BMW-powered Supervan – Forgotten Concepts: ItalDesign Columbus, a 300-horsepower yacht for American highways


The reason for the appearance of one of the most extraordinary vans in automotive history was not a motor show, as it usually happens, but a historical event. From the name of the model and date of appearance of the concept (1992), it is not difficult to guess about what event we are talking about – ItalDesign concept appeared exactly 500 years after Columbus discovered a new continent, which would later be called America. And, according to the idea of the creators, it reflects all those values that American motorists want to see in their car: power, dynamics and spaciousness.

The car was created by Maestro Giugiaro the old-fashioned way, without using computer calculations: first, a sketch of the car was born, and then a model was created, using steel and aluminum sheets knocked out by hand. Based on the layout, the engineers built the Columbus undercarriage, based on a tubular steel frame and carbon fiber body panels.

The concept van has a silhouette reminiscent of the Boeing-747 – the “pilot” cabin is located above the passenger cabin, which provides better visibility. However, visibility is not the only reason why the driver sits high and looks far away: in the underbelly, right under the pilot, the engine is hidden, which actually makes Columbus… a mid-engine van!

To be more exact, a medium-engined supervan: a five-liter V12 from BMW 8 series, mounted transversely, which develops 300 hp and 450 Nm drives Columbus. The Columbus, thanks to its clever aerodynamics, reached a top speed of 230 km/h.

Columbus borrowed a lot from BMW models, but the transmission is original and, importantly, all-wheel drive. It had a unique steering system – the steering wheel had no direct connection with the wheels (drive-by-wire technology was used) and also the rear axle was steerable and could turn wheels by an angle of up to 15 degrees at low speeds.

As it is supposed to the captain, the Columbus driver sits in the center. Around him are the controls to make the Columbus ride memorable for him and six other passengers. Two of those passengers sit directly behind him, on a small dais – seats for either best friends or the navigator and flight attendant.

Four more luxury seats are located downstairs (these could be removed to turn the Columbus into a luxury cargo van, or, conversely, moved forward and added two more seats, which made the car a nine-seater). In addition to the panoramic roof, the “lower deck” offers an entertainment system with a TV screen, video player, and eye-pleasing fiber-optic interior illumination.

Although Columbus was a marketable model, its mass production was out of the question. However, as well as in the case with other cars with ItalDesign nameplate on the body (up to the newest Zerouno, shown at Geneva Motor Show). It was only an exploratory concept – a fantasy on how a European minivan could look, designed for the American rhythm of life.

Interestingly, in the late ’90s General Motors began offering customers luxury “mobile offices” with airplane-type seats based on its own model Chevrolet Express – it is possible that the inspiration for such cars, which are still popular throughout the world, was Columbus.

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