The 10 Best Wedge Car Designs Of All Time

Mar 16, 2021

Category: Rides

To anyone who was a car-loving kid from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, your idea of what a supercar looked like probably could have been summed up with one word: angular. The wedge car design took hold in the ‘70s and dominated the ‘80s before petering out in the ‘90s, but it’s still left a lasting impression on the now-grown-up children of that era whose walls were adorned with posters of the Lamborghini Countach and DeLorean DMC-12. And the best wedge car designs of all time still look fresh today, even though their roots stretch back five decades. Their retro-futurist aesthetic forever harbors the promise of a better tomorrow, and even if we never reach the design-forward utopia to which the wedge era aspired, at least we still have some great cars to ogle.

One thing that must be said about the wedge car era is that many of the most-radical designs never made it out of the concept stage. Some brands, like Porsche with its Tapiro concept, proved too conservative to take such a stylistic risk. Others, like Aston Martin and its Bulldog, lacked the funds to bring their concept to production. But there were many wedge cars that did make it to production, thankfully, and those are the examples you’ll find on this list. We’ve narrowed it down to what we consider the ten production cars that best-embodied the wedge design ethos, so take a look below to discover the best wedge car designs of all time.

Photo: Ferrari Dino 308 GT4

What Is A Wedge?

Curves Are The Enemy

Truth be told, there’s no real definition of just what exactly a wedge car is. But to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be laying out some ground rules as to what qualifies as a wedge. First, the rear end of the car should be higher than the front. Asymmetry is part of the wedge aesthetic, otherwise, they’d be called disc cars. Secondly, the windshield should have a dramatic, high-degree rake, with the best examples showing almost no break between the top of the hood and the base of the glass. Lastly, and this is a biggie, the car should be almost entirely devoid of curves, instead featuring bodywork that is mostly straight lines and sharp angles. Essentially, a wedge car should look like a doorstop — a fast, beautiful doorstop.

Photo: Alfa Romeo Carabo by Ion Sebastian / Shutterstock

The History Of Wedge Design

A Vision Of The Future, From The Past

The Designers: Though a number of designers churned out some memorable wedges over the years, the style was pioneered and perfected by two men from Italy who were born just 19 days apart: Marcello Gandini and Giorgetto Giugiaro. Giugiaro got the earlier start in his career, designing cars for Fiat beginning in 1955 before moving on to stints at coachbuilders Bertone and Ghia. During these years, Giugiaro penned such curvy beauties as the Alfa Romeo GT1300, Iso Grifo, and Maserati Ghibli. But in 1967, Giugiaro formed his own design house, Italdesign, and the following year the company debuted its first concept in Giugiaro’s new “folded paper” style: the Bizzarrini Manta, a radical UFO-on-wheels that signaled the start of the wedge era alongside another 1968 release that you’ll soon discover. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gandini had a bit of a longer road to becoming a car designer, but he arrived at the wedge at the same time as Giugiaro. Gandini had initially tried to join Bertone as a designer but was allegedly rebuffed by Giugiaro, who was the company’s head designer at the time. After Giugiaro departed Bertone in 1965, the door opened for Gandini, who came on board the Italian coachbuilder. It didn’t take long for Gandini to make his mark either, with his Lamborghini Miura — considered by many to be the most beautiful car ever — debuting the next year. But just two years later in 1968, Gandini said farewell to the Miura’s sexy sloping lines and said hello to the sharp-angled wedge with his Alfa Romeo Carabo concept at the Paris Motor Show. That car was also the first to feature scissor doors, which combined with its extreme angularity, paved the way for Gandini’s Lamborghini Countach prototype in 1971, and the subsequent sports car takeover of the wedge.

The Concepts: While the Manta and Carabo were the first, they were far from the only significant concepts to debut in the wedge era. One of the most notable arrived in 1970 in the form of the Lancia Stratos HF Zero. Designed by Gandini, it remains one of the most perfect wedges to ever be conceived. Its roof rose just 33 inches, and it featured an innovative — if impractical — roof-hinged windshield rather than conventional doors. Arriving in 1971 was the Maserati Boomerang concept, Giugiaro’s attempt to turn the wedge design into a functioning supercar with a mid-mounted 4.7L V8. By the end of the ‘70s, practically every automaker was giving the wedge a whirl, even Aston Martin, who crafted one of the most angular cars ever with the one-off Bulldog prototype in 1979. Designed by William Towns and conceived to be the world’s fastest car, the twin-turbo V8-powered Bulldog likely would have realized its dream had it reached production — it reportedly hit 191mph on a test track.

