A Re-Think on the Origins of Wedge Car Design
by Guy Dirkin and Geoffrey Hacker
In the late 1960s and 1970s a design movement took place, with car styling emphasizing predominant angular silhouettes, with whole body triangulation front to rear. These cars have been collectively referred to as “wedge cars”. Concept cars from the Italian design houses of Bertone, Pininfarina and Ital framed wedge-shaped exotics in the mind’s eye of the public at large. Interest in wedge car design resurfaced in 2019 with the unveiling of the Tesla Cybertruck.
Strother MacMinn predicted the rise of wedge car design in the February 1957 edition of Road & Track entitled “Driving the Wedge or, after 1960, What?” MacMinn was the head of Art Center College of Design’s transportation department for many years. Chuck Jordan, VP of Design for GM from 1986-1982, said, “… no one influenced car design more than he did.”
MacMinn (simply Mac, to his students, friends and colleagues) noted that an assumed value has been placed on wedge shapes and wedge themes since the origin of the motor car. He used the 1899 Vallee Racing Slipper as an early example of a wedge-shaped nose assisting the car to cut through the air more efficiently. MacMinn explains that wedge elements may be horizontal and vertical; in part, or approaching the whole cars overall shape. Seagraves’s Sunbeam, first to reach 200 mph on land, was a “blunt-nose horizontal wedge envelope body.”
In covering the history of wedge car design, automotive journalists and historians tend to focus on the concept cars of the Italian design houses. Frequently, the 1967 Lamborghini Marzal is often cited as the first wedge car. Certainly, Marcelo Gandini’s 1968 Alpha Romeo Carabo emphasized full wedge car treatment. MacMinn’s 1957 prediction of the uptake of wedge design was only partially true. Exotics and concept cars of the late 1960’s did embrace the wedge, thanks in part to mid-engine placement behind the driver. However, the larger manufacturers did not embrace wedge design in many production cars. The Fiat X1/9, Triumph TR7 and the Fiero being notable exceptions, for a niche buyer.
In March 2022, the 1966 Cannara was displayed at The Amelia, Concours d’Elegance in Florida. Art Center student, Ray Cannara designed and built a front mid-engined car with pure wedge elements. Ray Cannara was mentored by Strother MacMinn, and went on to a design career with Chrysler. Guy Dirkin and Geoff Hacker, following an extensive review of wedge car design history propose that the 1966 Cannara is the first car with requisite pure wedge car design elements. At the very least, the Cannara is a legitimate historical design anchor for wedge cars. Details of their review and proposed perspective can be found in their e-book The Origins of Wedge Car Design.
In reviewing Dirkin and Hackers work, designer and Pebble Beach judge, Raffi Minasian commented: “What is more and more apparent is that this design is clearly one of the earliest of its type, but more specifically it is the first car to completely embrace all aspects of wedge design, rather than simply using vector-based or linear design elements. This design is the full, and complete embracement of the wedge theme, both as a concept direction and as a complete car.”
At first glance, the 1966 Cannara displays the requisite wedge silhouette from most viewing angles. Ray Cannara, in his late teens, added complexity to the design which enhances the over look of his car. Raffi Minasian eloquently stated: “Although the overall effect of the Cannara is driven by linear themes, the details are very thoughtfully managed to pull the eye into subtle curved elements. The gentle undulations of the belt line as it arches over the wheel openings soften the wheels and help manage the bobbed tail. The rear corners of the car are not cut short or visually abrupt—they terminate in harmony with the wheels and curved undercut behind the rear tires. Linear wedge design can be a bit shocking because automotive architecture is generally fluid and curvaceous. We tend to see this more in fighter jet design—angular overall but with softened details. It takes a careful eye to work softness into an angular form so that the sharp theme is still dominant but does not agitate the eye.”
The 1966 Cannara is a fascinating addition to wedge car history and is a design that can be compared with the best from Italy.
Moore on the Cannara:
Guy Dirkin, the owner of the Cannara and partner with many of the Undiscovered Classics projects that I do, created a story for Deans Garage with additional photos to help support the story. In addition, Guy and I collaborated on creating a book on the origins of wedge car design. The book is free to download.