Why we love Italian cars

By: Adam Davis

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Italian cars Italian cars Italian cars
Italian cars: 202 MM Italian cars: 202 MM Italian cars: 202 MM
Alfa Romeo SZ Alfa Romeo SZ Alfa Romeo SZ
Heidi Klum and Maserati Heidi Klum and Maserati Heidi Klum and Maserati

From the serene snow-capped peaks of the northern Alps to the explosive Mount Etna in Sicily, there’s enough atmosphere, history, food and culture to make fertile minds thrive. La Dolce Vita.

Why we love Italian cars
Italian cars

 

LA DOLCE VITA - Why we love Italian cars

Italian automobile manufacturers have historically produced the world’s most iconic machinery. With engineers and designers seemingly unbound by the usual car-building constraints such as efficient project delivery, practicality, reliability and rust prevention, the best Italian machines are like the people; moody, but magnificent.

Lancia and Lamborghini were extensions of their creator’s personalities; Maserati was formed by a brace of racing-mad brothers; Ferrari sounds far better than Fuji Heavy Industries. The romance extends to the language itself; ‘500’ sounds rank-and-file until cinquecento rolls off a Torinese tongue.

Meanwhile styling houses such as Pininfarina, Zagato, Bertone and Ghia gave Italian cars an aesthetic charisma that attracted the world’s eye and clothed the thoroughbred engines within. And what engines: from the diminutive two-pot Fiat 500 engine to a quad-cam, 48-valve Lamborghini V12, the Italians have defined aural greatness like no other country.

Of course, to achieve such heights, there’s inevitably failure along the way. When was the last time you saw a rust-free ‘everyday’ Italian from the 1960s-1980s? Thank lengthy Lambrusco-fuelled strikes and cheap steel for that. How are the electrics? And just how do you keep all those carburettors in tune? The answer’s usually to supply bank account  details to a grubby ‘specialist’ mechanic and watch your savings dwindle. And it’s never quite right.

For all the rust scandals, financial implosions and ill-starred mergers, the Italian car industry has always been capable of fantastic engineering ingenuity and giddying success. So let’s sit back, run the highlights reel and celebrate Italian genius and eccentricity.

STAR POWER: Maserati and Heidi Klum

Sublime form, voluptuous curves, unbridled charisma… and the cars aren’t bad either. A slice of Italian exotica is a glass of brunello to a fine bistecca; the perfect attraction enhancer.

Early Ferrari adopters included Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, who introduced his mate James Coburn to the joys of the Prancing Horse.

Rod Stewart loved his Lamborghinis, John Lennon his Iso Fidia, and film stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren had a thing for Alfa Romeos.

The Lancia Aurelia was favoured by many Grand Prix drivers of the 1950s with World Champions Mike Hawthorn and Juan Manuel Fangio both using them personally.

Supermodel Heidi Klum (above) posed with a range of Maseratis for a now-famous Sports Illustrated shoot, titled ‘Beyond the Swimsuit’ in 2014, proving the lure is as strong as ever.

ARTISTRY

Marcello Gandini, then at Bertone, created the supercar template with his 1967 Lamborghini Miura. He also penned the sublime Countach LP400, Maserati Ghibli, Iso Grifo and Lancia Stratos.

A lesser-known coachbuilder, Scaglietti, was responsible for the 250 GT California, perhaps the most elegant Ferrari of all, but it is Pininfarina which is most associated with the brand. Its F40 of 1987 approached perfection in its raw brutality.

Zagato’s open-air Alfa Romeo 1750 GS brought fame to both marques, fostering a relationship that culminated with the TZ of the 1960s. Scaglione’s Alfa Tipo 33 Stradale is also a work of breathtaking beauty.

Fiat’s ‘Otto Vu’ (V8) was a favourite of coachbuilders, but the most dramatic was the ‘Supersonic’ by Ghia. Meanwhile Fiat’s more humble 500 and 2300 S are fine examples of small cars with big measures of charisma.

ETCETERINI

The term ‘etceterini’ was coined as a term of (attempted) humour to cover the lesser-known Italians.

