, the Maserati 124 Coupe, the Opel CD, Sbarro Stash, Ford Maya, and the Vector W8 being examples of the design moving forward.

For a short while, the wedge was the defining shape of supercars and are a big piece of the general aerodynamic puzzle that has pushed cars towards more and more slippery design.


Don Bain    December 27, 2012 - 5:55PM

What? No mention of the coolest wedgemobile of all? I wanted a Triumph TR7 so bad, and the follow-up all-white TR8 special edition even more. The loss of Triumph was one of the great automotive tragedies of the last 50 years.

Of all the ones mentioned here, the two Triumphs were the only ones I ever saw on the street.

By the way, the vehicle pictured looks like something from the Australian Outback Solar Race.

Don Bain    December 28, 2012 - 2:50AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

TR8s were convertibles by 87.5 percent and the ragtops of the day were no doubt noisy and perhaps leaky, but Triumphs were loved for their imperfections in the attempt at perfection. They were an absolute gas to drive for normal sized folk and continued a long tradition of British Sports Cars.