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It’s no secret that Porsche’s creative search for more than two doors began long before the Panamera model: back in the early 1950s, the German company built a progressive Z-87 sedan for Studebaker, equipped with a liquid-cooled engine and independent suspension on all wheels. Later came military four-doors (for example, 597/3 Jagdwagen), the proto-Panamera Porsche 989, and a link that seems capable of connecting these two extremes – the budget C88 sedan. However, few people remember that in the twentieth century, the idea of ​​a four-door Porsche was not only from the Porsche company itself – the famous designer Nuccio Bertone also had a vision for this concept.

For the first time, the names Bertone and Porsche were heard in the same sentence in the 60s of the last century – then the Californian importer of German cars, John von Newman, ordered a spider from the Turin studio, built on the chassis of the original Porsche 911. As von Newman believed, this was exactly the kind of car needed a sunny and rapidly growing state on the Pacific coast, and the local popularity of the 356 roadsters only confirmed that he was right. Since coaching building was Bertone’s bread and butter in the 60s, the studio eagerly got down to business.

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The result of several months of work made its debut at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show: the Porsche 911 Roadster became the decoration of the exhibition, although it certainly didn’t deserve the title of show-stopper – it’s hard to be the “highlight of the program” when the Lamborghini Miura shines at the next stand. Nevertheless, John von Neumann was pleased with the work of the Italians and was seriously thinking about setting up small-scale production of the Roadster… but then the factory version of the 911 Targa intervened, which promised to be not only cheaper, but also easier to maintain. The 911 Roadster project had to be abandoned.

Porsche 911 Roadster (901) with Bertone body
Porsche Porsche 911 Roadster (901) with Bertone body
Porsche Porsche 911 Roadster (901) with Bertone body
Porsche

Over the next quarter of a century, the paths of Porsche and Bertone crossed only at the level of consultations, but the 1994 Geneva Motor Show brought their paths together again: the Karisma concept car debuted at the body shop site – an expressive four-seater sedan with gullwing doors, built on based on the Porsche 911. The initiator of the project was personally Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone – in Zuffenhausen, “Carisma” was neither a dream nor a dream.

Daniele Pigino

By the 1994 Geneva Motor Show, the four-door Porsche 989 prototype was a full five years old, so the Bertone studio could hardly be suspected of plagiarism. And yet, British Autocar journalists took the risk of asking Nuccio Bertone whether the concept car had anything to do with the Stuttgart 989.

Bertone responded: “In my entire professional career, I have never sought to create a concept car that would offend my direct competitors or major car manufacturers – after all, you never know who you will have to collaborate with tomorrow. I’m not here to teach anyone anything. And the fact that Porsche decided to freeze their four-door car project – well, that’s their business. I just wanted to work with a Porsche 911 one more time, because… because who wouldn’t want to work with a Porsche 911?”

Porsche 989
Porsche Porsche 989
Porsche Porsche 989
Porsche

And in April 1993, work started. As Bertone later said, he bought a used Porsche 911 Carrera 2 (964) with his own money and began to think about what to do with it. “I could ask Porsche for help and they would most likely provide me with a new 911, completely free of charge. But I wanted complete creative freedom, which would not be limited by a sense of duty or anything else. I wanted to create a completely new form. Something that would be a true Bertone creation, and not a reinterpretation of the appearance of the standard 911,” said the maestro.

Creative searches led the designer to the idea of ​​a sedan that would be similar to a modern GT coupe. And the location of the engine “in the wrong place” did not bother Bertone at all. “Rear- and mid-engine bases are always more difficult to work with, but the results are usually mind-blowing,” Bertone admitted. — We had good experience with the NSU Trapeze, which is equipped with a rotary engine from the NSU Ro80, and, of course, with the Lamborghini Marzal. So something big could also be created around Porsche’s flat-six.”

It was not without reason that Bertone drew parallels with the Marzal, an iconic concept car created in the mid-60s by a young and then not very well-known designer Marcello Gandini. And there is hardly any need to explain the reason for these parallels.

Lamborghini Marzal
Lamborghini Lamborghini Marzal
Lamborghini Lamborghini Marzal
Lamborghini Volkswagen Volkswagen

The naked eye can see that the concept of Marzal and Karisma are very similar: four seats, two huge “wings” of doors, a six-cylinder engine located behind the passenger compartment (in Marzal it is in-line, two-liter – in fact, it is half of the Miura engine). You could even say that Karisma is a more modern interpretation of the Marzal idea: if the 1967 Lamborghini was replete with fashionable edges, lines and planes at the time, the Bertone Karisma was decorated in the current biodesign. The ideological kinship of the prototypes is also confirmed by joint press photos taken shortly after the debut of the red concept car.

