Sibona-Basano made several prototypes from designs by Pio Manzù like Autonova GT
or Autonova Fam from 1965. With assistance from NSU, Glas, Recaro, VDO, and Boge, this early minivan featured a variable interior configuration and a horizontally split rear hatch. Unusual features included an electronically controlled manual transmission, load-leveling suspension struts, and progressive steering, which reduced the steering wheel travel to 280 degrees lock-to-lock. Instead of a steering wheel, it used a yoke with integral switches.
It still employed rear-wheel drive. Four cylinder engine by Glas, 1281 cc, 60 hp (44 Kw). It was presented on the 1965 Frankfurt Show (IAA) in NSU stand along with the Autonova GT.
These two prototypes, Autonova GT (1964) and Autonova Fam (1965)
, represented two different types of automobiles, but they revealed a unified conception of the car as a product, including its forms. Both were relevant to contemporary needs: “cars for the present, not the past, designed for society and traffic today,” wrote Manzù and Conrad in the detailed manuals presenting them to the press. Together they interpreted the needs of users who wanted practical, functional cars, capable of coping with the changed conditions of urban and extra-urban traffic. At the same time, they appealed to people who appreciated a class of automobiles like the small sports car, normally regarded as elitist and unaffordable.
Autonova was the name chosen by Pio Manzù, Fritz B. Busch and Michael Conrad for their new design team. They had a detailed plan to supply the automobile industry with a complete design service, covering the research and development of new products from the initial scope of the projects down to production of working prototypes. Autonova began work in 1964 by collaborating with a group of German manufacturers. They included NSU-Werke, who financed the Autonova GT project, the Veith-Pirelli company, backers of the Autonova Fam project, Glas (for the production of the car’s mechanicals and its assembly), Recaro (for the seats), VDO (for the instruments on board) and BASF (which supplied the plastics). Within a year, the Carrozzeria Sibona & Basano in Turin had built two prototypes with distinctive features reflecting two quite different types of motor vehicle.
The Autonova Fam
The Autonova Fam contributed new ideas and offered a possible solution to the increasingly urgent problems of traffic. It was designed as a universal automobile, meeting the very different needs involved in transporting people and things, intended mainly for urban traffic but also practical in extra-urban driving.
Reflecting the guidelines of the Autonova project, the Fam (a contraction of familiare, i.e. a station wagon) was intended to be versatile, “logical in every detail”, as Pio Manzù and Michael Conrad were careful to note, a car for the community. It was compact outside (3.5 meters long and 1.6 wide) but offered plenty of room inside. This was achieved by making the most of the height, 1600 mm. The engine hood and trunk were absorbed into a single volume with a trapezoidal form.
The cabin was lined with large windows and accommodated up to five passengers.
It could be adapted to take different kinds of loads since all the seats were independent and the backs folded over. The raised driving position and height off the ground were considered significant factors making for comfort and safety on board.
The technical features of the Autonova Fam anticipated certain ideas that have only recently been adopted on a large scale by the automobile industry. They included automatic electro hydraulic transmission, height adjustable suspension and progressive action steering.
Of the Autonova’s numerous functional and technical-constructional features, the most striking were its rigorous formal synthesis, the simple, “modern” design of its different parts, from the lines that unite or segment the different sections of the body down to individual details like handles and switches and the most minute seams and welds.
Both the Autonova prototypes are still surprising for their originality and coherence, even after this lapse of time. Pio Manzù and Michael Conrad’s project can still be seen as an exemplary contribution to the evolution of the automobile and car design, not only because of the results they achieved but also in terms of method and the development of radically innovative contents.