Showing posts with label Giovanni Agnelli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giovanni Agnelli. 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

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6 December 2018

Andrea Agnelli - Juventus chairman

Fourth member of famous dynasty to run Turin club


Andrea Agnelli has been chairman of Juventus since succeeding John Elkann in 2010
Andrea Agnelli has been chairman of Juventus
since succeeding John Elkann in 2010
The businessman Andrea Agnelli, who since 2010 has been chairman of Italy’s leading football club, Juventus, was born on this day in 1975 in Turin.

He is the fourth Agnelli to take the helm of the famous club since 1923, when his grandfather, Edoardo, took over as president and presided over the club’s run of five consecutive Serie A titles in the 1930s.

Andrea’s father, Umberto, and his uncle, the flamboyant entrepreneur Gianni Agnelli, also had spells running the club, which has been controlled by the Agnelli family for 88 years, with the exception of a four-year period between 1943 and 1947. The family still owns 64% of the club.

As well as being chief operating officer of Fiat, which was founded by Andrea’s great-grandfather, Giovanni, Umberto was a Senator of the Italian Republic.  On his mother’s side, Andrea has noble blood.

Donna Allegra Caracciolo di Castagneto is the first cousin of Marella Agnelli - Gianni’s widow - who was born Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto and is the daughter of Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince di Castagneto, 3rd Duke di Melito, and a hereditary Patrician of Naples.

A young Andrea Agnelli pictured at the 1996 Champions League final - the last Juventus won - with his uncle, Gianni
A young Andrea Agnelli pictured at the 1996 Champions
League final - the last Juventus won - with his uncle, Gianni
Andrea had a private education St Clare's, an independent college in Oxford, England, and at Bocconi University in Milan.  After university, Agnelli entered the business world, working for companies in England and France that included Iveco and Auchan Hypermarché. He also spent several years in Switzerland.

He was appointed chairman of the board of directors of Juventus by his first cousin, John Elkann, in 2010, after Elkann had come under criticism from Juventus fans for the club's poor results during the 2009–10 season.

Many Juventus fans welcomed Andrea’s arrival because of the family's historic association with the club. He is credited with turning round the club’s fortunes at a time when the financial recession and the aftermath of the infamous Calciopoli scandal were making progress difficult.

Emma Winter, the English artist Agnelli married in 2005
Emma Winter, the English artist
Agnelli married in 2005
He stabilised the club’s finances and, after initially appointing Sampdoria duo Giuseppe Marotta as director of sport and Luigi Delneri as coach, pulled off a masterstroke in May 20100 by hiring former captain and fan favourite Antonio Conte as new manager.

Conte, who had coached Bari to the Serie B title in 2008-09, steered Juve in his first season to their first scudetto since they were stripped of two titles in the mid-2000s as a result of the Calciopoli rulings.

Since then, with Agnelli appointing the former AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri to replace Chelsea-bound Conte in 2014 in a seamless change at the top, Juventus have won a record seven Serie A titles in a row, as well as four Coppa Italia titles in a row since 2014–15.

Juventus are well on course for an eighth consecutive title, having already built a lead of eight points over Napoli in the Serie A table, but Agnelli and the club more than anything crave success in the Champions League, which they have not won since 1996, when they defeated Ajax on penalties in the final in Rome.

In the 22 seasons subsequent to that one, they have been runners-up five times, twice since Andrea became chairman, in 2015 and 2017, when they were beaten respectively by the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Andrea Agnelli would like to see the Champions League established as the main competition for Europe's biggest clubs
Andrea Agnelli would like to see the Champions League
established as the main competition for Europe's biggest clubs
Despite falling revenues - the club recorded an operating loss of €19 million (£17 million) in 2017-18 - Andrea authorised the signing of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo in July this year for a fee of €100 million (£88.5 million), beating the previous record fee paid by an Italian club that was set by Juventus in 2016 when they signed Gonzalo Higuaín from Napoli for €90 million (£75.3 million).

