Lorenzo Ramaciotti is Italy’s top car designer. After over thirty years at the famed Pininfarina design studio, and twenty as its design director, Ramaciotti got called up by Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, and was asked to run the company’s design center, where he oversees brands from Jeep (now Fiat-owned) to Alfa Romeo. In addition, Ramaciotti picks up a pen for Maserati as its head of global design, and is responsible for cars like the slinky GranTurismo and brand new Ghibli sedan.
From the man who signed off on automotive superstars like the Ferrari Enzo and the stunning Alfa Romeo 4C, thoughts on reconciling Maserati’s past with its future, the gorgeous Alfieri concept, and the beauty of his Segway.
1. What was the car that made you want to become a car designer?
Automobiles had a special charisma for my generation and there were plenty of show cars in the magazines to dream about -- sometimes one of the very rare Italian supercars even materialized on the street. I cannot name a single car, but since I was ten I knew I would design cars, even if I was not yet aware of the existence of such a profession.
2. Is there a historical Maserati that has most heavily influenced contemporary designs?
I have named the 1954 Pininfarina designed A6GCS several times as one of the most inspirational Maseratis. We kept this car in mind (and some pictures on the wall) when we were conceptualizing the Alfieri concept. I am personally very fond of what is an almost unknown prototype, Pininfarina’s first proposal for a “street” Maserati, that only remains in pictures. It was simple and provocative at the same time and the fact that it is little known adds to its fascination.
3. What is your favorite design in the current line-up?
Every project has its own character, story and unique sentimental appeal. The GranTurismo is special to me because we (Pininfarina) were not supposed to design it. Then the project got stuck and we were asked to submit our proposal. In fact we were able to immediately propose something so convincing that we went straight to production.
4. What is your favorite all-time Maserati?
I understand it would not be fair to name a car I was involved with, but I select the 2003 Quattroporte, as the real rebirth of Maserati and the pride of its design.
5. What are the signatures of a Maserati design? Features? Proportions?
I think Maserati should be an ambassador of Italian car design to the world, and clearly embrace this mission. The Italian way to beauty is through proportions, simplicity, sculptured surfaces and superior craftsmanship, and this not just in automobiles. Our goal is to embody all these characteristics in the cars we design.
6. Is Maserati still a sports car and GT brand that makes sedans, or has your identity shifts as your product portfolio has expanded?
One of the objectives we had in mind with the Alfieri was to clearly recall, on the special occasion of the company’s Centennial, that Maserati wants to remain a sports car manufacturer. Within the range there will always be a number of very sporty vehicles. And along with them, to widen the appeal and the customer base for the brand, there will be a specific interpretation of vehicle profiles like sedans and utility vehicles that we can easily associate today with a sporting lifestyle.
7. The Alfieri is very futuristic-looking, yet is inspired by a 1954 Pininfarina design. Especially with considerations like bumpers, crash safety, and increased passenger size, how do you evoke sports cars of the fifties, which, to most eyes, are slender, delicate things?
There is an increasingly fatal attraction towards the ‘50s and ‘60s in several aspects of trends, and automobiles make no exception. In the case of the Alfieri, it is not a matter of specific characteristics that are found in the car (you will not find a single line), it is about proportions, stance and intersection of volumes. In reality, the compactness and delicacy of the past are gone, and today we are used to the size and proportions of cars that give us more safety, more protection, more comfort and more room. You can call it progress, if you want.
8. The Levante will be Maserati's first SUV. What do you think it can bring to Maserati design-wise that no sedan or coupe could? Do you have a favorite feature of its design?
Utility Vehicles are a well-consolidated success among the public globally. It is clear that, beyond the specialized SUV, their appeal lies more in the stance, the presence, the wheel size and the on-road performance than on their off-road capability. This is unique to SUVs, and the Levante design has evolved the language of Maserati into this profile: it will be for the Utility Vehicle what the Quattroporte has always been for sedans: a sporting reference with unmistakable class.
9. Most companies, to some extent, are international. As such, do you think individual countries can maintain a specific design? I.E. can one still identify an Italian car without its logo? A German car? If so, what makes an Italian car? A German one?
I would say that the most “international” companies are the premium ones, those that sell the same products around the world without the need to twist them into something specific for the market. A brand is strong when it's recognized around the world and becomes a 'reference.' Ferrari, Rolls and Bentley remain the same globally. And so does Maserati. It is about the brand's values, such as design, not only about country values. I repeat what I said before: I consider Italian design as one of the core values of the brand heritage.
10. What is your favorite non-automotive design? What is the best-designed thing you own?
I have always been very interested in industrial design, architecture and furniture design, not only because they are a part of trend evolution and send strong signals for our work, but more because of my personal passion in any form of applied creativity and expression of beauty. What I love are designs that can express simply and apparently effortless complex technical contents. That is the reason why I am very fond of my Segway: nothing more simple and natural to use and more complex in its technology.
11. What is the most fun you have had in a car?
I like to drive a sports car on a track with a driving instructor at my side: it makes me feel safe and helps me to improve my driving capabilities. When I am truly familiarized with the circuit and the car I am able to enjoy myself and really push my limits.
Photos by Maserati