At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Pietro Frua - car designer

Built business from a bombed-out factory


Pietro Frua became one of Italy's leading  car designers in the 1960s
Pietro Frua became one of Italy's leading
car designers in the 1960s
The car designer and coachbuilder Pietro Frua, who built some of Italy’s most beautiful cars without achieving the fame of the likes of Giovanni Bertone or Battista “Pinin” Farina, was born on this day in 1913 in Turin.

He is particularly remembered for his work with Maserati, for whom he designed the A6G and the Mistral among other models.

The son of a Fiat employee, Carlo Frua, Pietro was an apprentice draftsman with Fiat and from the age of 17 worked alongside Battista Farina for his brother, Giovanni Farina, who had a coachbuilding business in Turin. He became director of styling for Stabilimenti Farina at the age of just 22.

After being obliged to diversify during the war, when he designed electric ovens and children’s model cars among other things, Frua bought a bombed-out factory building in 1944, restored it to serviceable order and hired 15 workers to help him launch his own business.

The first car he designed in his own studio was the soft-top Fiat 1100C sports car in 1946.  Subsequent work for Peugeot and Renault came his way and in 1955 he was approached by Maserati for the first time, to work on the design of the two-litre A6G coupe.

Pietro Frua's Mistral, the sports car that helped propel Maserati into the forefront of the luxury market
Pietro Frua's Mistral, the sports car that helped propel
Maserati into the forefront of the luxury market
In 1957, he sold his company to Carrozzeria Ghia, another Turin coachbuilder, whose name would become synonymous with sporty excellence across the motor industry. The Ghia director Luigi Segre made Frua head of design. His big success there was the Renault Floride, of which more than 117,000 were sold.

They fell out, however, when Segre tried to take credit for the model’s success, leading Frua to open his own studio again.  An influence on Pelle Petterson’s design for the iconic Volvo P1800, he also designed several cars for Ghia-Aigle, the former Swiss subsidiary of Ghia, and for Italsuisse.

By the 1960s, Frua was one of Italy’s leading car designers in Italy, with a reputation for elegant, tasteful lines, a perfectionist who would often deliver his cars to motor shows around Europe himself, having treated the journey as a test drive.

In 1963, Frua designed a range of cars for Glas, Germany’s smallest car-maker, which included the Glas GT CoupĂ© and Cabriolet as well as the V8-engined 2600, which was nicknames the "Glaserati" for its likeness with Frua's Maserati-designs.

The car became the BMW GT, after BMW had rescued Glas from financial difficulties with a 1966 buy-out.

Frua's Maserati A6G had a design that exuded power
Frua's Maserati A6G had a design that exuded power
Also in 1963, Frua returned to Maserati to build the four-door Quattroporte which, following on from the 3500GT and the 5000GT, saw him firmly back in the Maserati stable.

His Mistral, developed in 1965, propelled Maserati into the forefront of the luxury sports car market, the car finding a substantial following for its powerful, understated image.

In 1965, he began a successful association with the British-based AC car company, for whom his AC Frua Spyder drew on the Mistral’s shape.

In the 1970s Frua began to scale back his work, concentrating on small projects and one-offs, styling exclusive versions of a Chevrolet Camaro, a BMW 2000 TI, an Opel Diplomat, a BMW 2800, a Porsche 914/6 and a five-litre Maserati.

Hew worked with French racing driver Guy Ligier to create the Ligier JSI. Moving his workshop to Moncalieri, a town just south of Turin, he accepted commissions from wealthy individuals such as the Shah of Persia and the Aga Khan.

One of the last cars to enter series production based on Frua’s designs was the two-door GT Maserati Kyalami, which made its debut at the 1976 Geneva Motor Show.

In 1982, Frua underwent treatment for cancer but died in 1983, a short time after his 70th birthday.

Fiat's extraordinary factory in the Lingotto district of Turin was once the largest car manufacturing plant in the world
Fiat's extraordinary factory in the Lingotto district of Turin
was once the largest car manufacturing plant in the world
Travel tip:

Frua’s apprenticeship for Fiat would have seen him become familiar with Fiat’s enormous, iconic factory in the Lingotto district of Turin, famous for a production line that progressed upwards through its five floors, with completed cars emerging on to a then-unique steeply banked test track at rooftop level. Opened in 1923, it was the largest car factory in the world, built to a starkly linear design by the Futurist architect Giacomo Matte Trucco. The factory was closed in 1982 but the building was preserved out of respect for the huge part it played in Italy’s industrial heritage. Redesigned by the award-winning contemporary architect Renzo Piano, it now houses concert halls, a theatre, a convention centre, shopping arcades and a hotel, as well as the Automotive Engineering faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin.  The rooftop track, which featured in the Michael Caine movie, The Italian Job, has been preserved and can still be visited today.

The handsome castle at Moncalieri now houses a training college for the Carabinieri
The handsome castle at Moncalieri now houses
a training college for the Carabinieri
Travel tip:

Moncalieri, where Frua moved his studio in the 1970s, has a population of almost 58,000 people. About 8km (5 miles) south of Turin within the city’s metropolitan area, it is notable for its castle, built in the 12th century and enlarged in the 15th century, which became a favourite residence of King Victor Emmanuel II and subsequently his daughter, Maria Clotilde. The castle now houses a prestigious training college for the Carabinieri, Italy’s quasi-military police force.

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