Few would argue that, in the mid 1970s, Italian designers reigned supreme, by virtue of their stranglehold on innovative, practical styling. Manufacturers beat a path to their doors from America, Japan, Australia, Korea, and many major European producers – even Communist bloc car-makers sought out the Italian design studios.
By 1975 Giovanni Michelotti held top honours for the sheer volume of designs that actually reached production in quantity. An outstanding British design from his pen was the Triumph - as an example of an individual, medium-sized vehicle designed to endure as a style for many years.
For the unconverted, who considered the Lancia Beta to be nothing more than a shovel-nosed Toyota Corona look-alike, Michelotti's technical studio produced a challenge for those who appreciated the superb mechanicals which the original Beta design was based. Ostensibly a 'styling' exercise the Lancia Beta-based Mizar came about when Michelotti was asked to design a vehicle retaining the Beta basics and principles. "Design something new in the field of four-door vehicles," said the brief.
And that was no small task. By definition a Berlina is a car concept that does not allow very much freedom, or space, to permit changing style in a major fashion. Those who often don't know any better criticise many sedans, basing judgement on appearance alone - disregarding the ability, the usefulness; or even the very 'soul' of the designer's creation.
Additionally, production techniques even to this day often impose changes in style, which can detract from the original concept envisaged by the designer. Many derided the original Citroen “Goddess" and there were many other cars which appeared ahead of time yet were ultimately proved ideal and practical.
The images themselves tell the story – and we have been told that the Mizar was even more attractive in the metal – featuring huge safety glass areas blending into the wedge theme of the design. By strengthening the body shell with an integral roll bar (similar in concept to that then adopted by Volvo) Michelotti was able to use gull-wing doors.
Despite the solid construction the doors were feather-light to operate, being controlled by gas-filled struts. The strut assistance was necessitated because the design rules for an international market called for side barrier protection. The studio overcame this problem with massive high-tensile aluminium boxes under the door skin. But the car was more than a pretty face and gull-wing doors. Essentially it was a four-seater. The finished prototype used an eye catching purple/violet combination of carpet, and material trim for the contoured, comfortable seats. Safety experts were impressed with the smoothness of the padded dash which was the essence of simplicity, yet still incorporated complete instrumentation (Veglia) in the Italian fashion.
A full length centre console fulfils the functional purposes of housing the five speed gear change lever, in-car entertainment equipment, small item stowage plus ducting for a heating and air-conditioning system that was, it was claimed, in the Jaguar XJ12 class. The vertical access glove box, with the lid serving as a tray when closed was designed more to keep the smooth line of the padded dash rather than aid practicality. And, while Michelotti used double locks for the four doors to ensure safety and dust sealing the prototype had no provision for seat-belts. The team apparently discussed using integral belts based on the Range Rover – but they never made it. It was said that they were not ideal when situated next to the Lancia Beta seats – and the design team wanted to retain these as they were exceptionally comfortable – and if the Mizar had any hope of actually making it into production it needed to use as much as possible from the Lancia parts bin.
It may not have made it to production, but with the Mizar Michelotti had proved yet again that it was possible to achieve functional, aesthetically attractive design within the tight guidelines of mass-production techniques.