In the course of this work over the decades, I’ve interviewed hundreds, no, thousands of people and, obviously, some of those interviews were more memorable than others. For example, the day the welcoming committee forgot to meet Billie Jean King at the airport, so she was stuck having breakfast with a young sportswriter.
Or the day Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler said he liked the tie I was wearing, a gaudy thing with a red rose on it. Win the Rose Bowl, I told him, and it’s yours. A couple of years later, he did. And I sent him the tie.
Or the week I was in Italy doing research on a book on car designers and on back-to-back days interviewed Giorgetto Guigiaro and Leonardo Fioravanti. Guigiaro, of course, was the recognized genius of 20th Century automotive designers. But Fioravanti’s name was attached to very little of his work, much of which was done while he was employed by Pininfarina, the studio rather than the stylist enjoying the acclaim for his designs.
Those designs included a record eight Ferraris, and any car collector would be thrilled to have a garage that included his work: the Dino 206 GT, the P5, the 365 GTB4 “Daytona,” the P6, the 365 GT4 BB Berlinetta Boxer, the 365 GT4 2+2, the 308 GTB and GTS, and the 288 GTO, each car’s development beginning with sketches by Fioravanti’s right hand.
But those were just his Ferraris. While at Pininfarina he also did designs for Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Honda and Cadillac. And in the 25 years since launching Fioravanti Srl, where he works with his sons Matteo, an architect, and Luca, an attorney, Fioravanti has continued to create amazing vehicles as well as taking on other design projects for clients around the world.
When I first sat down across the desk from him, I wondered just who this man was as he raised his right hand toward the ceiling and pronounced with reverence, “With this hand, I have the chance to design eight Ferraris!”
I wondered if a skylight in the roof would open and a sunbeam shine through to illuminate his raised right hand.
But while his gesture and statement might seem egomaniacal, and who could blame him? Not only has he designed some of the world’s most amazing cars, he’s an innovator who holds more than 30 patents on vehicle features and production methods that have moved from his concept designs into production.
Over the course of the day in Italy, I came to know a man who was amazingly humble but devotedly passionate, a man who had studied engineering but worked as an artist, a man who had preserved the facade but had modernized the interior of a 14th Century building to house his offices and studio on a square in historic Moncalieri, just south of Torino.
While much of Fioravanti’s early work was credited to Pininfarina, or to Ferrari itself after Fioravanti was hired away by the sports car maker, people who follow the automotive industry certainly know who he is and what he has done and recently, as he approaches his 80th birthday, he was awarded the Octane (magazine) lifetime achievement award.
Formerly known as the International Historic Motor Awards, the Octane honors are a huge deal in the car world. In recent years, the lifetime achievement award has gone to the likes of the Bonneville Salt Flats (and the effort to preserve them), to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, to Stirling Moss and to Dan Gurney.
“It is easy to gush about the great man’s almost peerless body of work,” Octane’s Richard Heseltine wrote of Fioravanti’s award, “but Fioravanti himself wears his status as a design giant lightly. He has never stood in the spotlight… you sense that this is of no consequence to the man himself.”
“For me,” Heseltine quotes Fioravanti, “it’s all about ideas. You can teach design, and there are many good schools, but refining something that already exists doesn’t move anything along. You need to explore.”