OSCA was formed by the Maserati brothers in 1947, after leaving the firm that sported their name. Giotto Bizzarrini worked with Renzo Rivolta at Iso in the 1960s, as well as producing cars under his own name, after being fired by Enzo Ferrari in 1961. In a story typical of the autocratic Ferrari, he initially dismissed sales manager Girolamo Gardini, who had the temerity to suggest Enzo’s wife Laura was intruding. Bizzarrini, Carlo Chiti (later of Autodelta) and team manager Romolo Tavoni, were fired for backing Gardini.

Cisitalia, who built the exquisite 202 MM pictured here, employed Carlo Abarth, who would go on to fame as a Fiat racing tuner. For those that think 12 cylinders isn’t anything like enough, Cizeta’s outrageous V16T of the 1990s might appeal. It was designed by Marcello Gandini but lasted only four years, with 20 units produced.

THROUGH THE YEARS

1890s
The Stefanini-Martina, Italy’s first automobile, is produced in 1896, but it is the 1899 formation of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT), a consortium which includes Giovanni Agnelli, that puts the Italian car industry on the map.

1900s
Sicilian aristocrat Vincenzo Florio creates the Targa Florio, a road race based in the Madonie mountains, in 1906. Former FIAT employee Vincenzo Lancia founds his own company that same year.

1910s
A.L.F.A was formed in Milan in 1910, industrialist Nicola Romeo taking over in 1915 and renaming the firm Alfa Romeo in 1920. The Bologna-based Maserati brothers create Officine  Alfieri Maserati in 1914.

1920s
The Fiat Lingotto factory, with its famed roof top test track, is opened in Turin in 1923. Mario Maserati creates the iconic Maserati Trident badge. Maserati’s 1926 Tipo 26 is the first to wear it.

1930s
Fiat introduces iconic 500 ‘Topolino’ in 1936 and in 1937, Maserati is sold to Adolfo Orsi. Tazio Nuvolari takes ‘The Impossible Victory’, beating Mercedes and Auto-Union in 1935 German GP. It is the last non-German GP victory before WW2.

1940s
Former Alfa Romeo race team manager and driver Enzo Ferrari debuts as an independent entity in 1947. Today, Ferrari remains the most successful Formula One manufacturer of all time.

1950s
Lancia produces world’s first production V6 for the 1950 Aurelia. Its D50 Grand Prix car shows massive potential but team folds after star Ascari’s death in 1955. Alfa Romeo’s 158/159 wins first two Grand Prix World Championships in 1950-51.

1960s
Industrialist Ferruccio Lamborghini founds automotive arm in 1963, introducing 350 GT with V12 designed by former Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, largely responsible for the 250 GTO; today the most valuable car ever to be sold. Fiat purchases controlling interests in Ferrari and Lancia in 1969.

1970s
Mid-mounted supercar revolution takes hold with Ferrari debuting its 365BB in 1973 to battle Lamborghini’s Miura replacement, the Countach. Maserati is sold to Citroen then passed to Alejandro De Tomaso with backing from state-owned Gepi. Lancia had an issue with oxidising Betas while Alfa Romeo gave us the brilliant Alfasud.

1980s
Alfa Romeo comes under the Fiat umbrella in 1986. On rally stages, Lancia commences an era of domination with its Delta HF and Integrale. It wins six consecutive constructors’ championships from 1987-92. Chrysler buys Lamborghini in 1987. Enzo Ferrari dies in 1988.

1990s
Fiat grabs ailing Maserati in 1993. 1998 sees a return to form with the Maserati 3200GT, before Fiat-owned Ferrari takes Maserati responsibility in 1999. Lamborghini sold again to an Indonesian company in 1994 before Volkswagen’s acquisition in 1998. Pagani debuts the astonishing Zonda in 1999.

2000s
Schumacher takes 2000 world championship, Ferrari’s first since 1979. It heralds an era of domination, winning five titles in a row. To save both brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo are combined under Fiat control once more. Lamborghini launches the Gallardo in 2003; its biggest selling vehicle.

2010s
Fiat purchases interest in bankrupt Chrysler Group to gain foothold in American market. In 2014, it acquires the final stake and will return Alfa Romeo to North America, while taking Chrysler vehicles for the Euro market. Sadly, Lancia is a casualty, being reduced to its home market only.

 

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