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1964 Autonova GT

These two prototypes, Autonova GT (1964) and Autonova Fam (1965) represented two different types of automobiles, but they revealed a unified conception of the car as a product, including its forms. Both were relevant to contemporary needs: “cars for the present, not the past, designed for society and traffic today,” wrote Manzù and Conrad in the detailed manuals presenting them to the press. Together they interpreted the needs of users who wanted practical, functional cars capable of coping with the changed urban and extra-urban traffic conditions. At the same time, they appealed to people who appreciated a class of automobiles like the small sports car, generally regarded as elitist and unaffordable.

Autonova was the name chosen by Pio Manzù, Fritz B. Busch, and Michael Conrad for their new design team. They had a detailed plan to supply the automobile industry with a complete design service, covering the research and development of new products from the initial scope of the projects down to the production of working prototypes. Autonova began work in 1964 by collaborating with a group of German manufacturers. They included NSU-Werke, who financed the Autonova GT project, the Veith-Pirelli company, backers of the Autonova Fam project, Glas (for the production of the car’s mechanicals and its assembly), Recaro (for the seats), VDO (for the instruments on board) and BASF (which supplied the plastics). Within a year, the Carrozzeria Sibona & Basano in Turin had built two prototypes with distinctive features reflecting two quite different types of a motor vehicles.

The Autonova GT

The Autonova GT, exhibited for the first time in public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1964, was a compact Gran Turismo (3750 mm long, 1550 mm wide, and 1200 mm high). It was built on the platform and mechanicals of the standard NSU Prinz 1000 TT, with a rear-mounted 1085 cc engine producing 55 HP. The spare lines of the profile of the body converged at the front in an original appendage to the nose, which served the twofold function of a bumper and a fascia uniting the surfaces of the low, elongated engine hood. However, perhaps the most original feature of the car was the aerodynamic design of the flanks, enhanced by a truncated integral rear end with a window that could be opened (unusual in a fastback body type). Also distinctive was the arrangement of the headlights.

Functional constructional criteria and practical considerations dictated their protruding outlines because they helped give the driver a sense of the car’s volume.

The interior was notable for the austere design of the bucket seats, the central tunnel housing the gearshift and other principal switches and levers, and the door panels equipped with tubular armrests of an original design. In this car, Pio Manzù and Michael Conrad sought to rethink the stylistic currents of the day, which Manzù regarded as stuck with a sort of “formal catechism” and incapable of moving beyond their established schemes.

Of Autonova’s numerous functional and technical-constructional features, the most striking was its rigorous formal synthesis, the simple, “modern” design of its different parts, from the lines that unite or segment the various sections of the body down to individual details like handles and switches and the most minute seams and welds.

Both the Autonova prototypes are still surprising for their originality and coherence, even after this time-lapse. Pio Manzù and Michael Conrad’s project can still be seen as an exemplary contribution to the evolution of automobile and car design, not only because of the results they achieved but also in terms of method and the development of radically innovative contents.

Source: Enrico Leonardo Fagone -