Is there an example of form following function in automotive design that turned out quite as well as the double-bubble roof; in the sense that, if you didn’t know the reason for it, you’d have to believe it was the result of pure artistic licence? I seriously doubt it.
That the idea originated from the pen of Ugo Zagato provides some perspective. Zagato founded the coachbuilding business that bears his name in Milan in 1919 and swiftly established a reputation for using light, strong bodywork structures in aluminium, a continuation of the methods he’d acquired over four years at aircraft construction specialist Officine Aeronautiche Pomilio. But perhaps his most significant carry-over was the streamlined look and performance benefits conferred by sound aerodynamic design. By applying this to both road-going and racing aluminium-bodied Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Fiats, Lancias and Maseratis through the inter-war years, Zagato’s name became synonymous with high performance and racing success.
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It wasn’t until the early 1950s, though, that in the quest for even greater aerodynamic efficiency, Zagato created its most enduring and recognisable design cue: the double-bubble roof. It was a radical concept specifically aimed at extracting an advantage on the racetrack, while the form-follows-function logic was simplicity itself: reducing the roof height and frontal area of a car helps it slice through the air better. But the lower roofline inevitably compromises headroom and comfort for both drivers and passengers, especially if crash helmets are worn.
Zagato’s solution was to start with the lower roof and elegantly ease out the space directly above the occupants’ heads, thus creating the double-bubble, and the treatment had the added benefit of actually strengthening the thin aluminium roof panel. It worked and it looked great, featuring on a host of Zagato-bodied competition Fiats, various privately commissioned one-off Maseratis and ACs, the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 1900 C Super Sprint Zagato and Lancia Appia GTE Zagato, and even some long-wheelbase Ferrari 250 GTs.
Zagato’s long-standing association with Aston Martin has given the double-bubble free expression in more recent times, but perhaps the biggest compliment to Ugo’s brilliant idea comes via the Peugeot RCZ, which has made it a common but no less beautiful sight on our roads.
In This Article
- 1The Art of Speed | the great performance car design details
- 2Lexus LFA rev counter - Art of Speed
- 3E30 BMW M3 bodywork - Art of Speed
- 4Pagani Huayra's wing mirrors - Art of Speed
- 5Ferrari Testarossa side strakes - Art of Speed
- 6The Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo II's bodykit - Art of Speed
- 7The Lancia Delta Integrale Evo's rear spoiler - Art of Speed
- 8The Renaultsport Megane R26.R's polycarbonate windows - Art of Speed
- 9Ferrari F50 rear mesh - Art of Speed
- 10The McLaren P1's exhaust - Art of Speed
- 11The Subaru Impreza's bonnet scoop - Art of Speed
- 12The Aston Martin Vantage V600's twin supercharged V8 - Art of Speed
- 13The Honda NSX's Monel ignition key - Art of Speed
- 14Koenigsegg One:1 active wing - Art of Speed
- 15Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano flying buttresses - Art of Speed
- 16Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes - Art of Speed
- 17Aston Martin V12 Zagato double-bubble roof - Art of Speed - currently reading
- 18Lotus Esprit pop-up headlights - Art of Speed
- 19Lamborghini Miura louvred engine cover - Art of Speed
- 20Alfa Romeo SZ headlights - Art of Speed
- 21Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 grille stripe - Art of Speed
- 22Aston Martin One-77 carbonfibre chassis - Art of Speed