4 July 2017

Giuseppe ‘Nuccio’ Bertone – car designer

The man behind the classic Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

Nuccio Bertone (right), pictured with his  father, Giovanni
Nuccio Bertone (right), pictured with his
 father, Giovanni
Automobile designer Giuseppe Bertone, who built car bodies for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lamborghini, Ferrari and many other important names in the car industry, was born on this day in 1914 in Turin.

Nicknamed ‘Nuccio’ Bertone, he was regarded as the godfather of Italian car design. His career in the automobile industry spanned six decades.

His father Giovanni was a skilled metalworker who made body parts for cars in a workshop he founded two years before Giuseppe was born.

Giovanni had been born in 1884 into a poor farming family near the town of Mondovi, in southern Piedmont. He had moved to Turin in 1907 and became gripped by the automobile fever that swept the city.

It was under the direction of his son that the company – Carrozzeria Bertone – was transformed after the Second World War into an industrial enterprise, specialising at first in design but later in the manufacture of car bodies on a large scale.

An accountant by qualification, Nuccio joined his father's firm in 1933, although his passion at first was racing cars as a driver. He raced Fiats, OSCAs, Maseratis, and Ferraris.

Through the 1930s, much of the work done by Carrozzeria Bertone was still craft-based and the car bodies finished by hand, but Nuccio understood the need to turn to mass production if the company was to enjoy real success.

Bertone's Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint
Bertone's Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint 
After he took control in the 1950s, his first designs were for the British company M.G., but his big break came in 1954, when he landed a contract to design and build 500 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprints. They were to be given away in a state raffle but generated such interest that, in the end, Bertone built more than 40,000, transforming the company from a small craft organisation into an industrial one.

He went on to produce numerous models for Fiat and Alfa Romeo and for Lamborghini, which were noted for their beautiful design and strong performance.

Bertone’s revolutionary Lamborghini Miura, unveiled at the 1966 Geneva Auto Show, had a centrally placed engine and a shark-like nose that became a common basic feature in many later designs. The Lamborghini Espada and the Countach, and the Fiat X 1/9, were characterised by sleek lines and grills that create an aura of menace. Bertone’s Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 is another sought out by collectors.

In 1971, Bertone received the Italian equivalent of a knighthood for his services to industry. The 1970s and '80s saw the company’s fortunes dip, but it bounced back by creating convertibles from family cars such as the Vauxhall and Opel Astras and Fiat Punto.

Bertone's revolutionary Lamborghini Miura
Bertone's revolutionary Lamborghini Miura
When Volvo launched a special series of limited-production two-door sports cars in the United States in 1991, they not only featured bodies designed and built by Bertone, they also bore his signature on a plaque on the dashboard.

Bertone, an avid sailor and skier, had a penchant for sharp tailoring and sunglasses. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2006, nine years after his death in Turin at the age of 82.

In the years after his death, Bertone’s company ran into financial difficulties, eventually declaring bankruptcy in 2014. The name lives on after the licence was bought by a Milan company, Bertone Design, that designs trains, including the high-speed Frecciarossa 1000.

The Civic Tower in the centre of Grugliasco
The Civic Tower in the centre of Grugliasco
Travel tip:

Grugliasco, where the Bertone Group was based before its collapse, is a town of some 38,000 residents in the metropolitan area of Turin about 9km (6 miles) west of the centre. The history of the town goes back to the 11th century at least. The centre is dominated by the Civic Tower, originally built to aid the defence of the town, in time it became the bell tower for the adjoining church of San Cassiano.  The town’s patron saint is San Rocco, credited with delivering the population from an outbreak of plague in 1599. In more recent times, the town was victim to a massacre carried out by German soldiers, who killed up to 66 partisans and citizens in April 1945 in retaliation for a partisan attack on a Fascist division the previous day.

Travel tip:

Examples of Bertone’s designs can be viewed in the Centro Stile Bertone museum in Via Roma, Caprie, a small town about 35km (22 miles) west of Turin along Val di Susa, which was established by Nuccio’s widow, Lilli, who rescued most of the Bertone Collection when the Grugliasco plant was sold. It is now protected by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture as part of Italy’s artistic heritage. Viewing is by appointment (Tel: +39 011 9638 322).

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