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Paolo Martin: My First Car, Fifty Years On

The first lockdown forced him to stay at home, in his villa in the hills of Turin. But Paolo Martin, the creator of some of the most innovative concept cars designed by Pininfarina in the Sixties and Seventies, isn’t the sort of person who sits back and watches. In order to give some meaning to that suspended time, he decided to reproduce the drawings of the cars he created in over sixty years of professional activity - drawings that were fading as the years passed. We’re talking of cars like the 1967 Dino Berlinetta Competizione, the 1968 Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster, the 1969 Ferrari Sigma Grand Prix (a pioneering Formula One car for its safety features), the 1970 Ferrari Modulo (considered to be the most beautiful concept car ever built), the 1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue and Lancia Beta Montecarlo, to name but a few of the most famous. A unique opportunity for looking back over the career of a man now “over 70”, who during his professional life worked for illustrious names of the calibre of Giovanni Michelotti, Nuccio Bertone, Sergio Pininfarina and Alejandro De Tomaso. He offered some of his thoughts exclusively to SpeedHolics, and we in turn offer them to you.

Photos courtesy of Paolo Martin Archive

Paolo Martin
Photo © Alessandro Barteletti

When I was sixteen, in 1959, it was easy to find a job. I started working at the Alfa Romeo dealer “Dario & Vico” in Turin. That was where I learned everything: from cleaning the toilets in the workshop to overhauling cylinder heads, brakes and gearboxes. I was their mascot; they would call me over to remove the 13 mm upper nut on the gearbox bell housing of the Giulietta Sprint because I had small hands and I was the only one who could do it.

Years later, I began to use pencil drawing as a way to express myself, but I never put down the spanners and bolts. It's in my blood!

I still use a drafting machine today, and I’m never far from a lathe. Then I did a five-year apprenticeship with Maestro Giovanni Michelotti, followed by a grey period with Bertone and then on to Pininfarina. I could draw in 1:1 scale with no problems, and after my experience with Michelotti I was very quick at drawing.

Now, thanks to the pandemic, I have had time to dust off my drawings, which on average are half a century old.

This was an important job, because the original drawings were faded and worn. Before I started, I wondered: “Who knows what will come out of this after all this time”. But in fact, it was as if all the drawings had been done just a few days earlier. I found it very easy to reproduce lines that were true to the originals. And the biggest surprise was that I found that I still had the same touch as before. I never realise how old I am unless I look at my ID card: my approach hasn’t changed at all. This means that if I had to design my cars all over again, they would be identical.

I started with the 1967 Dino Berlinetta Competizione, which was the first design I worked on at Pininfarina.

This is its story. For logistical reasons, it was born in my bedroom at home, top secret, nobody could ever know! I made the 1:10 scale drawing, the wooden model and then worked on the actual car. There were no second thoughts, no doubts, and its yellow colour soon dominated the whole workshop.

Sergio Pininfarina and Renzo Carli, Sergio's brother-in-law and the managing director of the company, were not very enthusiastic when they saw it. Carli said it was a bit “poor”, there was no chrome-plating and everything was too essential. So he had a spoiler added to the front and one on the back, which I thought was a bit whimsical. When I see the original drawings, I really can’t see the point of this “addition”. That wasn’t how it was meant to be, and like then, now I would take off those two spoilers and put back the front air intake that I had originally designed. In other words, when I drew the Dino Berlinetta Competizione again after more than fifty years, I could find no faults with it. If I had to do it again, I would perhaps use modern materials, different headlights, not the double round lights which were the only ones available at the time. But nothing else.

I did these drawings again out of nostalgia.

But when you get back into the spirit of the times, you realise that pretty much nothing has changed. Drawing is like writing, and when you write something down you remember it. Instinctively, my hand followed all those lines, just like the first time. With no hesitation.

So it’s hard for me today to give an opinion on my work. Also because for me there has always been only one result; what has been done is not up for discussion. For example, the 1968 prototype of the Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster, which came right after the Dino Berlinetta: as I wrote in my book “Martin’s Cars”, it has a style that clearly seems to contradict the sinuous lines that had been used up until then. Even I, the man who drew it, wondered what the reasons behind this metamorphosis were. Probably it was the desire for something new, a clear break with the habits of the past. But in fact I can't explain it. That’s just what I came up with.

Because the way I work is impulsive, without hesitation.

There’s no reason why. Everything I do is the result of a spontaneous action, I like to solve the problem. And this was also the case with the Sigma Grand Prix, a classic example of my way of working. I thought about how a safe single-seater should be, without ever having seen a Formula One race. The same thing happened with the Dino Berlinetta.

I got into the spirit of the car and was led by the shape of the chassis (from a Ferrari Dino 206 S).

This influenced the whole design; I certainly couldn’t design a sedan on a sports car chassis. This is how it worked: normally we received the chassis or just its drawing with all the sizes. That was all. There was no indication of which engine to use, the displacement or the performance. We had no idea about the technical details, and let’s admit it, we really didn’t care. And up until then I had not been struck by the aesthetics of the Ferrari. I have never followed any kind of archetype. I drew what I felt, following the shape of the chassis.

My interpretation was purely emotional, it came to me like that.

And once again, I really can’t say why. In the end, lots of people have said what this car expresses: happiness, joy. Happiness means perfect proportions, and for me proportions are everything. Michelotti said that cars must be beautiful when they’re dirty: if this happens, it means that they are in proportion.

The only style innovation in the Dino Berlinetta Competizione is the passenger compartment, which is circular, so that the windows can slide into the doors and up to the floor.

The innovation lay in the fact that when the windows were down the car was practically a convertible, and when they were up it was a coupé. The door lifted up with the glass. In practical terms, it was an innovation that had never been seen before. But then this solution was never used again. As I said, the only misjudgement I still see today are the spoilers that Carli added. I wouldn't have done that. I have no idea why he did.

Originally the car had an oval mouth that added much more movement to the whole thing, but Carli didn’t want that.

He also added two flimsy supporting struts. But that was in his nature, he always had to add his penny’s worth. We often argued because of this, although in a good-natured way. All in all, I was also pleased because at least I received some feedback about my work. Pininfarina was always passive, he never said anything. He never got excited. But nobody set any rules about the lines. Martinengo, the director of the Style Centre at that time, used to say: “Do what you want”, and that was the end of that. Those were different times.


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