When Italdesign Giugiaro Vice President Fabrizio Giugiaro was a boy, he and his father Giorgetto went to see 1977's Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." “In those days,” he says, "we didn't know so much about the movies before they came out." For young Fabrizio, it was about to get very personal. “First,” he exclaims, “there was the Lotus that [my father] designed. And then it was the place where we have holidays. Then, when he came out [of the water], it was the beach where we normally stayed!”
Giugiaro's brought all this up because we're on one of the roads from the film in Northern Sardinia. He's got an afternoon meeting in Germany and I'm driving him to the airport in Olbia in a car he designed. It's a disconnect, because the area looks like a weird fusion of Californian landscapes, part inland Ventura County and part rural Sonoma County. Fewer Jeep Wranglers, but not too many fewer. Significantly more Land Rover Defenders, though. But the sea, which we catch in both glimpses and via long, sweeping vistas, is nothing like the churning gray-green of the Pacific. The experience is of familiarity leavened with enough things that don't quite compute.
As a native Californian, it was a perfect place to try to wrap my head around the Giugiaro Parcour concept. At dinner in Porto Cervo the evening before our drive to Olbia, I mentioned to Giugiaro that the Parcour had a bit of a Lancia Stratos vibe to it. Fabrizio's an animated guy. His hands went to his face. He rocked back in his chair for effect. “Arrrgh. The Stratos!”
The Stratos, of course, was designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, who pretty much designed every wedgey, creased concept or exotic that Italdesign Giugiaro didn't. I don't think it was the Bertone connection that bothered him. It's just that Stratos has become shorthand for “Italian exotic with significant ground clearance.”
If the Parcour calls back anything from decades ago, it's the unrealized spawn of the De Tomaso Mangusta and the AMC Eagle. Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Mangusta right before he left Ghia to found Italdesign. One early project under his own banner was the design of the Mk. 1 Volkswagen Golf. A modified version of the Golf's 1.7L engine found its way into Chrysler Corporation's Omni/Horizon twins in 1978. Two years later, the car-bodied, four-wheel-drive Eagle appeared. Production ended once Chrysler purchased AMC and spun its remants into the Jeep/Eagle division. Chrysler made the AMC deal the same year they picked up Lamborghini. A Lamborghini V10 powers the Parcour. See? These relationships, they're all very simple.
After Chrysler divested itself of Lamborghini, leaving the company to languish five years in the hands of a group headed by hitman-hiring dictator's son Tommy Suharto and businessman Setiawan Djody, Volkswagen rolled the Sant'Agata firm into the Audi portfolio. In 2010, the Giugiaro family sold 90.1 percent of their company to Lamborghini. Now the studio, having formerly designed cars for everyone from Maserati to Isuzu, devotes itself entirely to VW Group projects.
The Parcour, however, began life in the studio's independent era, shortly after a 26-year-old Fabrizio designed the BMW Nazca M12 concept in 1990 — the year Ford launched the Explorer. But “in the '90s,” he explains, “it was not yet the time for the SUV in Europe.” A year ago, he and Walter de'Silva, head of Volkswagen Group design, were kicking around ideas for a Geneva auto show concept. Giugiaro exhumed the 20-year-old idea, saying, “I think with the mechanicals within the Group, we can make it.” VW AG CEO Martin Winterkorn loved the idea and rubber-stamped the effort. “We decided,” explains Giugiaro, “to use our own brand so we were free in styling and free in operation.”
And it does look like a Giugiaro creation. The front end treatment recalls not only the Mangusta's semi-shielded headlights, but those of the Isuzu Piazza/Impulse. Other angles suggest its kinship with BMW's storied M1. The butterfly doors are necessary for the same reason the Countach's scissor doors were necessary — the Parcour is one very, very wide automobile.
Despite its intimate greenhouse — floor-to-ceiling height matches that of the Aventador — outward visibility is quite good, something that couldn't be said of the Countach. Antennae on the roof are a whimsical touch and house the rearward-vision cameras that stand in for side mirrors. The taillights are milled from a single piece of glass, weighing 33 pounds. One-off prototype parts like this run the weight up to 3,750 lbs. A production version would weigh in around 3,300, which is Gallardo territory. A production version, however, is not in the cards.
Back in Turin, Giugiaro is prepping the open-top Roadster static display model for an Audi event. Meanwhile, I'm trying to remember that the Parcour's steering-wheel mounted directional indicators aren't self-cancelling and doing a fairly poor job of it. The top of the flattened steering wheel is blocking the blinking arrows. My yellow-tinted, contrast-enhancing sunglasses render the rear-view camera's LCD screen nearly invisible. There are no mirrors. But the roads are all two-lanes, and with 550 hp from the Gallardo motor, it's easy enough to squirt around the odd Fiat Punto without worrying that the other driver has suddenly accelerated into the Parcour's blind spot.
The parts-bin twin-clutch transmission could use some re-gearing and reprogramming to work with the Parcour's 22-inch wheels and additional weight. Giugiaro admits that it's one of the few things he's unhappy with. Once I've familiarized myself with the controls and feel comfortable enough to get into the throttle, the V10 emits a taut, authoritative roar, perhaps more German-sounding than Italian. The cabin doesn't boom, but the noise level is significantly higher than your garden-variety modern exotic. “It sounds like that,” explains Fabrizio, “because I don't put any panel.” He gestures back toward the firewall.