The Legacy: The wedge design began to disappear in the ‘90s, but it has definitely not been forgotten. With the cars so indelibly tied to the era in which they were built, just seeing them can elicit strong nostalgic reactions in those who lay eyes on them. But the wedge could make a significant return yet. Some who grew up admiring the design are now in the position to make wedge cars themselves. You see that with Michael Stoschek and his New Stratos, Ken Okuyama and the one-off Kode 0 supercar, and the one with the potential to make the biggest impact: Elon Musk and the Tesla Cybertruck, which was inspired by the DMC DeLorean, Lotus Esprit, and aforementioned Aston Martin Bulldog. The wedge is dead, long live the wedge.

Photo: BMW

BMW M1

BMW’s first and only true supercar was a wedge that looks nothing like any BMW that came before or after it — and that’s part of what makes it so iconic. Designed by Giugiaro, the M1 was the result of homologation requirements for BMW to enter Group 5 racing (though it ended up racing in Group 4). The body was designed by Giugiaro, and early engineering was performed by Lamborghini before the Italian automaker had to exit the project. A group of former Lambo engineers ended up completing the work with BMW, resulting in a mid-engined wedge that housed a BMW 3.5 L straight-six in front of its rear wheels.

Designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro
Country of Origin: Germany
Years Produced: 1978-1981

Photo: Nlki / Shutterstock

De Tomaso Pantera

The flagship model for this Italian-Argentine brand had one of the longest production runs of any wedge. One of the first true supercars, the Pantera was as exotic as cars got in the ‘70s, with Italian craftsmanship, wild angular styling, and an initial mid-mounted 5.8L V8 engine. It began its life as a fairly simple wedge, but as the years went on, the Pantera’s look grew more radical with spoilers and ground effects, culminating in a 1990 redesign by Gandini dubbed the Pantera SI that made the car more of an angular beast than ever.

Designer: Tom Tjaarda
Country of Origin: Italy
Years Produced: 1971-1992

Photo: Grzegorz Czapski / Shutterstock

DeLorean DMC-12

Of all the cars to be produced in the 1980s, none remain more identified with the decade than the DeLorean. Meant to look like a car from the future, the Giugiaro-designed DeLorean featured gullwing doors and a sharply angled body covered in brushed stainless steel panels. With an underpowered V6 situated in a rear-engine layout, the DeLorean was widely considered a dud until its futuristic looks made it the natural fit for the time machine in the 1985 blockbuster Back to the Future. The movie cemented the DeLorean as a cultural icon, and the cars are unquestionably more popular today than they were when they were being produced.

Designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro
Country of Origin: USA
Years Produced: 1981-1983

Photo: Ferrari

Ferrari/Dino 308 GT4

One of the most-controversial Ferraris ever produced wasn’t even a Ferrari initially. The Dino 308 GT4 was meant to replace the very curvy Dino 246 GT in Ferrari’s junior brand lineup, but not everyone was thrilled with the stark design change. The car was the first and only Ferrari to be designed by Bertone rather than the Prancing Horse’s usual coachbuilder, Pininfarina, and the 308’s angular styling came from the pen of Gandini himself. The car was revolutionary in another way, too, as it was the first mid-engined V8 car to come out of Maranello. Although Ferrari would embrace more angular styles in the ‘70s and ‘80s with cars like the 308 GTB/GTS, 365 Berlinetta Boxer, and Testarossa, the 308 GT4 — which gained Ferrari badging in its third year — remains the purest wedge the company ever produced.

Designer: Mercello Gandini
Country of Origin: Italy
Years Produced: 1973-1980

Photo: Hweihe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Isdera Imperator 108i

In 1978, Mercedes-Benz debuted the CW311 concept. A radically-exotic design, the car featured a boxy wedge shape, a periscope rearview mirror, gullwing doors, and a windshield that seemed to stretch almost to the headlights. Naturally, the traditional German automaker had no intention of actually making a production model of the car, but its designer, Eberhard Schulz, did. So MB granted him permission to make the car a reality, and Schulz did so, forming his own company to do it. The resulting company Isdera produced the Imperator 108i, which was mostly unchanged from Schulz’s original concept — some models even had Mercedes badging. Unlike some wedges of the era, the Imperator actually had the performance to match its wild looks, with the top-line 6.0L AMG V8-powered iteration achieving a top speed of 176mph.

