April 29, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

Inexpensive Works from the Great Masters

Image: Diana Varga, RM Sotheby's

To paraphrase Sir William Lyons, it doesn’t cost any more to make something pretty. But if you’re a car collector, you generally pay for pretty, particularly when we’re talking about the work of one of the great designers. 

Even a tiny pen and ink Picasso is pricey, right? But to every rule, there is an exception. In that spirit, here are five models — penned by five legendary car designers — that you can buy without breaking the bank:

This ’65 TR4 sold at RM Sotheby’s Petitjean Collection sale for $20,596 in June 2020. Image: Diana Varga, RM Sotheby’s

Giovanni Michelotti – 1962-67 Triumph TR4/4A

Michelotti’s prodigious skills as a designer perhaps reached their peak with the 1964 Maserati 5000 GT commissioned by Briggs Cunningham. That car sold by RM Sotheby’s in 2017 for over $1 million. 

But just before the 5000 GT, Michelotti was working on something for Triumph (a frequent employer) to replace the ancient TR3. While the chassis and drivetrain of the TR4 was more or less the same as the outgoing TR3 (with the exception of the TR4’s sharp rack and pinion steering setup), the body was something entirely different. 

With small, but stylish tailfins and headlight eyebrows pressed into the bonnet, the TR4 brought Italian style to the British sports car masses. It was a huge hit, remaining in production for five years. The two-piece removable hardtop is especially pretty. $20,000 to $30,000.

1981 Scirocco S with standard front body-color spoiler/airdam

Giorgetto Giugiaro – 1975-81 Volkswagen Scirocco Mk 1

When VW decided to replace the Karmann Ghia, they first went to Porsche, who created a front-engine, rear-transaxle, water-cooled car that would eventually become the 924. VW punted on the idea of doing a car that didn’t share a platform with anything else in favor of a new sporty car based on the new Golf. 

Giorgetto Giugiaro and Ital Design created sheer perfection in the original Scirocco. With an upswept wedge design and a neat Kamm tail, it’s a rare ’70s design that even looks acceptable in Federal trim. The earliest cars with chrome bumpers, bright colors and plaid seats are the prettiest. Want a different piece of pop-culture Giugiaro? Try a Mk 1 VW Golf or a Fiat Panda. $5,000 to $15,000.

This ’99 Qvale Mangusta sold for $40,130 at RM Sotheby’s Monaco sale in 2014. Image: Boris Adolf, RM Sotheby’s

Marcello Gandini – 1999-2002 Qvale Mangusta

As with many other low-production Italian exotics, the Qvale Mangusta had a tortured history. Originally conceived as the De Tomaso Bigua, the company’s dodgy condition prevented it from coming to market under that name. Instead it fell to Kjell Qvale (former Jensen owner) to produce and market the car. 

Styled by Marcello Gandini of Lamborghini Miura/Countach/Diablo fame, it certainly wasn’t in the same league as any of these, but it’s an interesting car, with solid Mustang Cobra SVT mechanicals and a clever retracting top. It’s the entry level Italian-American hybrid at the moment. $20,000 to $28,000.

1963 Buick Riviera

Bill Mitchell – 1963 Buick Riviera and 1967 Cadillac Eldorado

Mitchell was the antithesis of his predecessor Harley Earl, and these two cars make it obvious. 

Eschewing fins and excessive chrome, the original Riv and the first front-wheel drive Eldo are perhaps the closest GM came to a European-style personal luxury car. The Riv was originally conceived as the car that would revive the La Salle nameplate. When that didn’t pan out, Buick made a case for adopting the car. 

Only the usual numb Saginaw power steering and puny drum brakes let the car down, but alas, that was the norm for American cars of the era. 

This ’67 Eldorado sold for $28,050 at RM Auctions’ Auburn sale in 2016. Image: RM Sotheby’s

The Eldo shared the same front-driver platform as the equally sublime 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, but whereas the Toro was a blind alley, the Eldorado continues to influence Cadillac’s design language to the present day. It was reputed to be one of retired GM Global Design head Ed Welburn’s favorite designs. $15,000 to $25,000. Take your pick.  

The NSU Sport Prinz. Image: Lothar Spurzem, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Franco Scaglione – 1958-68 NSU Sport Prinz

Franco Scaglione’s designs are for the most part, untouchable. He’s probably the least egalitarian of our five masters. Scaglione was responsible for the Alfa Romeo BAT design studies — the tiny NSU Sport Prinz is one of the few volume cars in his portfolio.

A pretty little 600-cc car that could nonetheless nudge 100 mph, the first cars were built by Bertone in Turin, with the lion’s share of the run constructed by Drauz (builder of Porsche Convertible D bodies) in Heilbronn, Germany. Nice ones can be had for around $15,000.