Showing posts with label Cisitalia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cisitalia. Show all posts

31 March 2019

Dante Giacosa - auto engineer

Dante Giacosa worked for Fiat automobiles for almost half a century
Dante Giacosa worked for Fiat automobiles
for almost half a century

Designer known as ‘the father of the Cinquecento'


The automobile engineer Dante Giacosa, who worked for the Italian car maker Fiat for almost half a century and designed the iconic Fiat 500 - the Cinquecento - in all its incarnations as well as numerous other classic models, died on this day in 1996 at the age of 91.

Giacosa was the lead design engineer for Fiat from 1946 to 1970. As such, he was head of all Fiat car projects during that time and the direction of the company’s output was effectively entirely down to him.

In addition to his success with the Cinquecento, Giacosa’s Fiat 128, launched in 1969, became the template adopted by virtually every other manufacturer in the world for front-wheel drive cars.

His Fiat 124, meanwhile, was exported to the Soviet Union and repackaged as the Zhiguli, known in the West as the Lada, which introduced Soviet society of the 1970s to the then-bourgeois concept of private car ownership.

Born in Rome, where his father was undertaking military service, Giacosa's family roots were in Neive in southern Piedmont. He studied engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin.

Dante Giacosa, standing between the familiar shape of the Nuovo Cinquecento and the original 'Topolino'
Dante Giacosa, standing between the familiar shape of the
Nuovo Cinquecento and the original 'Topolino'
After completing his compulsory military service he joined Fiat in 1928, at first working on military vehicles and then in the aero engine division. The director of the aero engine division was Tranquillo Zerbi, designer of Grand Prix cars for Fiat, from whom Giacosa learned the basics of car design.

In 1929, Senator Giovanni Agnelli, co-founder of the Fiat company (and grandfather of Gianni), asked his engineers to design an economy car that would sell for 5,000 lire.

There was an emphasis on producing economical small cars in all the industrialised European countries. Giacosa's new 500cc vehicle, originally called the Zero A, appeared for the first time in 1934 and was immediately hailed as a triumph of engineering subtlety.

The vehicle was only just over three metres (10 feet) in length, yet Giacosa had managed to squeeze in a four-cylinder engine and space for two adults and two children. The radiator was squeezed in behind the engine for compactness, which allowed a sharply sloping nose.

Giacosa's Fiat 600 was a bigger version of the Fiat 500 but with space for four adults and some luggage
Giacosa's Fiat 600 was a bigger version of the Fiat 500 but
with space for four adults and some luggage
The whole looked not unlike a clockwork mouse and enthusiastic buyers nicknamed it il Topolino after Mickey Mouse. Nonetheless, with independent suspension, the car out-handled many larger contemporaries.

During the Second World War, Giacosa returned to working on aero engines but also began planning a post-war range of economy cars.

However, in the financial chaos that followed, the Topolino was priced at 720,000 lire when Fiat resumed its production in 1945, a long way from Agnelli’s dream. The best that ordinary Italians could aspire to at the time was a bicycle or, later, perhaps a Vespa or Lambretta scooter.

But the needs of Italians changed with the baby boom of the early 1950s, by which time they had more disposable income. What they wanted was a family car, bigger and more comfortable than the Topolino, and Giacosa met that need by designing the Fiat 600.

Giacosa's Cisitalia D46 racing car, which he designed for the entrepreneur and racing driver Piero Dusio
Giacosa's Cisitalia D46 racing car, which he designed for
the entrepreneur and racing driver Piero Dusio
Although it cost 580,000 lire when it went on sale in 1955, it became more affordable through the new concept of credit payments. Though still compact, the rear-engined car had space for four passengers, while a stretch version went into regular use as a taxi.

However, as the narrow streets of Italian cities became busier, smaller cars such as the old Topolino that could whisk through traffic and park in a small spot, came back into vogue. Giacosa met that need by designing a new Cinquecento - the familiar Nuovo 500 - based on the rear-engined pattern of the 600, with seats for four adults, an open roof and a top speed of 100kph (60mph). It was an immediate hit, selling 3.7 million models before production stopped in 1973.

In addition to his mass production cars for Fiat, Giacosa also worked on behalf of the entrepreneur Piero Dusio and his Consorzio Industriale Sportivo Italia company to design a single-seater racing car cheap known as the Cisitalia D46. The car scored multiple successes in competition, particularly in the hands of drivers as talented as the brilliant Tazio Nuvolari, winner of 24 Grands Prix in the pre-Formula One era.

Fiat's extraordinary motor production plant at Lingotto, a  few kilometres from the centre of Turin
Fiat's extraordinary motor production plant at Lingotto, a
few kilometres from the centre of Turin
Travel tip:

The former Fiat plant in the Lingotto district of Turin was once the largest car factory in the world, built to a linear design by the Futurist architect Giacomo Matte Trucco and featuring a rooftop test track made famous in the Michael Caine movie, The Italian Job. 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 former Mirafiori plant, situated about 3km (2 miles) from the Lingotto facility, is now the Mirafiori Motor Village, where new models from the Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Jeep ranges can be test driven on the plant's former test track.

The village of Neive in Piedmont is at the heart of an important wine production area
The village of Neive in Piedmont is at the heart of an
important wine production area
Travel tip:

Neive, from which Giacosa’s family originated, is a large village in the Cuneo province of Piedmont region, about 12km (7 miles) north of the larger town of Alba and 70km (44 miles) southeast of Turin. It is best known as the centre of a wine producing region but more recently has enjoyed a boom in agritourism among visitors wishing to experience a rural Italian village. The centre of the village is the charming narrow Piazza Italia and the most important landmark the 13th century Torre Comunale dell’Orologio, the tallest building in the village. The village is beautifully presented and listed as one of the Borghi Più Belli d’Italia - the most beautiful small towns of Italy. The Baroque Chiesa Di San Pietro is one of the most important churches, with several beautiful art works by artists of the region. The notable wines produced in the area include Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto d’Alba and the sweet dessert white wine Moscato d’Asti.

More reading:

How Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli became more powerful than politicians

Giovanni Agnelli and the 'horseless carriage' that launched Italy's biggest automobile company

How little 'Pinin' Farina became the biggest name in Italian car design

Also on this day:

1425: The birth of Bianca Maria Visconti - Duchess of Milan

1675: The birth of intellectual leader Pope Benedict XIV

1941: The birth of comic book artist Franco Bonvicini

Home

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


Home



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)


Home