Exclusive: Ferrari Modulo story
We present the fascinating story of the Ferrari 512 Modulo, one of the most stunning concept cars ever built, with the exclusive contribution of its creator Paolo Martin.
About the Ferrari Modulo
In addition to the original drawings, Paolo Martin created a full-scale polystyrene model in August 1968.
The Modulo project was conveived in “a corner of the drafting table” in a few-minutes span, and for some time it was looked at with distrust by Pininfarina’s management, eventually becoming a milestone in the automobile design history with a deep influence on the 1970’s car styling.
The Ferrari Modulo was displayed all over the world: Osaka, Montreal, New York, where it was awarded the best design prize by Automobile Quarterly, Los Angeles, where it received the 1972 Auto Expo Star award, until the 1984 Turin Motor Show, when it still fascinated young people from the new generation.
Below we report the exclusive story, narrated by Paolo Martin himself.
The design story of the Ferrari Modulo
by Paolo Martin – translation by Car Body Design
One day, on a late spring morning, a myriad of objects were lying on my drafting table: models, French curves, pens, pencils, ashtray and sigarettes, alternatingly laid on that paper sheet with the dimensions of the Rolls-Royce Camargue dashboard I was working on.
When an idea came to my mind, an idea that had long remained latent in my unconscious.
The craziest dreamcar in the world, the most unique, violent, inimitable and conceptually different.
A quick sketch on the lower right corner of the sheet pictured a specular and modular object, easily materializable into a car wth the addition of wheels. The Ferrari Modulo on 512 chassis had just come to light.
I looked for allies among my superiors, and former director Franco Martinengo was enthusiast and perplexed at the same time.
He was torn between the normality of the calm life at Pininfarina and the craving for innovation.
The green light was given as a routine, because something had to be shown at the Motor Show, but the President expressed his reservations about the project.
At Sergio Pininfarina‘s question “Why did you draw a car like this?”, I just replied “It’s important that they’ll speak of it”. He concluded: “Yes but they’ll speak ill of it!”
My too futuristic sketches were not totally convincing, and were in such contrast with the technical drawings of the Rolls-Royce as to make the coexistence of such distant ideas appear almost impossible on the same table.
Then I opted for a blitz. Through the purchasing department I ordered eight cubic meters of polystyrene foam, two car batteries, an electric resistance and, given the proximity of August vacations, I quickly drew the main profiles on tracing paper.
I stuck the polystyrene blocks together with the fish glue and then, using a bow-like tool and the electric resistance connected to the car battery I started removing huge amounts of “little white spheres”.
I also invented a large rasp made of a metal sheet pierched with a square-shaped punch, and with this huge grater I went on removing material for several days.
The removed material was partly scattered on my way back home, partly illegally hidden, even in my underpants.
Little by little the object was sprouting and materializing and on about 15 August it was practically finished. I was exhausted, bushed, but very happy, envisioning Sergio Pininfarina and his brother-in-law Renzo Carli’s faces on their return.
Actually I didn’t directly witness the emotional shock, but the result was a “KO”, with the object of my repressed desires left under a cover in a corner of the photographic studio.
I kept brooding over it for some months, still supervising the construction of that ‘mastodon’ Rolls-Royce which, by the way, was passing off without a hitch. It’s curious that the Rolls-Royce Camargue is the only car designed by an Italian, in the British automaker’s history.
One morning I heard some turmoil beyond the windows, when Martinengo came to me holding a drawing of a Ferrari chassis, and asked me to make the necessary changes in order to adapt the model to the new dimensions.
It was done! I rushed headlong into the details: I designed the interior, that was modular like the exterior, as the Motor Show was getting closer and time was running out.
The two big spheres positioned at the passengers’ sides, functioning as air-vents and switches support, constituted a very important detail and a major challenge.
How to build them?
The first two attempts resulted in an egg-shaped entity which raised a prevailing emotion of dismay.
Then a new idea came into my mind, fruit of my experience as “props master” at Michelotti’s studio.
I took my motorcycle and rode to the Bowling, where I bribed a keeper to give me two balls.
You can’t imagine what I had to do to carry them back to Pininfarina in two rides: on the first, I was a ‘pregnant biker’; on the second I was the ‘‘Hunchback of Notre Dame on Wheels’.
Until the last moment engineer Renzo Carli kept on replacing the back window – originally made of a black metal sheet with 16cm diameter holes – with a conventional glass panel.
Assembly process of the black prototype
The next day I used to go and put the original one back on.
The enthusiasm, with its highs and lows, went on until the dawn of the departure. On the truck, the finishing touches were given to the paintwork. The car arrived to Geneve unharmed.
At the end of the story, the back window was right, but the color was wrong (note: the Modulo debuted in an all-black, paint, despite it was conveived as a white car).
Anyway they compensated for this for all the susequent exhibitions.
The Modulo was the car that less involved the Company management in the 1967-1970 period, as it was considered too provoking, and everyone feared the press would say (bad) things about it.
After the first display the Modulo’s revolutionary design was digested, to the point that it became the main attraction at the next shows.
The Ferrari Modulo made the world tour several times and the payback, in terms of image, was huge.
But, personally speaking, the most rewarding thing was a telegram by Sergio Pininfarina, which I still preserve. He congratulated me and offered his apologies. Not bad, is it?
About Paolo Martin
Paolo Martin was born in Turin, Italy, on 7th May 1943. His first professional experience was at Studio Tecnico Michelotti (1960).
He then worked for some of the most important Turinese designers: Bertone (July 1967), Pininfarina (July 1968) and De Tomaso Group (January 1972), where he was Ghia‘s Style Center Director (1973-1976).
Since 1976 he’s been working as a freelance designer, running a Studio which offers design consultancy and styling models construction services.
His current customers include Fiat, Nissan, BMW, Subaru, Piaggio, Gilera, Ferretti Kraft, Cigarette, Magum Marine, Dassault Aviation and others.
(Image Courtesy: Paolo Martin)