The Ronaldo signing will eventually cost Juventus €340 million (£301 million) with the player’s salary taken into account, yet Agnelli insisted that the outlay “made sense on and off the pitch”, in a reference to the commercial revenue the Portugal star was likely to generate for the club through merchandising, and to his potential for helping Juventus achieve Agnelli’s target of winning the Champions League.

As chairman of the powerful European Club Association, a position he has held since 2017, Andrea is keen to see the Champions League overtake domestic competition as the principal focus for Europe’s top clubs, proposing an increase in the size of the Champions League and a corresponding reduction in the number of domestic fixtures.

Edoardo Agnelli, grandfather of Andrea, ran Juventus in the 1930s
Edoardo Agnelli, grandfather of
Andrea, ran Juventus in the 1930s
This has been driven in part by the inequality that now exists between the domestic leagues in European countries, mainly because of the huge variations in television revenue, particular compared with the Premier League in England. Juventus, despite their dominant position in Italian football, are only the 10th wealthiest club in Europe in terms of revenue.

Andrea Agnelli is married to Emma Winter, a English-born artist, designer and art director, whose clients have included United Visual Artists, Universal, Sony, Polydor, Ted Baker, Adidas, Dove, Peugeot and Panasonic.

They were married in 2005 at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Villar Perosa in Piedmont, with the reception taking place at the nearby Villa Agnelli, the family estate which is now the home of Marella Agnelli. The couple have two children, 13-year-old Baya Agnelli and six-year-old Giacomo Dai Agnelli.

UPDATE: Agnelli resigned as chairman and president of Juventus in November 2022 following investigations into financial irregularities at the club. He received a two-year ban from football over alleged false accounting and was suspended for a further 16 months from July 2023 when he was found guilty of fraud relating to player salary cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Villa Agnelli, country home of the Agnelli family at Villar Perosa in Piedmont in 1811
The Villa Agnelli, country home of the Agnelli family
at Villar Perosa in Piedmont in 1811
Travel tip:

Villar Perosa, where Giovanni Agnelli was born, is a small town about 40 km (25 miles) southwest of Turin.  The Villa Agnelli, the family's country house and estate there, consisting of a 45-room stuccoed rococo villa with grounds and a commanding views of the Alps, has been in the the Agnelli family since 1811. As well as Russell Page, the English landscape gardener, the Agnellis hired renowned architect Gae Aulenti to create the timbered pool house. The estate also contains a family chapel, where members of the Agnelli clan are buried.

Search TripAdvisor for Villar Perosa hotels

Juventus play their home matches at the Juventus Stadium, which holds 41,000 people, in the Vallette district of Turin
Juventus play their home matches at the Juventus Stadium,
which holds 41,000 people, in the Vallette district of Turin
Travel tip:

Juventus is one of the two major football clubs in Turin, the other being Torino.  Although Juventus now play at a stadium on the northern perimeter of the city in the Vallette district, the club's roots are in the city centre.  Their original ground was in what is now known as the Parco Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto, a large green space between Corso IV Novembre and Corso Galileo Ferraris just south of the city centre, which in the late 19th century was Piazza d'Armi, an army parade ground.  Nearby is the Stadio Olimpico, now the home of Torino, which was formerly called Stadio Comunale, where the two clubs cohabited until 1990. Juventus now play at the Juventus Stadium, an ultra-modern ground with a 41,000 capacity that has been their home since 2011, and which also houses the Juventus museum.


More reading:

How Gianni Agnelli became more powerful than politicians

Marella Agnelli, the noblewoman who married into a business dynasty

Massimiliano Allegri, the coach who keeps the trophies coming at Juventus

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Baldassare Castiglione, the author of the Italian classic, The Book of the Courtier

1586: The birth of astronomer Niccolò Zucchi

1794: The birth of 19th century opera star Luigi Lablache


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4 May 2018

Marella Agnelli - noblewoman and socialite

Married for 50 years to Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli


Marella Agnelli enjoyed a lifestyle  of wealth and privilege
Marella Agnelli enjoyed a lifestyle
of wealth and privilege
Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, the noblewoman from an old Neapolitan family who married the jet-setting chairman of car giants Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, was born on this day in 1927 in Florence.

