Salt Speeder - 1989 Lotec Colani Testa D'Oro Ferrari

The great golden head

Throughout automotive history, luminous designers have made their mark by producing innovative, distinctive and advanced designs. Sir Alec Issigonis, Vittorio Jano, Hans Ledwinka, Ferdinand Porsche, Giotto Bizzarrini, all great names with great history. One name generally missing from such lists is one Luigi Colani.

Colani was a big purveyor of organic design.

Colani was a big purveyor of organic design.

Colani was born Lutz Colani to a Kurdish-Swiss father and a Polish mother in Berlin in 1928, and developed a fascination for design at an early age. After studying sculpture and painting at the Berlin Academy of the Arts in 1946, he move to Sorbonne, France to pursue a degree in aerodynamics in 1948.

His diverse interests lead to his signature being put under drawings for a wide variety of consumer products. Among his extensive repertoire were McDonnell Douglas aircraft, computer casings, Canon cameras, racing sailing vessels, furniture, motorcycles, television sets, teapots, semi-trucks, cutlery, a rotary-powered sports plane and a plethora of concept cars derived from BMW, Lamborghini, Mazda, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet and Abarth vehicles.

Colani's Lamborghini Le Mans, based on half of a Miura.

Colani's Lamborghini Le Mans, based on half of a Miura.

All these items had one key philosophy at heart: rounded, organic shapes instead of the more traditional, mechanical, angular approach. Colani called this concept "biodynamic", as he drew his inspiration directly from the natural world.

"The earth is round, all the heavenly bodies are round; they all move on round or elliptical orbits. This same image of circular globe-shaped mini worlds orbiting around each other follows us right down to the micro-cosmos. We are even aroused by round forms in species propagation related eroticism. Why should I join the straying mass who want to make everything angular? I am going to pursue Galileo Galilei's philosophy: my world is also round."

Luigi Colani
The streamlined semi truck idea failed to catch on despite Colani's continued efforts.

The streamlined semi truck idea failed to catch on despite Colani's continued efforts.

Translated to the automotive world, Luigi Colani felt using these natural, rounded shapes were the best way to advance car design. His beliefs were reinforced with the advent of fuel crises of the 1970s, which made fuel efficiency a major concern for the first time.

Using his experience with prototypes like his fully fiberglass derivation of the BMW 700, the first of its kind, he took it upon himself to achieve this efficiency through more aerodynamic designs. He was especially concerned with the flat faces of European-style semi trucks, which he restyled several times into massive torpedo-shaped monsters.

However, he wasn't content on just spending his time on saving a few gallons of diesel here and there. One of his other passions was speed, and lots of it. Most famously, his name was linked to the radical Eifelland E21 Formula One car, which appeared in 1972. Much of his initial design had to be abandoned however, as the car turned out to generate very little downforce, and a lot of excess engine heat.

The Colani Mazda Le Mans proposal.

The Colani Mazda Le Mans proposal.

Though the Eifelland project didn't work out, Colani kept producing prototypes influenced by motorsport. In 1983 he presented a concept for a Mazda rotary-powered Le Mans racer, followed by a similar machine based around Mercedes styling cues two years later. However, neither actually made it to the track.

Despite never becoming involved with motorsport in any official capacity, Luigi Colani's passion for speed remained, and had to find a way out. To this end, he decided to take on Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche in a quest to produce the fastest road legal car the world had ever seen.

In order to ease the process, Colani based his efforts around the famous Ferrari Testarossa. Due to its already extravagant, styling, numerous celebrity owners and a prominent role in the popular crime drama series Miami Vice, the car had become one of the faces of the 1980s. Naturally, Luigi Colani turned the car's aggressive square shape on its head, smoothing it out with his trademark flowing lines.

Since he was more of an aerodynamicist than an engineer, Colani need a technical partner to get the remodeled car up to the desired speeds. He found the required expertise with Ferdinand Pietz's Lotec organisation, not to be confused with the racing team/tuning company of Kurt Lotterschmid, which would later build the unique C1000 and Sirius supercars.

