Two elements of advanced car design seldom reach the official histories — the bush telegraph that enables designers to share their thinking, and the strong human emotions that so often fuel the greatest inspiration.
Paolo Martin was working on the Rolls-Royce Camargue (the only Rolls-Royce to be designed in Italy) in 1968 when he got his ‘Eureka’ moment for a modular racing design more futuristic and extreme than anything ever produced, even by his employer the legendary Pininfarina. Neither his sketches nor his crudely-sawn polystyrene model gained credence until early 1970, when news spread of a fantastic Australian prototype that appeared to be based on similar principles.
Early in 1970, Ferrari had sought homologation for its 512S race car. Out of the blue, Martin was asked to adapt his modular ideas to the Ferrari 512S mechanicals, using one of the spare chassis. Pininfarina sanctioned it with misgivings, and it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.
The Ferrari Modulo Pininfarina worked, but was never intended to function on the road. Its geometry had the unholy beauty of potential function raised to abstract art form. From every angle it defied convention, like a belated, three-dimensional chapter in the development of Italian Futurism.
The front canopy slid up and forward for access to a cabin in which the sunken seats occupied the centre, and either aide a black sphere contained all the control buttons driver or passenger needed (Paolo Martin smuggled two bowling balls into the Pininfarina studio to work out the details). The cutaway panels in the demi-monocoque shell showed how the chassis and wheels were completely enclosed: powered up, it could drive only in a straight line.It might as well have flown.
As a conceptual prototype, it was a glorious success, an earthbound spacecraft that won 22 International Design awards.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
4,994 cc V12
Top speed estimated at 224 mph (360 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Having conceived the Modulo as a ‘white’ car, Paolo Martin was (allegedly) very upset to discover that the prototype shown at Geneva was painted black. It was repainted in white for both Turin and Osaka in 1970, by which time it was the star of every show at which it appeared, and had overcome Pininfarina’s strongly expressed fear of being considered ‘controversial’.