Showing posts with label Battista Pinin Farina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Battista Pinin Farina. Show all posts

13 October 2018

Piero Dusio - sportsman and entrepreneur

His Cisitalia company revolutionised automobile design

The Cisitalia 202 set new standards in sports car design that changed the way automobiles looked
The Cisitalia 202 set new standards in sports car design
that changed the way automobiles looked
The footballer, racing driver and businessman Piero Dusio was born on this day in 1899 in Scurzolengo, a village in the hills above Asti, in Piedmont.

Dusio made his fortune in textiles but it is for his postwar venture into car production that he is most remembered. Dusio’s Cisitalia firm survived for less than 20 years before going bankrupt in the mid-1960s but in its short life produced a revolutionary car - the Cisitalia 202 - that was a gamechanger for the whole automobile industry.

Dusio played football for the Turin club Juventus, joining the club at 17 years old, and was there for seven years before a knee injury forced him to retire at the age of only 24, having made 15 appearances for the senior team, four of them in Serie A matches.

Piero Dusio was a former footballer who made his fortune in textiles
Piero Dusio was a former footballer
who made his fortune in textiles
He kept his connection with the club and from 1942 to 1948 was Juventus president. In the short term, though, he was forced to find a new career. He took a job with a Swiss-backed textile firm in Turin as a salesman. He took to the job immediately and made an instant impression on his new employers, selling more fabric in his first week than his predecessor had in a year.  Within a short time he had been placed in charge of sales for the whole of Italy.

In 1926, at the age of 27, Dusio opened his own textile company, producing Italy's first oil cloth.

By the 1930s he had a portfolio of business interests that included banking, tennis racket manufacture and racing bicycles. In the textile business he branched out into uniforms and casual clothing. He made his fortune after landing a contract with Mussolini to supply military uniforms for the Italian army. Demand for his waterproof canvas products also soared.

His personal wealth enabled him to indulge his passion for motor racing. He bought himself a Maserati and regularly raced. He finished sixth in the Italian Grand Prix of 1937 and won his class in the Mille Miglia in 1937 driving a 500cc SIATA Sport.

In 1938 he finished third overall in the Mille Miglia and won the Stelvio hillclimb. War then intervened but once it had finished Dusio was eager to resume his career in the cockpit.

The Cisitalia D46 was the first car to be produced by Piero Dusio's new company
The Cisitalia D46 was the first car to be produced
by Piero Dusio's new company
Yet Italy’s economy was on the floor at that stage with most of its industry destroyed. Dusio realised that it might be unrealistic to expect the expensive sport of motor racing to pick up exactly where it left off.

With that in mind, he created his new company - the Consorzio Industriale Sportivo Italia, Cisitalia for short - with a plan to produce a single-seater racing car cheap enough to tempt the amateur.  He commissioned the Fiat engineer, Dante Giacosa, famous for the Fiat 500 Topolino to design it and soon the Cisitalia D46 was born.

Dusio's dream of a one-model series featuring only the D46 came to nothing, but the car scored multiple successes, particularly in the hands of drivers as talented as the brilliant Tazio Nuvolari, winner of 24 Grands Prix in the pre-Formula One era.

He overstretched himself somewhat with his next project, paying a fortune to extract the legendary German engineer Ferdinando Porsche - a Nazi party member - from a French prison. Porsche’s innovative but complex mid-engined Cisitalia 360 was a triumph of engineering but ultimately proved too expensive for Dusio to support.

Battista 'Pinin' Farina is said to have made his reputation with his work on the 202
Battista 'Pinin' Farina is said to have made
his reputation with his work on the 202
Yet Dusio was not done.  In 1945, he took on another Fiat man, their young head of aviation, Giovanni Savonuzzi, with the idea of building a two-seater commercial coupé based on the D46.  Their project was taken up by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina, who came up with the Cisitalia 202 Coupé.

The car was not a commercial success. It was priced higher than rival cars from Jaguar and Porsche that offered better performance. In the end, fewer than 200 were built.

Yet its design - the one that made Farina’s reputation, although it closely followed Savonuzzi’s preliminary sketches - is credited with changing the way cars look, setting an entirely new standard - a template for the way sports cars look even today.

