A visit to Northern Germany for the Bremen Classic Motorshow uncovers much to enjoy and admire. The star turn at the show was an exhibit of Italian Style and Flair from the '50s and '60s, truly La Dolce Vita in an automotive sense.
Fiat is not a marque that is often associated with high performance sports cars, preferring to leave that market segment to other brands in the automotive giant's portfolio such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia or Ferrari. However back in 1952 they launched this beauty, the Fiat 8V that was known as the 'Otto Vù'. The name apparently came about because of concerns that Ford had the copyright for the V8 designation.
The Otto Vù was the work of Dante Giacosa and the initial syling was by Luigi Rapi. Unusual for the time Fiat produced the bodywork at their Lingotto workshop under the "Carrozzerie Speziali" badge, though later cars were sent out to design houses such as Zagato, Vignale and Ghia who released a spectacular 'Supersonic' version. This particular example is from the second batch of cars with four lights and a split screen.
Just 144 examples were built, the coupé was powered by a 2-liter V8 engine. The 8V had a reputation for success on the tracks and in competition, especially in the Italian GT Championship. It is an elegant reminder of the style that the Italians bring to the cars that they produce.
Another low volume Italian sports car of the time was the Cisitalia 202 Gran Sport, and for a while Dante Giacosa also worked with the company. Like the 8V the 202 enjoyed much success in competition, including a second place overall for Tazio Nuvolari driving a spyder bodied example in the 1947 Mille Miglia.
The 202 Gran Sport was the work of Pinin Farina and enjoys appreciation away from the automotive sphere, it was the first car to be exhibited at an art gallery when New York's Museum of Modern Art added it to their collection.
The bodywork is not only pleasing to the eye but it is credited with changing post war car design with flowing lines in a single entity rather than a series of parts added on to complete the car. In line with the aerodynamics that were in fashion at that time in motor sport, the Cisitalia has no sharp edges. The car is based on the mechanicals of a Fiat 1100 and therefore the 202 was powered by a 1.1-liter inline 4 cylinder engine, quite mundane ingredients for such a beauty.
Another man who worked with Cisitalia was Carlo Abarth, the cars that carry his name are famous for being 'hot' versions of production Fiats.
This Fiat Abarth 750 GT Zagato was typical of the smaller engined competition cars that flourished in Italy in the second half of the '50s. The trademark Zagato double humped roof is repeated at the boot but this was not for styling reasons, a revised twin-cam engine, the bialbero, proved to be taller than the original unit.
Based on a Fiat 600 platform the Abarths had more powerful tuned engines and were generally modified to enhance performance. They had a good record in competition with a class win on the final Mille Miglia. A rebodied 750 took part that year, 1957, in a series of record breaking attempts at Monza including a run over 72 hours averaging in excess of 102 mph.
A world away from the small sports cars of the '50s is this beast, the Lamborghini Countach from 1975. This LP400 is the earliest version of a model whose production run lasted 16 years with 2,049 cars being built in that time. Styled by Marcello Gandini in the Bertone Studio it stunned observers when released as a concept car at the Geneva Salon in 1971.
By the time the car entered production it had become even more aggressive in shape. Lamborghini was financially troubled as the founder Ferruccio Lamborghini walked away from the supercar manufacturer that bore his name, unwilling to put up with the increasingly fractious labour disputes in the business. The '70s were not a good time to be in the exotic car building business but the sheer audacity of the Countach saved the company, every car was sold long before it rolled off the assembly line. The performance and exclusivity of the car (only 150 built between 1974 and 1978) and its dramatic appearance appealed to enough customers to keep the corporate head above water.
Not quite so dramatic a statement is the Volvo 262 C which is also a product of Bertone. It was the first attempt by the Swedish manufacturer to enter the luxury segment of the market. The 262 C's public debut was at the 1977 Geneva Salon and the unusual looks led to some negative commentary from the assembled press. However this does not seem to have affected their sales. In all, 6,622 cars were produced during the years 1977 to 1981. Compared to the original production plan of 800 cars per year, with 90 per cent destined for the United States, this was a good performance.
The 262 C was one of a number of collaborations with Carrozzeria Bertone at the time, another being the 264 TE limousine. This particular example was built in 1981 and the model came with a long list of normally optional equipment as standard. The looks are not to everyone's taste to say the least.
