Most car lovers associate the Aztec name with the Pontiac of the early ‘00s, which in terms of looks couldn’t have beaten anything expect maybe the Fiat Multipla. But back in the ‘80s, when futurism was experiencing its golden age in automotive design, there was one Aztec that you would want to have a poster of on your wall – the Aztec by Italdesign!
Design work for the Italdesign Aztec began during the mid ‘80s. The creator of eccentric sports cars like the Maserati Bora decided to make something of its own that was in line with the spirit of the time. Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Calvin Klein of automotive design, put his imagination to work, and it all materialised at the 1988 Turin Motor Show. This was the ultra-futurist Italdesign Aztec that made everyone’s jaw drop. It’s not that it was just unlike any other car around. It was simply... different. Incidentally, it was at the same show that Italdesign introduced the coupé version of the Aztec – the Aspid.
The only other links that the Aztec had with the rest of the cars in this world was that it had four wheel and a mid-mounted internal combustion engine. And the latter was sourced from Audi, which was known for its speed on rally courses at the time – a 5-cylinder, 200-PS, 2.2-litre engine thanks to which this spacecraft from Italy could reach a speed of 240 km/h, which is nothing to be ashamed of even these days. The chassis was also special: the Aztec was powered by the same four-wheel-drive system that was used for another rally beast – the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. Interesting how this Lancia/Audi cocktail would handle on the road.
But even more interesting than the Aztec’s handling was its design. On the one hand, it was something completely futuristic, as if it had been brought back by Marty McFly from 2015, which was then 30 years in the future. On the other hand, that futurism was no less ‘80s than Miami Vice. Broken lines, narrow rear lights, fighter plane-like design. And the part that was most reminiscent of an aircraft was... the cabin. The driver and passenger sat next to each other in separated glass compartments, and since this made verbal communication particularly difficult, the pilots of this road-going fighter plane used microphones and speakers to talk.
The car’s sense of sportiness was enhanced even more by the structural reinforcements that were installed in case the Aztec rolled. There was even a steering wheel for the passenger. Well, it didn’t actually turn the wheels, so it wasn’t exactly a steering wheel, but more of a control console to make you feel like a pilot, and the screen behind it gave information about various vehicle parameters. Incidentally, it was somewhat reminiscent of another one of Giurgiaro’s creations – the Maserati Boomerang’s interior, just freshened up with the trends of the late ‘80s. However, the Aztec had a specific feature – various information was entered into the car’s computer by both the driver and the passenger with unique function codes. They could be entered either from inside the cabin and from outside of the car. Whether that’s functional is a big question, but the Italians aren’t Germans and design cars with genuine heart rather than cold calculation. By the way, this would be a pretty useful feature these days, when no car can get by without screens. Transferring functions like GPS and climate control to the passenger would allow the driver to focus on driving and would create less risk on the road.
From the outside, the car was also unlike anything else that was being produced at the time. Its lines were smoother than a James Bond pick-up line – your eyes slide up the body, then you become speechless when you see those two glass compartments, and then they veer back to the wheel covers, then shoot straight to the tail lights and pause at the rear spoiler... which they hang over for a moment before moving back to the front of the car. This time, Italdesign left Giorgetto to his imagination, and he managed to create one of his best car designs ever. And this is the same person who created design icons like the Fiat Uno and the first generation VW Golf! Italdesign itself called the Aztec’s look “sculpted”. As if it were Michelangelo’s David with laser glasses. Even though today it looks like a vision of the future that never arrived, the Aztec was ultra-futuristic when it came out.
And this futuristic design was of interest to the Japanese – a nation that was half a century ahead – and they decided to produce a few dozen Aztecs. The Aztec was therefore also unique for the fact that it was a concept car with more than one unit produced. Unfortunately, the exact number is unknown. It is believed that between 18 and 50 units of this spacecraft were produced. A few years ago, one was even up for sale on eBay. The owner claimed that it was the very first Aztec and was asking 2 million for it. Although if you had to choose between an Aztec and the latest Bugatti Chiron – you would probably go with the latter. After all, what kind of rap star would ever drive an Italdesign Aztec...