Simply known as Marella Agnelli, she was propelled by her marriage at the age of 26 into a world in which she became a socialite and style icon, devoting her life to collecting art, decorating the numerous homes she and her husband kept in Europe and beyond, and attending and hosting lavish, exclusive parties.

The couple would eventually have homes in Rome, Paris, New York,  Corsica and Saint-Moritz, as well as several houses in and around Agnelli’s home city of Turin, including the Agnelli estate in the foothills of the Italian Alps.

As member of the House of Caracciolo, she was regarded as high Italian nobility, although she admitted that the conservative aristocratic circles in which she grew up were a long way removed from the new life she took on at Agnelli’s side.

Her father was Don Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince di Castagneto, 3rd Duke di Melito, and hereditary Patrician of Naples, who married an American whiskey heiress, Margaret Clarke. One of her brothers, Don Carlo Caracciolo, founded the newspaper La Repubblica.

She and Agnelli met when she was 18. Marella was familiar with him both through the gossip columns - he was a notorious playboy - and through the tales she heard of his wartime exploits as part of a tank regiment on the Eastern Front and in north Africa.  He was 24 and, after his parents had both died young, became head of the Agnelli family.

Marella and Gianni Agnelli arriving at a function in 1966
Marella and Gianni Agnelli arriving at a function in 1966
The couple did not become engaged until the summer of 1953, marrying in November of the same year in the chapel of Osthoffen Castle, just outside Strasbourg, the French city where her father was based as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.

Before they were married Marella had been developing her photography skills in the New York studio of Erwin Blumenfeld and returned to Italy as a correspondent for the upmarket magazine publisher Condé Nast but effectively gave up her career to be a wife and society hostess.

She and Agnelli’s lives revolved around late autumns in New York, the skiing season in Saint-Moritz and summers on the French Riviera, entertaining a circle of friends that included the Kennedys, the Kissingers, the Rockefellers.

Their son, Edoardo, was born in New York in 1954, their daughter, Margherita, in Lausanne the following year.

Each year, from mid-August until the end of September, while Gianni attended to business in Turin, Marella and the children would be based at the Agnelli family estate at the foot of the Alps at Villar Perosa, 40km (25 miles) from Turin. It had been home to the family since the early 19th century.  She and Agnelli also had a city residence in Corso Matteotti in Turin.

Marella Agnelli became known for elegance and style
Marella Agnelli became known for elegance and style
Their homes were known for their elegance and style, much of it the work of Marella, for whom the artistic talents that might have flourished had she maintained her budding career in photography were channelled into interior design, whether at Villa Frescot, in the hills above Turin, their duplex apartment on Park Avenue in New York, or the country estate, where Marella enlisted the garden designer Russell Page in transforming the grounds into a living work of art.

It was their love of art on canvas that drew the Agnellis to New York, where they became friends with Leo Castelli, the contemporary art dealer from Trieste who had emigrated to New York, who introduced them to upcoming young artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselmann, Frank Stella and Robert Indiana, whose paintings they collected with such enthusiasm they had an apartment in Milan designed by Gae Aulenti, the architect who designed the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, specifically for their collection.

Among the circle of friends they built in New York was the author Truman Capote, who famously who dubbed Marella and a group of elegant and beautiful socialites of the time, including Barbara “Babe” Paley, Lucy Douglas “CZ” Guest and Nancy “Slim” Keith, as his “swans”.

Marella and Capote became very close, the American spending much time in Italy as well as keeping their company in New York, but they fell out eventually after Marella saw a chapter of his novel Answered Prayers, in which he  exposed the lives and secrets of many people who had regarded him as a confidant.

After Gianni Agnelli’s death in 2003, Marella acquired Ain Kassimou, a villa in Marrakech, Morocco, that had been built in the 19th century for a relative of Leo Tolstoy, and she spent a good deal of her time there.  Nowadays, aged 91, she still lives in the family house at Villar Perosa.