Any discussion about Italian Style and Flair in the field of motor cars must include contributions from Alfa Romeo and at Bremen there were three examples on hand, all from Alfa's own Museo Storica. Following the path started by the Cisitalia the Alfa Romeo Giulia SS is the work of Franco Scaglione, he ran the design studio at Bertone.
Scaglione had experimented with three styling exercises based on the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint, BAT 5, BAT 7 and BAT 9 (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica), I was lucky enough to catch the three cars at Pebble Beach one year, they can be seen HERE The influence of these cars can be seen in the Giulia SS with its curves and elegant lines. It looked fast...
The fashionable "Kamm" tail was an early attempt to have aerodynamics influence the performance of such a small sports car. The Guilia SS was introduced at Geneva in 1963 and production ran till 1966. It remains one of the most desirable of 60's Alfa Romeos.
Even more in demand is this Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ "Coda Tronca" having had a production run of just 30 cars in the short tail specification. Designed and hand built at Zagato they were extremely lightweight with an alloy body and the aerodynamics were optimized.
The Giulietta SZ was very successful in competition at the time, the low weight married to a highly tuned 1.3-liter straight four engine and disk brakes at the front proved a potent combination.
The third Alfa Romeo on display at Bremen was this 2000 Sportiva, one of only four built. Once again the work of Franco Scaglione of Bertone it was a study to see if Alfa Romeo could revisit the the high performance cars that had cemented their reputation in the '30s.
The 2000 Sportiva was intended to be a racing car with a limited production run. It was based on the 1900's mechanicals though considerably lighter and with an enlarged and highly tuned 2-liter straight four engine.
Due to other priorities, notably bring the Giulietta to production thus assuring the company's future, the 2000 Sportiva remained a matter of what might have been.
It would also be completely wrong to consider Italian sporting style and flair without including a Ferrari. The Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB Competizione is rightly regarded as one of the truly great GTs to have come from Maranello. In 1960 and 1961 it was the dominant car in the class, notably in the hands of the incomparable Stirling Moss, the pre-eminent driver of that period. Class wins at Le Mans, Nürburgring and Sebring were matched by outright victories in the Tour de France, the Paris 1000kms and the RAC Tourist Trophy.
This example, 1807, was delivered in April 1960 to the German Wolfgang Seidel, it scored a win in the Grand Prix de Spa the following month, with Willy Mairesse at the wheel. Powered by the classic Ferrari 3-liter V12 engine, with bodywork styled by Pinin Farina and constructed at Carrozzeria Scaglietti the SWB is one of the most desirable Ferraris ever built. When one of the production run of 165 (75 for the tracks and 90 for the street) comes up for sale it requires deep pockets to join the list of owners.
A direct contemporary and competitor of the Ferrari is the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato. The DB4 GT Zagato was an attempt to turn a road car into a racer, the opposite of the Ferrari, which was bred with competition in mind, then modified for the road. This explains the lack of success for the British classic, it was some 10-percent heavier and less powerful, plus it was harder on its tires.
However when at rest it is a different matter, fabulous as the Ferrari is it cannot compete in the looks department with the Zagato, Pinin Farina had been outmaneuvred and out-curved. The assassin was a young recruit to Zagato, Ercole Spada, hard to imagine such important work being given over to a junior designer these days. To be fair, Bill Mitchell, VP of Design at General Motors hired a student, Pete Brock, to design the Corvette Stingray, at around the same time, it was perhaps the spirit of the age.
Just 19 of these works of art were built, this car, 0180, raced at Le Mans in 1961. It's owner and driver, Jean Kerguen, was a regular part of the endurance racing scene at the time, indeed he finished his career with two class wins at La Sarthe. He and his co-driver, Jacques Dewez, had a very cruel trick played on them by fate at the end of the race. In the 24th hour while lying in ninth position overall, and the only surviving Aston Martin, the car refused to fire up after a pit stop as a result of some electrical fault that could not be traced or cured. The car was retired in the last few minutes before the end of the race.
The Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato is almost beyond value in today's crazy market, beautiful and rare, a heady combination for those can afford to contemplate custodianship of such a piece of modern art.