Most concept cars are wonderful windows into the minds of designers and a look at what might be possible. You see them at auto shows, purchase posters of them to hang on your walls, and maybe you even buy the really watered-down production version of a concept car if a version of it ever goes into production. Sometimes, a concept car is so compelling someone decides to put it into production while changing as little as possible. One of those cars is the rare Italdesign Aztec. It’s a futuristic re-imagining of a barchetta, but in a vehicle you can own and drive down the road. One of these has come up for sale, though you might need to grab some friends for a group buy to afford it.
The Italdesign Aztec is one of those cars that you can find all over the internet. Depending on who you ask, around 18 or so of these were produced, but you wouldn’t know it based on how many times they pop up on websites. This example, chassis number ZA9T1P03A00D50020, is coming up for sale in the Bonhams ‘On The Grid’ Abu Dhabi auction and will roll across the block on November 25. I searched the chassis number and surprisingly, it’s not one of the other Italdesign Aztecs that have come up for sale in recent years. You’ll need somewhere between $180,000 and $220,000 to take this one home.
That’s a lot of money, but how many other cars can you buy that come with separated cockpits for driver and passenger, a telecom system, a rally computer, hydraulic jacks, an Audi 200 engine, and a wacky asymmetrical steering wheel all in one?
Celebrating 20 Years Of Famous Italdesign
This spaceship on wheels was the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro. Now, the name Giugiaro is sure to make some ears perk up and that’s because the man has made his mark all over automotive and motorcycle history. Born in 1938, Giugiaro’s father and grandfather were both painters, leading him toward a love for art. As the Automotive Hall of Fame writes, Giugiaro’s love for art initially didn’t include cars. However, when Giugiaro studied art and technical design in Turin, one of his professors noted that a man with talents like his would be paid well by the automotive industry.
Some of Giugiaro’s first car sketches were displayed at a student exhibition in 1955, where they caught the attention of Fiat. Fiat Technical Director Dante Giacosa took a liking to Giugiaro’s work and it wasn’t long before Giugiaro found himself at Fiat’s Special Vehicle Design Study Department. Giugiaro’s stint at Fiat lasted until 1959, when he moved to Gruppo Bertone. Later, he would find himself at Ghia before founding Studi Italiani Realizzazione Prototipi (SIRP) in 1968. SIRP would become Italdesign Giugiaro, the home of Giugiaro’s fantastic designs.
Italdesign has a page dedicated to its many designs. It’s worth the look, but I’ll give you a shortlist. Italdesign worked on the 1968 Bizzarini Manta, the 1969 Suzuki Carry, the BMW M1, the Lotus Esprit, the 1972 Maserati Merak, the 1973 Volkswagen Passat, the 1979 Lancia Delta, the DeLorean DMC-12, the 1983 Piaggio Ape, the Alfa Romeo 159, the Volkswagen W12, and so many more.
Italdesign wasn’t just limiting itself to cars, either. In 1980, Italdesign worked on the Nikon F3 camera, and by 1982, the company had its hands in sewing machines, watches, helmets, and binoculars. Italdesign even imagined a ship that was supposed to be a floating city! Italdesign’s history also includes work with Makita tools, Alstom trains, and home appliances.
In 1988, it was time for Italdesign to celebrate 20 years of innovative design. To mark this occasion, the firm showcased three show cars penned by Giugiaro. Those cars were the Asgard, Aspid, and Aztec. All of them looked like vehicles you’d expect in a film set 500 years in the future, not production vehicles for the year 1988. Of the three vehicles, only the Aztec was functional, and it stole the show at the 1989 Turin Motor Show.
Here’s what Italdesign has to say about the Aztec:
The original, innovative concept heralded the approach that was to typify the 1990s: rediscovery of a classic, recreational collector’s item, the return of open-top sports cars, roadsters, standard-production coupés–in other words, the satisfaction of owning and showing off a product that was all about image.
The Aztec embodies the desire for a sculpted rather than a designed shape: its smooth metal is punctuated by graphic motifs, and a reworked mechanical appearance with the engine exposed and streamlined rear wheels. In a departure from conventional open-topped sports cars, the passenger compartment is divided into two symmetrical portions: the passenger also has a steering wheel that is actually a control console and not used for steering.
