The mid 1950’s saw a revolution in Formula 1. The position of the engine changed from the front to the middle of the car. As many new tendencies in motorsports, it was only a matter of time, when this would be implemented also for for street-cars. But it should take some time.

The 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo and the 70s Ferrari 512 S Module and Lancia Stratos Zero had one thing in common, they had been futuristic styled mid-engine prototypes, but never made it into production. From today’s point of view, they represented the beginning of Italy’s edge design; clear straight lines, which influenced coming car appearances, mostly for sedans.

What Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Lancia could not do, was done by another Italian manufacturer. Lamborghini presented 1971 the LP500 at the Geneva Motorshow and in opposite to the other prototypes, already three years later the first clients received a very similar car: The Lamborghini Countach hit the roads. Marcello Gandini, who already designed the Alfa Romeo Carabo and Lancia Stratos Zero received the opportunity to create finally a buyable super sports car and the result was an unique automobile, only comparable to earlier prototypes.

But why Lamborghini, a company what had only eleven years when the Countach went do the dealers? Maybe be just because of this!

Conformity pressure had been confirmed by different famous experiments, as for example by Asch or the Stanford Prison experiment. But different social levels perceive more or less pressure.

  • Leaders feel less pressure than lower levels inside the group. Often it is quite the opposite; they see the position as self-realization and like to show individualism. Fiat’s long term leader Gianni Agnelli was famous to wear his watch over the shirt cuff. He himself explained it once that he had not time to peek back his shirt cuff to check the time. Nevertheless it became a fashion statement, often copied, not only by Italian emerging managers.[1] A different example from the same company, the actual CEO Sergio Marchionne never wears suits, but always black sweater and pants. Another fashion statement, but the same reason. According to Marchionne, it saves him time in the morning, as he does not have to decide what to wear.[2]
  • Another group, who feels less conformity pressure, are the outsiders, which are no direct part of the main group. In the beginning of the 1970s, Ferruccio Lamborghini was such an outsider. After a discussion with Enzo Ferrari, he decided to build his own sport cars and for this he used a complete different strategy as his Italian competitors. For him, motor-sports was no topic, not for promotion, nor for technical progress. Instead he wanted to focus 100% on street cars. For this, even if the Lamborghini Countach was a breath-taking super sports car, it never officially got deployed for racing.

The conformity pressure normally works that the individual adapts the behavior of the main group, but the effect can also get reversed. Then the individual or the small group can influence the big group and can trigger a change of behavior, including attitudes or values. This applies for the situation that the individual or the small group is higher involved in the topic than the main group. Thanks to its small size, knowledge and involvement, they can work more efficient than the big group. With this they are able to convince more and more of the other group’s members, at least if they have logical arguments.

These findings we can apply for a company’s internal change management, as to be successful it requires to have

  • top management as sponsor,
  • a convincing and strong concept,
  • the tasks be driven by a small effective group and
  • this group independent from other departments.

The Countach became Lamborghini’s most successful model so far. With only minor changes it stayed for 26 years in production. Even if its design is based on late 60’s and early 70’s prototypes, especially in the 80’s the extraordinary design met the taste of the rich Wall Street-bankers and other Yuppies. In 1990 Lamborghini presented the Diablo. In opposite to its name, its design was already less unique and aggressive. At that time the company had already 27 years on the market and became an established player, less opportunity to escape conformity pressure.

Sources:

[1] Esquire (…): “ Gianni Agnelli’s Top 10 Best Style Moves”,

[2] Spears, John (2011): “Why Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne always wears black.”,

Henz, Patrick (2016): “Business philosophy according to Enzo Ferrari – from motorsports to business”

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