Under the Lotec name, Pietz had found fame developing powerful turbocharged versions of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari models. With the partnership finalized, Lotec started work on the Testarossa's 4.9L, 48-valve, 380 horsepower Tipo F113B 180-degree V12. The engine was modified to accept two massive turbochargers, providing 1.25 bar (18 psi) of boost.

This brought power up to a hefty 750 horsepower at 6400 rpm. The increase in torque was even more impressive, as it was raised from 451 Nm (333 lb ft) to a pavement-shattering 900 Nm (664 lb ft) at 5000 rpm. In contrast to the standard unit, the engine was finished with gold trim, leading to the name Testa D'Oro (Gold Head).

The engine was linked to a reinforced 5-speed manual transmission, transferring the mountain of power to the rear wheels only. Despite the use of lightweight body panels, the car was slightly heavier than the original, clocking in at 1650 kg (3638 lbs) to the standard Ferrari's 1630 kg (3593 lbs).

The Colani contingent at Bonneville, 1991.

The Colani contingent at Bonneville, 1991.

The Testa D'Oro was finished in 1989, but it took until 1991 before it would venture out on its first record attempt. The car was taken to the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats along with two other Colani-designed vehicles and a dragster, with all four cars taking part in the famous Bonneville Speed Week.

Top fuel drag racer and Bonneville veteran Mike Strasburg was given the honor of racing the Lotec Colani monster. This was no mean feat, as salt doesn't make for a very good surface to drive on. Since it's so loose traction is always in short supply, and rolling resistance is much higher. Therefore, a car racing on salt will often reach much lower speeds than it will on a regular road.

With 235 section tires up front and 335 section on the rear, Strasburg had to use a firm hand to keep the angry Testa pointed in a straight line. Fighting the car the whole way through, he eventually topped out at 340 kilometers per hour (211 mph), resulting in a class win.

However, this was 3 kilometers an hour (2 mph) slower than the then current speed record holder for street legal cars, the RUF CTR "Yellowbird". But there was one key difference between the Testa D'Oro and the CTR. Unlike the Ruf, the Colani still possessed catalytic converters. As a result, the car took a record after all.

The team returned for a rematch the following year, hoping for a higher speed despite the car being largely unchanged. With Mike Strasburg in the driver's seat once again, the Lotec Colani did just that. A fastest speed of 351 kph (218 mph) was good enough for the car to improve on its own record.

After its world speed record success, the car was taken back to Luigi Colani's workshop to undergo a dramatic transformation. In its original guise, the Testa D'Oro's looks were challenging or perhaps interesting at best. However, Colani felt the car hadn't gone far enough. Not by a long shot.

So in 1993, the Testa D'Oro re-emerged as a spectacular rounded monstrosity. Very little had been retained from the original car, with only the Daytona-insured front turn signals and the rough outline of the taillights having survived the radical metamorphosis.

The unusual slatted engine cover/spoiler combo had been abandoned in favor of a sleek split-window affair, and the glasshouse had taken on extreme proportions. The engine still sported gold-colored intake runners, but had lost the large gold plate spanning across the top of it.

Luigi Colani presenting the final iteration of his mad creation at the Essen Motorshow, 1996.

Luigi Colani presenting the final iteration of his mad creation at the Essen Motorshow, 1996.

In this form, still as powerful as ever, the car managed to shock the world as a pure design statement. Its giant windscreen, wild front splitter and striking low silhouette made it a big hit at virtually every exhibit it attended.

Eventually, it ended up at Maranello Ferrari specialist Maranello Purosangue, where it was offered up for sale for $1.7 million in 2015. It was sold for an undisclosed amount to an unknown owner that year.

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Comments (6)

  • If that Lamborghini Le Mans thing is a working concept, I’m calling dibs on taking it for a spin...

      2 years ago
    • I'm thinking of covering that thing in the future too. It's as mad as it looks.

        2 years ago
  • What is that splitter/lip thing on the final concept?

      2 years ago
  • When Colani's Ferrari was for sale in Maranello in 2015, it had actually been stolen from long term storage in Pero, near Milan. It was recovered by Colani Design Corporation srl.

      1 year ago
  • Interesting design concept, but I can see why he'd like it.

      2 years ago
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