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Where do the lines of such a beautiful car as the 296 GTB come from? We met the design team, who revealed the challenges they faced in producing the car, beginning with just a pencil…
Words: Giosue Boetto Cohen
Photography: Billy Galliano

The birth of a new Ferrari, today as in the past, represents the summit of a very complex creative process which involves all sorts of skills and presents infinite challenges to those designers and engineers lucky enough to be a part of it.

The talent of those who have preceded them has often been sublime. So, do Maranello’s designers sit in front of their clean sheets with a little of that anxiety that afflicts the third millennium artist? It is one of the questions we tried to answer by meeting the key creatives behind the Ferrari 296 GTB. With them we attempted to uncover the factors that determine a new model’s shape - in particular that of this berlinetta.

Lead designer of the car's exterior, Stefano De Simone, says that around 80 percent of the finished car was visible in the original sketches

We should begin by saying that the two leaders of the project who, under the direction of Flavio Manzoni, supervised the genesis of the 296 GTB, both grew up drawing free-hand. Something that many may find surprising, and perhaps reassuring.

On the cusp of the so-called ‘Generation X’ and the ‘Millennials’, Carlo Palazzani and Angelo Nivola, are head of sports cars exterior and interior design, respectively. 

“The shape of the 296 GTB was brought to light in little more than one year,” explains Palazzani (who was assisted by Stefano De Simone, Jason Furtado and Adrian Griffiths). “There were many sketches, rapidly churned through artificial intelligence and then rendered into style models. Then the project entered a sort of incubator, where every component – aesthetic and technological – reached maturity. Altogether it took more than three years.” A timeframe that is nearly half what was required at the turn of the millennium, but still aeons longer than the lightning speed – barely three months after the first sketches – with which the masters of the 1960s claim to have brought prototypes to the road. 

“The theme of the 296 GTB was extremely clear and apparently simple,” explains Angelo Nivola, head of sports car interior design, aided by Nicola Bevilacqua. “Fun to drive was the driving concept: a reduction in the wheelbase and the determination to keep volumes compact were the first steps, together with a particular attention to interior contents. Because – it’s worth recalling – driving pleasure, the most physical and perceived aspect of ‘fun’, is transmitted through the steering wheel.”

Under the direction of Flavio Manzoni, the theme of the 296 GTB was clear to the designers: make a car that was as fun to drive as possible

The briefing – for both interior and exterior – was passed to the respective creative teams who worked in complete autonomy, benefitting from input from their respective directors and the design chief.

“In the case of the 296 GTB”, says Stefano De Simone, who is credited with the car’s exterior, “I’d say that we ‘saved’ about 80% of the original sketch. We are all satisfied and the work method, once again, worked perfectly.”

De Simone emphasises: “There are many details not to be missed: the front, which displays great simplicity and harmony, the air intake, which gives strength to the muscular rear, the enormous care we took in determining how the surfaces play with light and how they reward the lines with the right reflections.” 

Returning to how the interior was born, Nivola explains that functionality and driving pleasure generated beauty. Along with Roberto Mastruzzo, Head of Components Style Design, “We started from very simple requirements, with a ‘wraparound’ display that sits directly in front of the driver. Everything that is needed is in the right place; the eyes, the driver’s concentration – nothing gets lost in superfluous or distant elements.”

The design and development of the 296 GTB was incredibly fast compared to usual timelines, taking around a year from initial sketches to testing and three years in total

Carlo Palazzani picks up the theme: “I’d conclude by celebrating the rear end design. I consider the rear three- quarter view of the 296 GTB one of the most successful results of the past 50 years of Ferrari design history. The aesthetic and technical development went hand in hand, starting from the central exhaust, which flows up in a ‘Y’ shape to support the black-finished bridge between the lights.”

He continues: “It isn’t a style exercise, but the thin profile resulting from a system that creates 300-400 kilogrammes of load on the rear axle. And then the heat discharge grilles; they too are framed by a design that I find resolved that element to absolute perfection.”