Robert Opron whose memorable designs included the Citroën Maserati and the Alfa Romeo SZ has died aged 89.
Born in Amiens, he was unable to complete his ambition to become an architect because of a bout of tuberculosis which confined him in a sanatorium for two years. By now in his twenties and too late to restart, he had to earn a living. He joined Nord-Aviation where he produced drawings for technical manuals, but his real interest had become cars and he joined the design department at Simca. When that closed down, he went to Arthur Martin and styled electrical goods until he saw an advertisement, – ‘major industrial group seeks experienced designer.’ It turned out to be Citroën, then the most creative manufacturer in the world. Working for the irascible and temperamental Flaminio Bertoni who had produced the 2CV and the DS, Opron, effectively his dauphin, took over when Bertoni died suddenly and the decade which followed was perhaps his most fertile period: first came the estate version of the Ami 6 which would outsell the saloon version. Then he turned to the DS abolishing its frogeye headlights and updating its frontal aspect with fared-double lights; the revolutionary GS followed as did the SM which had all the Opron hallmarks, glassed-in front lights and a vast wrap-around rear window. His CX of 1975 was less audacious, but clearly from the company which had produced the DS.
When Peugeot took over Citroën, Opron decided to move on. His reputation was well established and arch rival Renault was keen to have him, trebling his salary and providing the company car which Citroën never had. At a Renault whose styling desperately needed rejuvenation he did not hesitate to bring in outside talent, Giugaro for the R21 and R19, Gandini for the very successful R25 and Super Cinq as well as Terence Conran. Opron also created the Renault Fuego from the rather stodgy R18, though this car never had the dynamism to match its looks. Opron also oversaw the design of the striking Renault Magnum, undoubtedly the most stylish heavy truck ever built in Europe.
As other competitors had, he was keen to establish an advanced styling operation in the US, but the management decided otherwise and Opron left Renault for Fiat where his uncompromising styling of the Alfa Romeo SZ, both coupé and convertible, led to the nickname ‘il mostro’ – the monster. After retirement in 1992, he ran his own consultancy, working for Ligier and Piaggio amongst others until 2001. Subsequently the out-going, but modest Opron was a frequent and popular invitee of car clubs, readily making himself available to enthusiasts and journalists alike.
As a youngster he used to send race reports on Mallory Park meetings to the Derby Evening Telegraph which unaccountably always failed to print them. For thirty years he produced reports and analysis for other people before turning to motoring journalism and writing about matters rather closer to heart. An old 911, acquired when they were still affordable opened the world of Porsche and today he writes on historical subjects for several Porsche magazines in Europe and the US. He is also the UK correspondent for the classic car weekly, La Vie de l’Auto and keeps a foot in the modern world with a column in Trucking, a transport magzine, and as motoring correspondent for the Irish Police Journal.