Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rolling Sculpture and Modern Automotive Design

Written on the occasion of the exhibition “Sculpture in Motion: Masterpieces of Italian Design ” at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, showcasing 17 cars designed in Italy over the last 80 years, Mike Daly’s article on postwar Italian sports cars hones in on the achievements in style and performance of the great Italian coachbuilders, or carrozziere, small design firms that grew out of the 19th-century tradition of individually built horse-drawn coaches. “More commonly known today for their designs of exotic makes like Ferrari and Maserati,” writes Daly, “companies such as Pininfarina, Zagato and Touring of Milan were also important innovators whose ideas informed ensuing decades of mass-market automotive styling.”

Mike Daly is a Los Angeles-based automotive writer and historian whose work has appeared in numerous national lifestyle and automotive magazines.  In addition to writing late-model reviews and covering the collector/classic car niche, he regularly researches and writes for the catalogues of some of the hobby’s leading auctioneers.

Here are a few cars with Mike Daly’s commentary to whet your appetite. You can read the full article in Modernism’s Spring 2012 issue.

This 1959 Ferrari 400 Superamerica, the first of it kind, wears a one-off body designed and built by coachbuilder Pininfarina.  Displayed at the Ferrari booth at the 1959 Turin Auto Show, the car is an early take on a luxury Ferrari, a concept the company would increasingly explore over ensuing decades."

Photo by Mike Daly.

Photo by Mike Daly.

General Motors participated in a few collaborations with Italian coachbuilders, notably with the Cadillac Series 62.  Torinese coachbuilder Ghia, best known for the body design of the prolific Karmann-Ghia Volkswagen, built this uniquely styled coachwork on the chassis of a 1953 Cadillac Series 62.  Already defined as the pinnacle of American postwar automotive elegance, the Cadillac was a perfect subject for a Ghia interpretation. The coachbuilder constructed just two examples of the 1953 Cadillac Ghia, one of which was given to actress Rita Hayworth by her husband Ali Khan, who was likely trying to ease the woes of an imminent divorce. A Petersen Automotive Museum holding, the Rita Hayworth Cadillac exhibits Ghia’s high-waisted, small-canopy treatment, but adds deco-styled chrome spears to the sides, perhaps an intentional reference to the movie theater marquees of the actress’s heyday.

Photo courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Coachbuilder Bertone’s design for the body of the 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero concept car proved to be a forerunner of the wedge shapes that dominated sports car production during the 1970s and ‘80s.  The aesthetic became prevalent in brands such as Lotus and Lamborghini, for which Bertone also designed the iconic Countach model.

Photo by Tom Wood © 2011. Courtesy of RM Auctions.

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