Control panels located on both side panels are accessible by entering appropriate codes. These provide information on engine oil level, coolant, brake fluid and a removable temperature gauge.
A hydraulic jack and a 12 V power point are also located on the right side. A removable electric screwdriver, an electric torch, a compressor for inflating tires and a fire extinguisher are housed on the left hand side. Access to the car is by opening the doors as usual and lifting parts of the cockpit upward.
What gets me is how this is late 1980s tech, but a car with these bits today would be great! Every car should come with its own air compressor, tool kit, and fire extinguisher.
The Production Italdesign Aztec
Like many out-of-this-world show cars, the Aztec wasn’t a preview to a production vehicle. However, Japanese businessman Mario Myakawa clearly wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Myakawa loved the Aztec so much that he bought the rights to it and hired Audi tuner Motoren-Technik-Mayer to turn it into a road-legal production car. The Aztec would be sold through Myakawa’s firm, Compact, and the company apparently expected to sell 50 of them. Compact was rumored to want DM 500,000 (DM 1,029,589 today, or $576,098) for the Aztec, which may explain why Compact reportedly sold fewer than half the examples it wanted to.
The vehicle’s bodywork featured the aforementioned double-bubble canopies for driver and passenger. Its body was constructed out of aluminum, carbon fiber, and Kevlar. Entry is achieved by lifting the desired canopy up and opening the vehicle’s doors. You get to plop down in a leather, power-adjustable bucket surrounded by removable glass. If you wanted to talk with your passenger, you had to do so through the telecom system.
In addition to the wacky interior, the vehicle has a set of buttons inside to control the vehicle’s automatic climate control system and a modern stereo headunit sits where the factory radio would have. All of that, including the asymmetrical steering wheel, is cool enough, but what you’ll find on the side of the car is even cooler.
Attached to the side of the car is a three-digit keypad. Enter one of the codes printed on a side panel to gain access to one of the vehicle’s many systems. The car can give you access to its hydraulic jacking system, a tool kit, a fire extinguisher, an air compressor, a housing for additional lights, an oil drain port, vital fluids, and even a 12V accessory socket.
The innovation doesn’t really continue under the body as the Aztec robs some parts bins and mounts everything to a steel ladder frame. Power reaches 16-inch Canonica wheels from a 2.2-liter turbocharged five borrowed from an Audi 200. That delivers power through a manual transaxle to an all-wheel-drive system featuring differentials from the Lancia Delta. These were tuned by MTM and were available with a claimed 250 HP and 265 lb-ft of torque.
As noted before, Compact reportedly made no more than 25 of Aztecs, with most estimates claiming that about 18 were made. Whatever the number, this car is seriously rare. The Aztec also hasn’t lost any steam since 1988, with collectors demanding huge money for them. One example failed to sell on Bring a Trailer for $165,000 in 2020. This example blows right past that with high-end estimates above $200,000. Still, even at $220,000, this 1988 Italdesign Aztec barchetta is a fraction of its original price.
[Editor’s Note: Hey! Those are Alfa Romeo 164 taillights! With a custom heckblende, of course. – JT]
This example also appears to be in exceptional shape, bearing the equivalent of just 4,784 miles on its odometer. It also has the signature of Giugiaro on its flank and the original Halda rally computer is present, too. If you happen to have six figures burning a hole in your pocket, or at least enough friends to pool together $200,000, you’ll want to ignore your family on Thanksgiving and put in some bids at the Bonhams ‘On The Grid’ Abu Dhabi auction on the 25th. You can feel confident that I won’t be a bidder, but I will enjoy looking at it!
[Editor’s Note: How can we write about this thing and not mention the movie it starred in, Roger Corman’s weird-ass horror movie Prometheus Unbound?
You can see the car in the movie here, driven by a future John Hurt (recovered from his chest-bursting incident, and talking to him, too:
I also just noticed the movie car has different taillights! I think because it was the prototype. – JT]
(Images: Bonhams, unless otherwise noted.)
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