Whereas road cars traditionally had been a collection of elements - cabin, hood, grill, fenders, headlights etc - with no real thought for aerodynamics, at least until the late 1930s, the Cisitalia 202 was a single unit. The headlights and the grill were perfectly aligned elements of the hood, the wheels were entirely inside the body, removing the need for separate fenders, and the cabin tapered in a smooth line to the rear.

Savonuzzi had applied to his sketches all he had learned about airflow in his aviation work and Farina had put his ideas into practice. The result was a beautiful design that was likened to a sculpture.  When the Museum of Modern Art in New York became the first museum to exhibit automobiles as examples of functional design, the 202 was the first vehicle to enter their collection.

For all that, Dusio could not sell enough cars to rescue his ailing company and the only way he could continue his career was to accept an offer of support from the government of Argentina to set up in car production in Buenos Aires, where he would remain until his death in 1975 at the age of 76.

Cisitalia continued to be run by his son, Carlo Dusio, but was made bankrupt in 1965.

The cathedral in Asti dates back to the 11th century
The cathedral in Asti dates back to the 11th century
Travel tip:

The village of Scurzolengo is just over 15km (9 miles) northeast of Asti, a city of just over 75,000 inhabitants about 55 km (34 miles) east of Turin. The city enjoyed many years of prosperity in the 13th century when it occupied a strategic position on trade routes between Turin, Milan, and Genoa. The area between the centre and the cathedral is rich in medieval palaces and merchants’ houses, the owners of which would often compete with their neighbours to build the tallest towers. Asti was once known as the City of 100 Towers, although in fact there were 120, of which a number remain, including the Torre Comentina, the octagonal Torre de Regibus and Torre Troyana.

The strikingly modern Museo Nazionale dell' Automobile is a major tourist attraction in Turin
The strikingly modern Museo Nazionale dell' Automobile
is a major tourist attraction in Turin
Travel tip:

With a long history in motor vehicle design and manufacturing - Fiat, Lancia, Iveco, Pininfarina, Bertone, Giugiaro, Ghia and Cisitalia were all founded in the city - it is hardly surprising that Turin is home to Italy’s most important automobile museum, the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile (also known as MAUTO).  Opened in 1960 and dedicated to Giovanni Agnelli, founder of FIAT, the museum’s building and permanent exhibition were completely renovated in 2011. The MAUTO, in  Corso Unità d'Italia, is today one of Turin’s most popular tourist attractions.

More reading:

Was Tazio Nuvolari the greatest driver of them all?

The 'smallest brother' who became a giant of the car industry

The brilliance of engineer Vittorio Jano

Also on this day:

54AD: The suspicious death of the emperor Claudius

1815: The execution of Napoleon's military strategist Joachim Murat


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 Coupé 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.

More reading:

How little Battista Farina became a giant of car design

The insult that inspired Ferruccio Lamborghini

Dante Giacosa, father of the Cinquecento

Also on this day:

1660: The birth of composer Alessandro Scarlatti

1930: The birth of radical politician and campaigner Marco Pannella


3 September 2017

Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina – racing driver

The first Formula One world champion

Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina had family roots in the automotive industry
Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina had family roots
in the automotive industry
Emilio Giuseppe Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo, became the first Formula One world champion on this day in 1950.

The 43-year-old driver from Turin - usually known as Giuseppe or 'Nino' - clinched the title on home territory by winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

He was only third in the seven-race inaugural championship going into the final event at the Lombardy circuit, trailing Alfa teammates Juan Manuel Fangio, of Argentina, by four points and his Italian compatriot, Luigi Fagioli, by two.

Under the competition’s complicated points scoring system, Fangio was hot favourite, with the title guaranteed if he was first or second, and likely to be his if he merely finished in the first five, provided Farina did not win.  He could have been crowned champion simply by picking up a bonus point for the fastest lap in the race, provided Farina was no higher than third.

Fagioli could take the title only by winning the race with the fastest lap, provided Farina was third or lower and Fangio failed to register a point.

Farina could win the title only by winning the race, recording the fastest lap and hoping Fangio finished no better than third place.  A top-three finish with the fastest lap bonus would do if Fangio did not score at all.

