Alfa Romeo: The Men Behind The Marque

Not just known for their race cars, Alfa Romeo also collaborated with some of the most famous of Italian car designers to make some of the most beautiful cars ever seen.


Carlo Castagna founded his company in 1849, on the ashes of Mainetti & Orseniga, among the most celebrated exponents of Italian coachbuilding. It was with motor cars, above all those of high class, that the firm stepped up: Benz, Fiat, Isotta, Fraschini, Hispano Suiza, and above all, ALFA. During the First World War when ALFA became Alfa Romeo, the reins passed from Carlo to his son Ercole who in 1919 was to make the company the leading and most modern Italian coachbuilder: “The factory of dreams , which confers elegance upon speed”, according to Gabriele D’Annunzio. The relationship with the Portello became even closer: the first Alfa bodies designed in-house were also designed by Castagna. However, in the post-war years the automotive world changed profoundly and Castagna, like many others, closed its doors in 1954, by shich time the craft skills of the 6C had given way to the industrialised production of the Giulietta.


Founded in 1926 in Milan, not far from the Portello, on the ashes of the Falco firm of Vittorio Ascari, brother of the great Antonio, who was now in business with Felice Bianchi Anderloni and Gaetano Ponzoni. The fight against weight led the firm to acquire the Weymann patent while the struggle against the wind made it one of the most active in aerodynamic research. All this came together in the Superleggera patent: steel tubes in place of wooden ribs, thin aluminium instead of “pegamoide” imitation leather and a style that was to mark an era and overturn the rules of coachbuilding, dominating both racing and the concours d’elegance. Touring worked alongside Alfa Romeo through the 1960s, masterpiece after masterpiece. From the 6C 1750 to the immortal 8C 2900, from Villa d’Este to the 2600 Spider. However, it also failed the challenge of industrialisation.


Born in 1968 as SIRP (Società Italiana Realizzazione Prototipi) for the Alfasud project, Italdesign was to become one of the most active styling and engineering firms in the automotive world. Its roots lay with its founder, one of the greatest names in car design: Giorgetti Giugiaro. It was he, when he was still very young and under the aegis of Nuccio Bertone, who traced the immortal lines of the 2000 Sprint and, above all, the Giulia Sprint GT. Once he was working on his own with Italdesign, his success was overwhelming: the production numbers of the cars designed and Moncalieri were sufficient themselves to measure the capabilities of the company. From the Alfasud to the Alfetta GT , from the dream cars of the Seventies to the Brera and the 159 of the new millennium, Italdesign and Alfa Romeo were to cover much ground together.


There is a family behind Zagato; Ugo, Elio, Gianni, and today Andrea. A company born in 1919, drawing on the founder’s experience in the aeronautical field: slim frames in steel instead of wood, light paneling in aluminium in place of steel and a functional, essential approach to coachwork, strongly orientated towards the world of racing. The designs of the Twenties and Thirties were legendary, from the 1900 SSZ to the Giulietta SZ and through to the Giulia TZ and TZ2. Not just lightness, but also in-depth aerodynamic research. A few decades later the world changed and there was now little room for coachbuilders: Zagato transformed itself into an “atelier” devoted to bespoke one-offs, like once upon a time. But not before having launched the SZ & RZ.


Battista “Pinin” Farina, after gaining experience in the family firm, set up on his own in 1930 giving rise to a now legendary marque, a synonym of Italian style on four wheels. The search for elegance and aerodynamic efficiency before the Second World War, then the great challenges of the post-war years, from the Paris show “protest” to the transformation into a major manufacturer now under the Pininfarina name. In the meantime, with the Cisitalia 202, all the rules were broken and out of the marriage of the great traditions of Italian coachbuilding and the demands of mass production was born a new idea of style. From the pre-war 6C to the Giulietta Spider, from the Duetto to the 164, there were countless successful collaborations between Alfa Romeo and Pininfarina that challenged the great changes, innovated, astonished and gave rise to timeless masterpieces.


Among the first to intuit the potential of automotive coachwork, in 1934 Giovanni Bertone was to decide to hand over the reins of the company founded in 1912 to his second son Nuccio, who was to make it one of the greatest names of the Italian school. A great talent scout, Nuccio was to produce designs by the likes of Franco Scaglione, Marcello Gandini and Giorgetto Giugiaro and see cars such as the Giulietta Sprint, Sprint GT and the Carabo leaving his factory. To mention just a few. over the years, Bertone was to become a solid industrial concern, but was unable to adapt to the great changes that shook the automotive world at the end of the millennium.

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