Perhaps the greatest edifice ever built on behalf of automotive design is receiving the Italian preservation treatment.
There’s no easier task than to accuse corporate America of cynicism. Greed, hubris, soullessness: pretty much any unappealing trait can be attributed to any of the industrial giants.
General Motors, a company of such dubious reputation it enabled a rather shady character like John Zachary DeLorean to play the role of automotive samaritan, suits this stereotype just fine. Even before the axing of more than one storied marque that deserved better (or the Chevrolet Corvair) are mentioned.
And yet this cold, soulless corporate behemoth did what wasn’t strictly necessary: It honoured its legacy by investing in it. Or, more to the point, it signed off extensive renovation work on the famed Design Dome at its Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.
Designed by Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen, the Design Dome stands not just as a symbol for American modernism, but an era when Detroit defined automotive design through effort, creativity and boldness. Qualities this very building helped facilitate.
This wouldn’t be of such significance – it should really be taken for granted – if there wasn’t the recent example of another site of similar importance sorely lacking this (or any) kind of reverence.
Purpose built as a design studio and prototype workshop in the early 1970s, Stile Bertone’s Caprie headquarters was a shrine to Italian car design magnificence. Some of the most significant car designs of all time were created here, some of the most important concept cars in history were once stored here. But none of this seems to matter in the aftermath of Stile Bertone’s bankruptcy in 2014.
A recent announcement not only stated that the last few Bertone concept cars remaining at Caprie will be sold at auction this May, but also granted insight into the present state of what still is the home of Bertone – its legacy, both spiritually and literally. For the vaults, drawers and cupboards of Caprie contain the history of the company, and hence some of the most important elements of car design history.
This history will be sold off at another auction in the autumn – in parts. All of which is not just enormously undignified, but endlessly aggravating.
It’s not so much the fact that Bertone isn’t just some company. But the fact that priceless pieces of car design history are treated like 20 year old hotel furniture.
But who’d have to be blamed for this awful state of affairs? The Bertone family? The debtors? Unfortunately, the matter is more far-reaching than that and inevitably leads to a fundamental critique of the state of mind of what should be one of the greatest countries on our planet.
Italy’s history and cultural heritage are literally an embarrassment of riches, which goes some way of explaining the throwaway mentality that has taken hold of her. As is well known, the less one has, the more one cherishes what’s there.
With an endless amount of historical and cultural sites, food and drink that’s the envy of the world, not to mention an aesthetic tradition and culture that’s second to none, it would appear as though the Italians might believe they can afford to be a bit blasé about the remains of a defunct design studio.
The trouble is though that the Italian indifference / inaction isn’t restricted to the automotive realm, where factories are literally abandoned. It even affects undisputed monuments like Rome’s Colosseum, which is in a process of slow, yet steady erosion that officials have failed to address. Instead, it’s up to Diego Della Valle, CEO of Italian leather goods maker, Tod’s, to instigate a privately funded initiative to save Rome’s number one landmark.
So the fate of the Caprie studio obviously isn’t due to a perceived insignificance, but the combination of administrative incompetence and public ignorance. The benefactors of this will be the vultures that will, for some reason or another, be able to get their piece of Bertone history.
As far as the Caprie building itself is concerned, one must hope for the best but expect the worst. For it’s unlikely that a white knight à la Della Valle will step in at the last minute and turn Caprie into a museum. Sergio Marchionne has other things to do – after all, Alfa Romeo’s still relatively new Centro Storico didn’t come cheap and is unlikely to have paid any dividends. Corrado Lopresto apparently doesn’t believe in museums anyway.
So a fate similar to the Artioli Bugatti and De Tomaso factories, not to mention Alfa Romeo’s Centro Stile at Arese, appears to be the most likely outcome. For in a country that fails to get its act together when it comes to the Colosseum, a mere relic of 1970’s expressionist brutalism doesn’t even register.
Italy has it all: the flair, the culture, the history, the ingenuity, the intelligence. And that makes these turns of events all the more lamentable. Vaffanculo.
The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com