10 of the coolest wedge cars ever
Who said straight lines can’t look good? -By Graham Hope
A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.
Wedge alert! Lamborghini’s recent unveil of the Countach LPI 800-4 brought us a modern interpretation of the classic supercar, and returned to the spotlight the idea of wedge design, which became quite a feature of the Seventies and Eighties.
As the name suggests, wedge cars were angular, asymmetric vehicles that took the breath away with their dramatic appearance, with the most high-profile designs often – but not exclusively – the work of two legendary Italian designers, Marcello Gandini and Giorgetto Giugiaro. While everyone has their own opinion on what makes a classic wedge, here are 10 of our favourites.
Where else to begin than with the car that inspired Lamborghini’s latest creation? The original Countach was introduced to the world as a prototype at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, where, as the mooted replacement for the legendary Miura, it had big shoes to fill. Faced with such a daunting challenge, designer Marcello Gandini’s approach was aggressive and the startling blend of sharp angles, scissor doors and a yellow paintjob ensured no one who saw the Countach would forget it. Production started in 1974, and current Lambo design boss Mitja Borkert summed up the massive impact the car made when he said, “The Countach was provocative and polarising. It made people smile and stare, but its infamous recognisability demonstrates the purity of its design legacy.”
Lancia Stratos HF
For many, the Stratos – one of the definitive wedge designs – is among the coolest cars of all-time. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a car that looked more defiantly ‘wedge’ than the Stratos Zero concept (the first car pictured below), which debuted in 1970 and preceded the production model. In reality, although the Zero provided the inspiration for the HF, it had little in common other than a shared name and the same designer (Gandini). The HF quickly proved a sensation, with its stubby design and mid-mounted Ferrari V6 delivering great success on the rally stages – and as only 492 were built for the road, it has become much coveted by collectors, selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds on the rare occasions one becomes available.
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, assembled (at great expense to the UK taxpayer) in Northern Ireland and star of the famous Back To The Future movies, the DeLorean boasts a soap opera back story that has ensured it has become one of the most recognisable – and controversial – cars ever. Rather incredibly, it has also achieved legendary status despite being unremarkable – some say underwhelming, even – to drive. For that you can thank its futuristic wedge design, which still looks compelling, and some stand-out details, including the stainless steel body and very-much-of-its-time ‘Rustproof’ font. Even today, few cars can command attention quite like the DeLorean.
As far as great car names go, the DeTomaso Pantera is up there with the very best, sounding both exotic and menacing at the same time. And it has style to match. When the company founded by the former Argentinian racing driver, Alejandro de Tomaso, revealed the Pantera in 1970, its combination of stunning looks and Ford V8 power immediately caused a stir. The appeal was long-lasting, with the Pantera remaining in production until 1992 – a tribute to the exquisitely executed styling, which blended extreme angles with perfect proportions to devastating effect.
When it comes to wedge designs, Maserati has serious form, with the extreme Boomerang concept (created by Giugiaro and only 42 inches tall) and the Khamsin grand tourer (designed by Gandini) both prime examples. But arguably the Maserati wedge that has stood the test of time best is the Bora – yet another Giugiaro design – which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021. The mid-engined marvel featured an array of hi-tech features for the era – including fully independent suspension, air-con and disc brakes – but it was the look that really marked it out, perfectly fitting its brief of being ‘modern but not overly aggressive’. A difficult economic climate meant the Bora did not sell strongly, but appreciation of its charms has grown over the decades.
The firm from Blackpool attracted a loyal following back in the day with a procession of sports cars that blended extrovert styling and big power. And while its designs were never lauded in the same way as some of the classic creations from Italy, with the benefit of hindsight the unapologetically wedge-shaped Tasmin – launched in 1980 – now stands as a pretty good representation of automotive fashion at the time. Yes, suggestions that the car was similar in look to the Lotus Eclat of 1975 were not unfounded – both were designed by Brit Oliver Winterbottom. But despite an initially lukewarm response, TVR fans warmed to the wedge – particularly as some extremely powerful versions became available.
Aston Martin Lagonda
Aston Martin has built some of the most beautiful cars of all-time. You’d be hard pushed to argue that the wedgey four-door, four-seat saloon, the Lagonda, is among them. But it is unquestionably one of the company’s most famous cars ever. Revealed as a concept at the London Motor Show in 1976, the Lagonda Series 2’s angular lines were a radical departure from the more conventional Series 1 that had preceded it and, combined with the car’s hi-tech (for the time) digital instrumentation, provided an intriguing glimpse of the future. Expensive (it cost more than £350,000 in today’s money), controversial (as many people hated the design as loved it) and very big (a whopping 5,281mm long), the Lagonda remains a divisive car to this day, but it was one that was impossible to ignore.
Given that BMW has produced so many fantastic cars throughout its history, it’s an indication of just how special the M1 is that many fans consider it the brand’s most iconic model ever. The fibreglass bodied supercar was another Giugiaro creation, and only in production for a relatively short period of time (between 1978 and 1981) with the result that a mere 399 were made (plus around 50 race cars). But what a legacy it enjoys. Although the design stuck to a familiar wedge formula, the car looked thoroughly spectacular, and the engine – an acclaimed 3.5-litre straight six from BMW’s famed M Division – was a peach. Although sales were slow during its production run, the M1 is now highly prized and priced accordingly – a 1980 example sold for $417,500 earlier this year.
Alfa Romeo Carabo
The Carabo differs from the other cars on our list in that it was only ever a concept, and never made it into production. But it’s worthy of inclusion for two important reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it looks amazing. And secondly, it provided inspiration for two subsequent wedge classics from designer Gandini. The Carabo was based on the mechanicals of Alfa’s renowned 33 Stradale, and appeared at the 1968 Paris Motor Show where its trailblazing design created quite an impact. The front-hinged doors subsequently made their way on to Gandini’s Countach (and of course many other Lambos). The Carabo also quite clearly influenced his Stratos Zero, which paved the way for the Stratos HF. Not a bad CV, then, for the Alfa.
The 1976 Esprit has serious pedigree, earning immortality for its memorable amphibious role in the following year’s James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me (where it doubled as a submarine) – a bold choice for a secret agent constantly in the line of fire, given the Norfolk firm’s questionable reputation for reliability at the time. Yet again it was a Giugario wedge – a great example of the Italian’s ‘folded paper’ design concept, where straight lines and sharp edges were prominent – and the model had commendable longevity, with a number of refreshes keeping it on the road until 2004.