There have been many speed record attempts in a Prancing Horse at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but none were as striking as the Ferrari Testa D’Oro By Colani/Lotec.
A collaboration between a German designer and tuner resulted in one of the most unique Ferraris.
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Before taking a closer look at the record car, it’s good to know where its design came from. Luigi Colani, a German industrial designer, was fascinated by round, organic forms, which he called “biodynamic”. In a design era where everything became more angular, Colani’s starting point was very much based on his natural surroundings.
“The earth is round, all the heavenly bodies are round; they all move on round or elliptical orbits. This same image of circular globe-shaped mini worlds orbiting around each other follows us right down to the micro-cosmos.
We are even aroused by round forms in species propagation related eroticism. Why should I join the straying mass who want to make everything angular? I am going to pursue Galileo Galilei's philosophy: my world is also round.”
- Luigi Colani
Born in 1928, Colani studied sculpture and painting at the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1946, and pursued a degree in Aerodynamics in 1948. By 1953, he was living in California and working as Head of New Materials at McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturer. One of the first cars he designed was a Fiat, for which he received the Golden Rose International Prize for Creation and Design. Colani would go on to design for many more well-known manufacturers, such as BMW, Asko, Eifelland F1, Rosenthal, Canon, Mazda and Ferrari…
Luigi Colani’s Citroën 2CV
Apart from his fascination with fuel economy – which he showed on many occasions, including a 1981 World Record where his four-seat Colani 2CV (based on the Citroën 2CV) consumed just 1.7 litres of fuel in 100 km – Colani was also intrigued by speed.
This would become more apparent in 1972, when he partnered with Eifelland to build a Formula 1 car. Based on a March 721, the car was redesigned with rounded aero features. It barely survived one season, though, suffering from problems such as overheating, downforce and reliability. The team had to replace many of Colani’s design details with parts from the March 721.
Luigi Colani’s Eifelland Type 21
Colani created a concept for a Mazda Le Mans racer in 1983 and set a land speed record with one of his motorcycles in Italy. He even designed and built a Bonneville racer based on a Chevrolet Corvette in 1980.
Luigi Colani’s 1980 Corvette Bonneville
In the late 1980s, he wanted to base a speed record-holder on either a Lamborghini, Porsche or Ferrari. He decided to go with the Prancing Horse’s Testarossa, but its boxy design had to make way for Colani’s rounded, flowing lines.
One of Lotec’s project, the Lotec C1000: a Ferrari Testarossa with a 1000 hp Mercedes-V8
The aerodynamics were just one piece of the puzzle, as the flat-12 engine was only producing 380 horsepower, so Colani teamed up with Lotec, a German company known for building turbocharged versions of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari.
The Testarossa’s engine was linked to two turbochargers, proving 1.25 bar (18 psi) of boost. Power output was now set at 750 hp at 6400 rpm and torque went from 451 Nm (333 lb-ft.) to 900 Nm (664 lb-ft.) at 5000 rpm. All of that power was transferred to the rear wheels using a 5-speed manual transmission.
The upgraded engine required thermal insulation in the engine compartment, so the team’s solution was to protect the engine bay with a gold trim, similar to the McLaren F1. This led to a name change from Testarossa (red head) to Testa d’Oro (golden head).
Despite using lightweight body panels, the car was heavier than a standard Testarossa, weighing in at 1650 kg (3638 lb).
Colani and his team brought the Testa d’Oro, along with three other cars, to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1991 to compete in Bonneville Speed Week. Mike Strasburg, a known figure in the scene, was given the honour of driving the Testa d’Oro, which boasted 235 tired up front and 335 at the rear – similar to the iconic Ferrari F40. Although the car had massive tires, Strasburg still had to fight the loose surface of the salt flats. He eventually reached a top speed of 340 kph (211 mph), earning Colani’s team a class win.
The team was in good spirit and attended the event again in 1992. Although the car was largely unchanged, it still reached a higher speed of 351 kph (218 mph) with Mike Strasburg behind the wheel.
However, Colani was still not completely satisfied, which became more apparent the following year when the car underwent a massive transformation. In true fashion, the Testa d’Oro received the full Colani treatment to the point where it was no longer recognizable. The bodywork was even more rounded, and the front was more aerodynamic than ever.
Unfortunately, this version of the car did not participate in Bonneville Speed Week for unknown reasons. But in terms of design, it shocked the world.
This ’93 Testa d’Oro was a design statement, with its giant windscreen, front splitter, blue interior (a link to 1960s Ferrari racing cars), engine showcase and large silhouette made it a big hit at every design exhibit it was showcased at.
It was eventually sold in 2015 for a whopping USD $1.7 million, and Luigi Colani passed away in September 2019, aged 91, leaving behind an enormous design legacy.
Written by Max Lammers.