Farina on the cover of the Argentine motor racing magazine El Gráfico in 1953
Farina on the cover of the Argentine motor
racing magazine El Gráfico in 1953
In the event, Farina won and Fangio had a bad day, retiring twice – first in his own car, on which the greabox failed, and then in team-mate Piero Taruffi’s Alfa. He scored one point for the fastest lap, but that on its own was not enough.

It was a third victory of the season for Farina, who had also triumphed in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten.

Born in Turin in 1906, Farina’s roots were in the car business.  He was the son of automotive coachbuilder Giovanni Carlo Farina and the nephew of the brilliant car designer Battista “Pinin” Farina.

Giuseppe excelled at skiing, football and athletics but was always likely to opt for motor sport.  He bought his first competition car while still at university and abandoned a potential career as an officer in the Italian Army in order to fulfil his ambitions on the track.

He made his competitive debut in 1933 and by 1936 was driving Alfas for Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia Ferrari team. In 1937 he won his first Grand Prix in Naples and by the end of the season was Italian champion, a title he retained in 1938 and 1939, driving for Alfa Corse, then the official Alfa Romeo team.

The Second World War almost certainly robbed him of his best years. In the immediate years following, he fell out with Alfa Corse, but had some successes in a privately-entered Maserati before returning to Scuderia Ferrari. 

Farina in practice at Monza in 1955
Farina in practice at Monza in 1955
In 1950, however, he rejoined Alfa and enjoyed his best season, going back to Ferrari in 1954 only because Alberto Ascari – world champion in 1952 and 1953 - had left Ferrari and switched to Lancia, creating a vacancy for team leader.

Farina retired in 1955, after which he became involved in Alfa Romeo and Jaguar distributorships and later assisted at the Pininfarina factory.  He died in June 1966 at the age of 59 en route to the French Grand Prix, when he lost control of his Lotus in the Savoy Alps, near Aiguebelle, hit a telegraph pole and was killed instantly.

Travel tip:

Apart from the motor racing circuit, Monza is notable for its 13th century Basilica of San Giovanni Battista, often known as Monza Cathedral, which contains the famous Corona Ferrea or Iron Crown, bearing precious stones.  According to tradition, the crown was found on Jesus's Cross.  Look out also for Villa Reale, built in the neoclassical style by Piermarini at the end of the 18th Century, which has a sumptuous interior and a court theatre.

The church of Santa Giulia in Borgo Vanchiglia
The church of Santa Giulia in Borgo Vanchiglia
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Farina’s father established his coachbuilding business in the historic Borgo Vanchiglia district of Turin, near the confluence of the Dora Riparia river and the Po. The neo-Gothic church of Santa Giulia, on Piazzetta Santa Guilia, is at the heart of the neighbourhood, which is renowned for buildings of unusual design.

2 November 2016

Battista 'Pinin' Farina - car designer

Family's 'smallest brother' became giant of automobile history

Battista 'Pinin' Farina (right) pictured with  Fiat's Gianni Agnelli
Battista 'Pinin' Farina (right) pictured with
 Fiat's Gianni Agnelli
Battista 'Pinin' Farina, arguably the greatest of Italy's long roll call of outstanding automobile designers, was born on this day in 1893 in the village of Cortanze in Piedmont.

His coachbuilding company Carrozzeria Pininfarina became synonymous with Italian sports cars and influenced the design of countless luxury and family cars thanks to the partnerships he forged with Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Nash, Peugeot, Rolls Royce and others - most notably Ferrari, with whom his company has had a continuous relationship since 1951.

Among the many iconic marques that Pinin and his designers created are the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, the Ferrari Dino 206 and the Cisitalia 202.

Battista was the 10th of 11 children raised by his parents in Cortanze, a small community in the province of Asti, situated about 30km (19 miles) east of Turin.  He was always known as 'Pinin', a word from Piemontese dialect meaning 'smallest brother'.  In 1961, he had his name legally changed to Pininfarina.

He acquired his love of cars at a young age and from 12 years old he spent every spare moment working at his brother Giovanni’s body shop, Stabilimenti Industriali Farina, learning about bodywork and design.

Pinin Farina's breakthrough design, the stylishly aerodynamic 1947 Cisitalia 202
Pinin Farina's breakthrough design, the stylishly
aerodynamic 1947 Cisitalia 202
Five years later, even before he was 18, he won his first commission, to design the radiator for the new Fiat Zero.