Designer: Eberhard Schulz
Country of Origin: Germany
Years Produced: 1984-1993

Photo: Countachinfo.de, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lamborghini Countach

If there is a poster child for the wedge era, this car is it — literally, as practically every boy in the ‘70s and ‘80s had a poster of one of these on his bedroom wall. First unveiled as a prototype in 1971, the Gandini-designed Countach miraculously became a production car in 1974, looking just as out-of-this-world as the concept with its trapezoidal styling and incredibly wide and low stance. The car ushered in a new age of exotic supercars with its extreme angular design, with people in disbelief that such a vehicle could actually exist. Even today, 50 years after it first appeared at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, the Countach looks like something from some amazing future society — and it always will.

Designer: Marcello Gandini
Country of Origin: Italy
Years Produced: 1974-1990

Photo: GUIDO BISSATTINI / Shutterstock

Lancia Stratos

Though they share a name, the Stratos’ design was not actually born from the Stratos Zero concept — but the former still wouldn’t have been possible without the latter. Seeing the Stratos Zero convinced Lancia to hire Gandini and Bertone to design the successor to their Fulvia rally car, and the result was the Stratos. The stubby wedge was a hit not only with the design set but also on the track, where it became one of the most successful and acclaimed rally cars of all time. But the fun wasn’t reserved just for racecar drivers. Homologation rules resulted in the production of 492 roadgoing Stratos, bringing this midengine exotic with the unmistakable wrapped and raked windshield to the public.

Designer: Marcello Gandini
Country of Origin: Italy
Years Produced: 1973-1978

Photo: Lotus

Lotus Esprit

The Countach may get all the headlines as the most famous car of the wedge era, but if you ask us, no car better represented wedge design values than the Esprit. This Lotus was all angles in its original Giugiaro-penned form, having been inspired by the designer’s own earlier Boomerang concept. With the only curves represented by its wheel arches, the blade-like Esprit looked like it could slice through the air like a knife. And after its mid-mounted I4 gained a turbocharger — and especially after it was fitted with a twin-turbo V8 — it could. The Esprit had the longest production of any wedge — including two separate stints as a James Bond car — and even though a redesign in 1993 by Julian Thomson smoothed out most of the original’s hard edges, it continued repping the wedge into the 21st century.

Designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro
Country of Origin: England
Years Produced: 1976-2004

Photo: FernandoV / Shutterstock

Maserati Khamsin

The Boomerang concept was far from the only wedge produced by Maserati in the 1970s. The often-overshadowed Italian sports car marque was full of angular autos in the decade, including the Giugiaro-designed Bora and Merak. But the Khamsin, which was created by Gandini, was the sharpest-edged and most wedge-like of them all. The V8 grand tourer had a front-mounted mid-engine layout — a rarity for a wedge — and it sported some interesting design quirks. Right-angled, asymmetrical vents adorned the hood, while the abrupt and sharply-angled Kammback rear-end was made of glass and featured floating tail lights. It was one of the weirder wedges of the era, and that’s saying something.

Designer: Marcello Gandini
Country of Origin: Italy
Years Produced: 1974-1982

Photo: Axion23, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vector W8

American automotive designer and businessman Jerry Wiegert had a vision: he wanted to create an American supercar that could go toe-to-toe with European exotics. His vision led him to create the Vector W2 concept car in 1978, a twin-turbo V8-powered wedge with styling that was inspired by Gandini’s Carabo concept but was more aggressive. Wiegert unsuccessfully shopped his car around auto shows and in the media for the next decade looking for funding, resulting in the W2 becoming viral before such a term existed. Finally, in 1987, Wiegert’s company Vector Motors produced a revised production version of the W2 called the W8. Thankfully, it retained the radical futuristic ‘70s styling of the W2 while also boasting some bonafide next-gen tech, including a body made of carbon fiber and kevlar and an aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis.

Designer: Jerry Wiegert
Country of Origin: USA
Years Produced: 1989-1993

25 Concept Cars We Wish Made It To Production

While we touched on some of the more notable concepts to come out of the wedge era, the fact remains that a number of these cars deserve their time in the spotlight as well. Lucky for you, there’s our guide to the 25 best concept cars that features such angular standouts as the beastly Aston Martin Bulldog, the out-of-this-world Ferrari 512S Modulo, and the legendary Lancia Stratos HF Zero.

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