The Agnelli house in Villar Pelosa has been in the family
since the early part of the 19th century
Travel tip:

The country house and estate at Villar Perosa, a 45-room stuccoed rococo villa with commanding views of the Alps,  has been in the the Agnelli family since 1811. The Fiat founder, Giovanni Agnelli - Gianni’s grandfather - had been born there in 1866. As well as Russell Page, the English landscape gardener, the Agnellis hired Gae Aulenti to create the timbered pool house.

The Tarot Card Garden at Garavicchio
The Tarot Card Garden at Garavicchio
Travel tip:

The Caracciolo family’s country estate in Tuscany, spread over 500 acres, is near the medieval village of Garavicchio, some 200km (125 miles) south of Florence and 125km (78 miles) northeast of Rome along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast. At the heart of the estate is a 16th century farmhouse positioned so as to enjoy views towards the sea on one side and rolling Tuscan hills on the other.  An unusual feature of Garavicchio is its Tarot Card Garden, a wooded area featuring 22 brightly coloured sculptures inspired by Tarot symbols.

More reading: 

How Gianni Agnelli became the most powerful man in Italy

Giovanni Agnelli - the man who founded Fiat

Gae Aulenti, trailblazer for women in architecture

Also on this day:

1527: Mutinous troops sack Rome

1655: The birth of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano


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12 March 2017

Gianni Agnelli - business giant

Head of Fiat more powerful than politicians


Gianni Agnelli, pictured in 1986
Gianni Agnelli, pictured in 1986
The businessman Gianni Agnelli, who controlled the Italian car giant Fiat for 40 years until his death in 2003, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin.

Under his guidance, Fiat - Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, founded by his grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli, in 1899 - became so huge that at one time in the 1990s, literally every other car on Italy's roads was produced in one of their factories.

As its peak, Fiat made up 4.4 per cent of the Italian economy and employed 3.1 per cent of its industrial workforce.

Although cars remained Fiat's principal focus, the company diversified with such success, across virtually all modes of transport from tractors to Ferraris and buses to aero engines, and also into newspapers and publishing, insurance companies, food manufacture, engineering and construction, that there was a time when Agnelli controlled more than a quarter of the companies on the Milan stock exchange.

His personal fortune was estimated at between $2 billion and $5 billion, which made him the richest man in Italy and one of the richest in Europe.  It was hardly any surprise, then, that he became one of the most influential figures in Italy, arguably more powerful than any politician.  Throughout the rest of western democracy, he was treated more as a head of state than a businessman.

A rare picture of Gianni Agnelli (left) with his grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of FIAT, taken in 1940
A rare picture of Gianni Agnelli (left) with his grandfather,
Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of FIAT, taken in 1940
He became known as 'l'avvocato' on account of having a law degree but he came to be regarded almost as royalty, Italy's uncrowned king.

Inevitably, Agnelli ran into confrontations with the Italian left and the Fiat workforce, most famously in 1979 when he engaged in a 35-day stand-off with the unions after responding to the latest of many strikes by shutting down Fiat's Mirafiori plant in Turin.  Ultimately, it was the workers who caved in, an estimated 40,000 of them joining a march demanding an end to the strike.

Yet many ordinary Italians continued to admire him.  He was the kind of figure many aspired to be, living a playboy lifestyle in the 1950s, when he acquired an enviable collection of fast cars and was romantically linked with a string of beautiful women, including actresses Rita Hayworth and Anita Ekberg, the socialite Pamela Churchill Harriman and even Jacqueline Bouvier, the future Jackie Kennedy.

A stylish if idiosyncratic dresser - he wore his wristwatch over his shirt cuff, for example, and never buttoned his button-down collars - he was also a football fan.  The Turin club Juventus had been in the ownership of the Agnelli family since 1923. Gianni ran the club personally between 1947 and 1954 and continued to own it until his death, often arriving at the training ground in his helicopter to chat to the players.

Gianni Agnelli with his wife, Marella, in 1966.
Gianni Agnelli with his wife, Marella, in 1966.
Agnelli, who was called Gianni by his family to distinguish him from his grandfather, was the eldest son of Edoardo Agnelli and Princess Virginia Bourbon del Monte di San Faustino.