He could have emigrated to America, where the exponential growth of the automotive industry intrigued him.  He obtained an interview with Henry Ford and was offered a job but turned it down, preferring to return to Italy with the ideas he had gathered and a dream to start his own business.

In 1930, by which time he had married and started his own family, he left his brother and opened Carrozzeria Pinin Farina from a workshop on Corso Trapani in Turin.  Vincenzo Lancia, whom he had met during a brief career as a racing driver, was one of his first customers, along with Fiat and Alfa Romeo.

The Second World War interrupted the growth of the business and as an Italian Pinin found himself shackled somewhat in the aftermath as the hugely important Paris Auto Show barred him from exhibiting as a citizen of a former Axis power.

It was not long, however, before he had the break that was to establish the name of Battista Pinin Farina as one of the great car designers, when Piero Dusio, a wealthy Turin industrialist and racing driver, offered him a commission to produce a car on behalf of the Compagnia Industriale Sportiva Italia. 

The result, the Cisitalia 202, a two-seater sports car, broke away from traditional boxy designs and presented a single shell notable for its continuous flowing lines, in which the body, hood, headlights and fenders were integral to the overall, aerodynamic design.

Although not a huge commercial success, because it was a handmade rather than mass-produced model, it is still regarded as one of the most beautiful cars ever made, to the extent that it was exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, the first high  volume success for Pinin Farina's company
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, the first high
volume success for Pinin Farina's company
The company expanded and prospered through the 1950s, moving to a larger site at Grugliasco, outside Turin, in 1958.  Apart from commissions from all the major Italian manufacturers, Pinin Farina began to work on behalf of companies outside Italy, breaking into the American market with Nash and later Cadillac, designing for the French manufacturer Peugeot, and for BMC in Britain.

Commercially, the first high volume success was the aforementioned Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, the open-top two seater.  In the first year of production, in 1956, the Grugliasco plant turned out 1,025 Spiders.  By 1959, with a high number of orders from the United States, it had risen to 4,000 a year.

Pininfarina's relationship with Ferrari began in 1951, when Pinin met Enzo Ferrari in a restaurant in Tortona, halfway between Pininfarina's headquarters and Ferrari's base in Modena.  The two men struck a deal over dinner, after which Pininfarina took responsibility for all aspects of Ferrari design, engineering and production in a relationship that in the next half century would create some of the most expensive and prestigious but most aesthetically beautiful cars in the industry's history.

Pinin retired in 1961, putting the business in the hands of his son, Sergio, and his son-in-law, Renzo Carli. He died in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1966, aged 72.

Sergio ran Pininfarina until 2001, then handing over to his own son, Andrea, who was tragically killed in a road accident in 2008.

The company, based now in Cambiano, much smaller than at its peak and no longer a producer of cars, is now 76 per cent owned by the Indian Mahindra Group, but retains a Pininfarina link through its chairman, Paolo Pininfarina, Andrea's younger brother.

Travel tip:

The medieval village of Cortanze, home nowadays to just a few hundred residents, has been the site of a settlement since Roman times.  Later it was controlled by the bishops of Asti before falling in turn into the hands of the armies of Savoy, France and Spain in the 18th century.  There is a medieval castle, its style typical of Piemontese castles, that has been restored and is open to the public and a number of notable churches, including the 17th century Church of the Saints Pietro and Giovanni.

The Piazza Duomo in Tortona
The Piazza Duomo in Tortona
Travel tip:

Tortona, where Pinin Farina and Enzo Ferrari struck their historic deal in 1951, is an elegant small city not far from Alessandria in the area of Piedmont that borders Liguria.  It has a neat colonnaded square around the Duomo, the main structure of which was built in the 16th century with a neoclassicist facade added in the 19th century.  There are some Roman remains thought to be of the mausoleum of the Emperor Maiorianus.

More reading:

Vittorio Jano - engine maker behind racing success of Ferrari

Enrico Piaggio - the man behind the Vespa scooter

How Sergio Marchionne rescued Fiat

Also on this day:

(Photo of Alfa Romeo Giulietta by genossegerd CC BY-SA 3.0)