Death of a Carrozzeria

We bid a tearful adieu to one of the greats.

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This year, Bertone has joined the doleful list of recently deceased Italian styling houses, having held out against the inevitable longer than most. The quantity and quality of Bertone’s output had been in decline, particularly as commissions from major manufacturers began to dry up. The era of the great Italian styling houses is over and the centre of gravity has moved away from its traditional Italian heartland.

Perhaps the most consistent and influential of all the great Italian carrozzerie, Bertone became synonymous with styling innovation. Bertone’s designs always stood out against that of its great rival, Pininfarina. Nuccio’s house style was more flamboyant, more radical – even shocking at times, while that of ‘Farina was more classically elegant. In addition to some of the greatest post-war car designs being attributed to its studios, Bertone also became a great nursery for talent – luminaries like Scaglioni, Gandini and Giugiaro learning a good deal of their craft under Nuccio’s roof.

The story of Bertone’s decline and ultimate fall is excellently documented in a recent Car & Driver Magazine article. The story is perhaps made more poignant by the fact that it appears to have been avoidable – albeit, for how long, its difficult to say. After all, the writing has been on the wall for the great Italian Carrozzeire for years now. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating, if depressing tale.

Read The Fall of the House of Bertone here.

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

4 thoughts on “Death of a Carrozzeria”

  1. Sad, but obviously unsurprising. For me, in the Sixties, Bertone was the exciting design house. As such, it was sad in recent times to see such aimless projects as the Jaguar B99 and the even more senseless ‘racing’ version. This seemed a particularly desperate attempt to hook a client that anyone could have told them would not have bitten, particularly after it had its fingers well and truly burnt with retro. As Jaguar commented dryly ‘we appreciate the fact that Jaguar is interesting enough for people to do a concept around. It’s not that we are offended by it, or against it – it is just not for us.’ But where else could Bertone look for clients?

    I think the decline of the independent studios is a loss. At their best, they had the ability to look at a company from outside and give them something they would never have come up with themselves (see Golf). At their worst they touted around a design until they found a taker, even if it didn’t really suit that company (see Citroen BX). Against all this, what is a car company if it can’t style its own cars? Why not get someone else to engineer them? And make them? And sell them?

  2. Oddly, the BX ended up being an acceptable Citroen design. Another example might be the Daewoo Espero.
    We could view the decline of Bertone as being the outcome of a banality. It is much easier to design a car in terms of manpower than it was before CAD became a tool of the industry. I think that before CAD, the carrozzeria provided a supply of extra labour to do projects the manufacturers had not the resources to work on. Secondarily, design´s importance was not as well understood and within manufacturers offices, the design staff was subordinate to engineering. Carrozzeria had more freedom and more experience with aesthetics. When an OEM went an outside consultant it was to augment their design process with skills not available in-house. These days they can just hire more graduates and install some more work-stations.
    The other factor goes back further. Cars have become so complex that it is not possible as it once was to “recloth” a rolling chassis with some nicer raiments. When that business went away the design houses were left with their staff as their main resource. Evidently, that was not enough to sustain them.

  3. Thanks to my relatively young age, I only got to appreciate Bertone’s rank as the great innovator once I’d reached a certain level of maturity and automotive education. To someone growing up during the second half of the 80s and 90s, Bertone’s creations appeared quirky and oftentimes clumsy, rather than daring and dashing. My first association would be Opel convertibles, followed by strangely dated-looking concept cars. To my innocent eyes, Pininfarina certainly reigned supreme, followed by Italdesign with its competent soft design styling.

    Gandini, Scaglione et al only came to my attention later on, when I also realised that almost every Bertone design penned after Marc Deschamps had taken over was of little to no interest to me.

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