Edoardo died in an air crash when Gianni was 14. Subsequently, he was brought up by English governesses. His grandfather was so determined to supervise his upbringing and groom him for his future role as head of the family he fought a custody battle with Princess Virginia.

Gianni studied law at the University of Turin, breaking off to join the army in 1941 before returning to complete his doctorate in 1943 after Italy's participation in the Second World War ended. Having lost a finger to frostbite on the Russian front, he won the Cross for Military Valour in North Africa but ended the war fighting against Germany on the side of the Allies.

When Giovanni died aged 79 in 1945, Fiat was initially placed in the control of its chairman, Vittorio Valetta. Although Gianni was made a vice-president, it was with his grandfather's blessing that he did not become involved. Shortly before he died, Giovanni told his grandson he should "have a fling for a few years" before devoting himself to the business and reputedly made him an allowance of $1 million a year to spend as he wished.

With houses in New York, St Moritz and the Cote d'Azur, Gianni became known for throwing extravagant parties and kept the company of Prince Rainier and the young Kennedys among others.

One of Agnelli's prized possessions during his fast car years - a Maserati 5000 designed for him by Battista Pininfarina
One of Agnelli's prized possessions during his fast car years -
a Maserati 5000 designed for him by Battista Pininfarina
But the years of self-indulgence came to an abrupt end in 1952 when, reputedly after a row with a girlfriend, he crashed his Ferrari into a lorry, breaking his right leg in six places. It was that incident which prompted him to abandon his hedonistic ways and take a more active part in Fiat, becoming managing director under Valetta in 1963.

He finally took charge of Fiat in 1966, when Valetta retired, and under his guidance Fiat rapidly overtook Volkswagen, its main competitor in the popular market. New factories were opened in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The economic slump of the mid-1970s hit the company hard. It did not help that Fiat had become to many on the left a symbol of Italian post-War capitalism, which was probably why it was targeted by Red Brigade terrorists. Many Fiat executives were attacked. Agnelli lived for some years under constant guard.

His methods were not always universally admired - to raise cash, for example, he sold 10 per cent of Fiat to the Libyan government, under Colonel Gaddafi - but over the next 20 years he rebuilt the company's prosperity.

He was married in 1953 to Princess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, who hailed from an ancient Neapolitan family, and although there were rumours of extramarital affairs the couple stayed together for 50 years until he died. Tragedy struck his personal life, however, when his only son, Edoardo, died in 2000 in an apparent suicide after battling with a heroin addiction.  His nephew, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, who was seen as Gianni's likeliest successor as head of the company, also died young, of a rare form of cancer, at the age of 33.

A huge crowd gathered at Turin Cathedral for Agnelli's funeral
A huge crowd gathered at Turin Cathedral for Agnelli's funeral
This created a succession problem that persuaded Agnelli to remain in the chair until he was 75, at which point he handed control to his long-time number two, Cesare Romiti.

Agnelli remained honorary chairman until his death in Turin in 2003 from prostate cancer, aged 81.  His funeral, broadcast live on the Rai Uno television channel, took place at Turin Cathedral.  A crowd of around 100,000 people gathered outside.

Fiat is now a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, having been rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by Sergio Marchionne just a year after Agnelli's death, following a failed partnership with General Motors.

The Agnelli family still has a presence in the business. John Elkann, the son of Gianni and Marella's daughter, Margherita, is Fiat Chrysler's president.

The Agnelli villa at Villar Perosa in Piedmont
The Agnelli villa at Villar Perosa in Piedmont
Travel tip:

The Agnelli family estate, where Gianni's widow, Marella, continued to live after his death, is in the village of Villar Perosa, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of Turin.  The estate has been in the family since 1811.  Agnelli is buried in the family chapel there.

Hotels in Villar Perosa by Booking.com






The vast Fiat plant at Lingotto was redesigned by the architect Renzo Piano. The rooftop test track remains
The vast Fiat plant at Lingotto was redesigned by the
architect Renzo Piano. The rooftop test track remains







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.