For Triumph enthusiasts, words cannot properly describe the singular importance of Giovanni Michelotti to the success and survival of the company in the Sixties and Seventies. Constantly hindered by limited development funds and hampered by a confused management situation, Michelotti’s designs enabled Triumph to differentiate itself from its competitors by offering an entirely different sense of style from those displayed by its more traditional looking rivals from BMC.
From his fertile imagination and pen sprung the Italianate lines of the TR4 and Spitfire not to mention the Stag, Dolomite and 2000 (along with others). That unmistakable styling kept the perpetually underfunded company competitive in the marketplace despite the fact that the underpinnings of the sports car range were little changed from the original TR2 (in the TR series) and the Herald (for the Spitfire and GT6).
Notwithstanding his essential contributions, he is often overlooked when the great designers are discussed despite his often stunning work for Maserati, Ferrari and BMW. Michelotti was the essentially the Rodney Dangerfield of the great designers and even his friends at Standard-Triumph would fail to treat him with due respect.
Michelotti was set to debut the Triumph Stag at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show for which he was justifiably proud (in its day, as now, the Stag was a profoundly attractive car) to show off his creation. Weeks before the show, Triumph decided to steal his thunder and display the Stag on their own stand leaving the Italian designer in the lurch with nothing to present. Not one to sulk, he rallied friends, family and employees to design a prototype for what could become the new TR6.
He obtained a rolling TR5 chassis from the factory and designed the body in 15 days. Christened the Michelotti Triumph TR5 Ginevra it was a striking design that would have made an interesting what-if. Remove the side trim from the flanks and there is an awful lot of early Seventies Ferrari and Maserati there. Of course, we know in hindsight that Karmann would perform the facelift on Michelotti’s earlier design to make the TR6 but this one off would have been a very interesting move to affordable exotic design.
By Johnny Oversteer
Images courtesy of Triumph Italia Club of Italy