The victim, named in Italian media as 42-year-old Matteo Vinci, had run in the most recent town council elections in Limbadi, a town of around 3,700 people.
Vinci's 73-year-old father was also in the car at the time and was seriously injured as a result of the blast. At first, police believed the incident was the result of a gas explosion, but later told reporters they believed the cause was an explosive device left in the Ford Fiesta's boot and possibly activated via radio.
The motive for the apparent attack is not yet clear, although it took place in an area known for mafia activity. The younger Vinci, a former medical salesperson, had also run in 2015 council elections as part of a list called 'Free and Democratic Limbadi'. He was not elected in that vote.
Local councils in Calabria are regularly disbanded over suspected links to organized crime groups, and in fact Limbadi was the first comune to receive such an order, in 1983 — before the official law against mafia infiltration in public authorities had come into force.
Several publications reported that both victims of Tuesday's apparent attack had a history of disputes with a local mafia-linked family. They had been arrested in 2014 after a fight with members of the Mancuso crime group, according to the Corriere della Calabria.
Police bomb squads were carrying out further checks on the vehicle on Tuesday in order to establish the type of device used, while the 73-year-old remained in hospital after sustaining severe burns.