Bertone/Porsche

Despite the fact that the idea of ​​​​the future prototype seemed absolutely clear to Berton, almost tangible, the final appearance of Karisma was not born immediately: the final version was preceded by four models of different scales, which differed significantly from each other. But, despite the fragmentation of ideas, Bertone was very pleased with their compilation. “Would I change anything about Karisma’s appearance? Definitely not. Although we constantly refined the details and changed the silhouette, I am very pleased with the result: Karisma looks interesting and, I would say, “Bertonist”. It combines curves and planes in an unusual way, which has always been the hallmark of Bertone cars,” recalled the author of the concept.

Bertone/Porsche

Hardly anyone can appreciate Karisma’s “Bertoneness” better than Nuccio Bertone. But what even the average person can notice is that externally the car has nothing in common with the 911 Carrera 2 in the 964 body. Due to the wheelbase increasing by half a meter, the overall length of the Karisma is 65 centimeters longer than that of the 964, while the Bertone car is 21 centimeters wider than the Porsche and 3.5 centimeters taller. And the overall style of the silhouette does not in any way resonate with the classic shapes of the 911. Nowadays, Karisma’s appearance may be perceived as outdated and frivolous, but by the standards of 1994 it seemed very progressive. And small details make it a true masterpiece of automotive design.

Bertone/Porsche

Take the wheels, for example. Considering that the dimensions of the car have increased compared to the original, theoretically larger diameter wheels should have been suggested here… However, the layered silhouette of the Karisma works in such a way that there is no need for huge wheels – they are about the same size as those on a standard 911.

Bertone shared a secret: so that the car does not need large rollers, you need to properly organize the glazing. Thus, Karisma has a huge windshield that extends onto the roof, but is not very blocked, a large area of ​​side windows (not only due to the “winged” doors, but also due to the absence of central pillars), as well as thin rear pillars, which are more typical of a coupe, but not sedans. The image is balanced by the rear glass, which has a curve not only horizontally, but also vertically. By the way, the rear optics are also hidden behind it.

Bertone/Porsche

The unusual arrangement of the lights made it possible to achieve the utmost cleanliness of the stern, which, it seems, would have become frankly ordinary in a little more time. But its monotony is helped by the lines flowing from the sides, as well as the large titanium “grill” covering the opposed “six”. Nowadays, similar sculptures can be found under the hood of all modern 911s, but then such a design was something new.

Bertone/Porsche

Along the two “whalebones” carved into this grille are the inscriptions “Powered by Porsche” – almost the only reminder of the concept’s roots. But the famous coats of arms of the German brand are not found on Karisma at all – again, at the insistence of Bertone. “We didn’t need unnecessary associations, like the “evolution of 911” and the like. Porsche themselves coped with this task perfectly, judging by the 964,” said the designer.

Bertone/Porsche

Despite the fact that the 250-horsepower engine of the Carrera 2 remained unchanged, the original Porsche suspension had to be reworked: the sedan (and Bertone asked to call his creation a sedan) received custom-made stiffened springs, which partially compensated for the increased weight compared to the 911. In general, according to the original plan, Karisma was supposed to be lighter than the original Porsche – doors made of composite materials and aluminum body panels were provided as measures to reduce weight – but due to the desire to show the car at the Geneva Motor Show with ease had to make sacrifices: the necessary parts could not be produced on time.

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However, the few journalists who managed to test the Karisma on the road noted that the car drives incredibly “maturely” for a concept car. One of these lucky ones was Luca Cifferi from Autocar: he wrote that the Karisma was inferior in dynamic parameters to the 911, but due to the increased wheelbase and refined aerodynamics, it was much more stable than the Porsche at high speeds. Among the minuses, Chifferi noted the lack of power steering, which would be useful on such a long-wheelbase sedan, as well as minor flaws in the ergonomics of the cabin, such as the uncomfortable center tunnel armrest, as well as the gearshift lever, which is too close to the dashboard in the upper gears.

Bertone/Porsche

Otherwise, the interior of the Karisma did not raise any questions for the journalist: access to it is convenient (of course, with such and such doors), and the interior itself, decorated with wood and genuine Italian leather, was very, very cozy. Here, by the way, there is another “Easter egg” that reveals the roots of the concept – we are talking about five “saucers” of the dashboard. However, Porsches of those years could only dream of such space in the second row of seats…

Bertone/Porsche

Bertone Karisma was one of the last cars that Nuccio Bertone had a hand in – he died on February 26, 1997. However, it is thanks to such creations that one can understand that the ideas of the Italian designer were timeless. The interval between the two Bertone works, which were based on a Porsche car, was 28 years – and another 30 passed after the premiere of “Karisma”. And at the same time it is still interesting to look at.

Bertone/Porsche

It is characteristic that Bertone concept cars are still actively demonstrated at exhibitions and elegance competitions, and the same Karisma concept was brought to St. Petersburg in 2020, where everyone could enjoy its thoughtful design and charisma.

Bertone/Porsche Bertone/Porsche

What’s more, the Karisma was just one of six Bertone concept cars on display. And visitors could decide for themselves which one was more “burtonous”. Whatever that means. /m

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