If you’re a classic car enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of the iconic BMW E34. But have you ever wondered who was behind the design of this legendary vehicle? Meet Ercole Spada, the Italian genius who left his mark on automotive history with his work on the E34.
Ercole Spada, born on 26 July 1937 in Busto Arsizio, is a renowned Italian automotive designer. His career in the world of automotive design began to take shape in the 1960s, when he joined the Zagato design studio, where he eventually became the chief stylist. During his time at Zagato, Spada left an indelible mark on the automotive industry, creating designs that adorned some of the most notable sports cars from elite marques such as Aston Martin, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Fiat and Lancia.
But how did Ercole Spada become a leading figure in the world of automotive design? His journey began after earning his degree in industrial engineering at the Istituto Tecnico Feltrinelli in 1956. After completing his military service, he took his first steps into the world of automotive design by joining Zagato in February 1960. His first major creation was the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, a car that fused British elegance with Italian style and became an instant classic.
What distinguished Spada’s designs was his ability to combine the avant-garde with timelessness. His creations, considered by many to be masterpieces of automotive design, influenced subsequent generations of designers. A perfect example of Spada’s influence is the Mazda MX-3, a car that sought to capture the design magic of the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ.
Before leaving Zagato, Spada gave us two remarkable designs: the Alfa Romeo Junior Z, a modern and striking car for its time, and the striking Lancia Fulvia Sport, which still attracts admiring glances at classic car events.
But Ercole Spada’s career did not stop there. In 1970, after leaving Zagato, he joined Ford as chief designer at the Italian design house Ghia. This collaboration resulted in the intriguing Ford GT70, although sadly it never made it into production.
After a stint at Ford and a brief stint at Audi, Spada turned his career around when he joined BMW’s design centre in 1976, where he became the chief stylist. During his time at BMW, Spada left his indelible mark on the brand by creating two groundbreaking designs together with Claus Luthe: the 7 Series (1986-1994) and the iconic BMW E34 5 Series (1988-1996). Both vehicles featured classic yet progressive lines that contributed to the German company’s continued success.
The BMW E34, in particular, stood out for its elegance and sophistication. Spada and his team managed to combine aerodynamics with an imposing presence on the road, creating a car that is still cherished by car lovers today. The E34 became a benchmark of its time and remains an example of Spada’s talent as a designer.
The E34 generation marked the first time all-wheel drive was incorporated into the 5 Series, with the 525iX model, and also introduced the first V8 engine in the 5 Series. In addition, the E34 pioneered the addition of stability control (ASC), traction control (ASC+T), a 6-speed manual transmission and adjustable suspension (EDC) to the 5 Series range.
Throughout its life cycle, an astonishing variety of engines were used in the E34, with nine different engine families including inline four-cylinder, inline six-cylinder and V8 engines.
The BMW E34 M5, meanwhile, is powered by the S38 inline six-cylinder engine and was produced in both sedan and estate versions. This sports car is a jewel in the E34 line and has left an indelible mark on the history of the BMW 5 Series.
After his time at BMW in 1983, Ercole Spada returned to Italy to head the I.DE.A. Institute of Design, where he made his mark on a series of compact and luxury cars for Fiat. His designs included the innovative Tipo and Tempra siblings, the Lancia Dedra and Delta II, as well as the Kappa. He also worked on projects for Alfa Romeo and Daihatsu. During his time at I.DE.A Institute, Spada successfully competed for design contracts with Fiat, which put him in the spotlight alongside his compatriot and Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro.
In 1992, Spada decided to return to his roots and rejoined Zagato, bringing new creative energy to the design studio. One of his most notable achievements during this period was the Ferrari FZ93, based on the mechanics of the 512 TR, a car that masterfully combined power and style.
But Ercole Spada’s passion for automotive design did not stop there. In collaboration with his son, Paulo Spada, he created Spadaconcept, a new design house dedicated to automotive and industrial design. This team of talented designers continues to make its mark on the industry, keeping Ercole Spada’s legacy alive.
Ercole Spada is a true icon of Italian and global automotive design. His ability to combine innovation with classic elegance has left an indelible mark on automotive history. And when you think of the BMW E34, remember that behind that timeless design was the unrivalled vision and talent of Ercole Spada. His legacy will live on the roads and in our hearts for many generations to come.