Has Centro Stile Fiat ever produced a design of lasting significance?
This is the question I found myself asking having read a recent driventowrite piece on Lorenzo Ramaciotti – (which I urge you to read). Because like many, I held firm to the view that Turin’s fabled carrozzerie were responsible for everything worthy of note. On the other hand, memory can sometimes prove a faulty co-driver, so I did what any self-respecting auto-nerd would at this point and revisited the Fiat group’s styling back catalogue in a quest for answers. So what we have here is a list of significant Fiats of the last 50 years and who was responsible for their styling*.
- 600D – Centro Stile
- 128 Berlina – Centro Stile
- Panda – Giugiaro/Ital
- Uno – Giugiaro/Ital
- Tipo – IDEA.
- Punto Mk1 – Giugiaro/Ital
- Multipla – Centro Stile
- 500 – Centro Stile
Now this outcome surprised me: Out of 8 significant Fiat models of the past 50 years, 4 were created by Centro Stile Fiat, and 4 by carrozzerie – an equal 50% split. Logically, it made sense to carry on once I’d started, so I applied similar methodology to Lancia, and the significant designs of their last half century; which look something like this:
- Aurelia GT – Pininfarina
- Flaminia Berlina – Pininfarina
- Fulvia Coupe – In house
- Beta Berlina – In house
- Gamma – Pininfarina
- Delta – Giugiaro/Ital
- Thesis – In house
Lancia was less of a surprise, having a larger proportion designed by consultancies; something I had little trouble imagining. The carrozzerie scoring 4, to Centro Stile’s 3, or 57% against 43%. However, there is little between them. Chronologically Alfa Romeo was next to join the fold, so the following list suggested itself without too much internal debate.
- 1900 Berlina – Centro Stile
- Giulia Berlina – Centro Stile
- Alfasud – Giugiaro/Ital
- Giulietta (Tipo 116) – Centro Stile
- SZ (ES 30) – Centro Stile Fiat/Centro Stile Alfa
- 164 – Pininfarina
- 156 – Centro Stile
- 8C – Centro Stile
The outcome here shows Centro Stile Alfa far ahead with 6, while the carrozzerie have a mere 2 designs to show for themselves – or 75% against 25%, bucking the trend established by its two Latin stablemates. Maserati is least typical amongst this sample, having the fewest models designed in-house, but again, this is predictable. The notable exception being the unfortunate Biturbo, which may have benefited from some outside assistance, despite its noticeable Giugiaro influence.
- 3500 GT – Touring Superleggera
- Quattroporte 1 – Frua
- Ghibli – Giugiaro/Ghia
- Bora – Giugiaro/Ital
- Biturbo – Centro Stile Maserati
- Gran Turismo – Pininfarina
Result: Carrozzerie – 5, Centro Stile -1 or 83% against 17%
Ferrari? Don’t be silly now, we all know the answer to that one.
* Now admittedly, it is entirely possible to come up another list and end up with a very different set of results; such is the joy of the statistician’s art.
There has to be a point to this, otherwise it is merely a slightly self indulgent thought experiment. So it should surprise no one that where a car is designed is less important than the competence with which it is designed; how much of the marque’s ethos is imbued in its form and how successfully this complex confection is executed. Before compiling this, I believed that utilising the skills of the Italian carrozzerie was more likely to provide the stylistic results you were after, given their habitually excellent track record. Now I’m not so sure. In truth, you are as likely to get good results from an established, well-grounded in-house team as you would from an expensive consultancy, no matter how accomplished their back catalogue.
This should probably vindicate FCA’s new one size fits all approach, but in fact I take an opposing viewpoint. With Lorenzo Ramaciotti attempting to create one giant Centro Stile for all FCA’s Italian marques, the risk is a confused dilution of marque identities. If everything from a Panda to a Quattroporte is coming from the same sausage factory, how is it likely that one marque’s styling trope won’t leach into another? Yes, it could create some interesting looking Fiats, but it could and some might say, already has produced decidedly funny-lookin’ Maserati’s.
The simple truth is that this form of integration has been tried before and the results have mostly been far from satisfying. The most glaring example being that of British Leyland during the 1970’s. It is telling that the giant Volkswagen group, despite their all-encompassing product portfolio allow each marque its own engineering and styling teams. Whatever you might think of their output, the fact that each marque maintains its own style is difficult to deny. Seeing as Alfa is being given their own engineering team to create the new generation of cars to bear the fabled Scudetto, surely it is only a matter of time before the realisation dawns that something similar needs to happen in styling terms too.
Ah yes, the point: Well, to return to DTW’s recent piece and its central question – what is Lorenzo Ramaciotti actually doing? Hastening his own demise might well end up being one of the answers.