The sad news from Torino is that Stile Bertone is no more. The coachbuilder, founded in 1912 by Giovanni Bertone, then run by his son, Nuccio is officially for sale.
Despite sales from ongoing commissions in 2013 of USD$20 million; the company had debts north of USD$43 million.
In 1978 we brought Stile Bertone's Ascot concept car (based on the Jaguar XJS) for display at the Melbourne Motor Show.
After which I enjoyed a very warm communication with Nuccio and later met with him several times at the Geneva Salon. It was very easy to find him at the Palexpo. On Press Day, as you ride the escalator up from the entrance hall, the very first display in front of you was Stile Bertone.
|Nuccio Bertone (1914-1997) and Lamborghini Muira|
Bertone was responsible for so many genuine classics, like the Lamborghini Muira, Lancia Stratos, Alfa Romeo Montreal, Lamborghini Countach, Fiat X1/9 and the fabulous Ferrari 308. There’s not enough room on this Blog to list the style triumphs.
Nuccio was a true gentleman - sophisticated, stylish, quiet and easy to talk to (in my poor ‘Ital-ish’), but he exploded with passion when doing a walk around of his concept cars.
I drove many of the Bertone cars when I was Editor of Modern Motor magazine in Australia – the Fiat X1/9, the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Lancia Stratos.
The Stratos, for me, was a truly outstanding concept, but driving it very fast was a challenge because of its (almost) square footprint (front/rear track was almost identical to the wheelbase!).
|Lancia Stratos HF Rallye|
I still love one of the Italian publicity shots for the Montreal, staged by a magazine in Milano, featuring the gorgeous Melissa Mendini.
That photo, the ballsy reputation of the Montreal (it was a brute), and the Bertone design status must have sold a lot of cars, especially in Italy.
Bertone really established its credentials outside Italy in 1954with a beautiful design for Alfa Romeo, the Giulietta Sprint, which it updated beautifully in 1956.
The most recent rework was turning the Aston Martin Rapide, into an estate car concept – called the Jet 2+2.
One of my good friends in the design community, Adrian Griffiths, who as Stile Bertone Design Director at the time also did a great job back in 2011, producing a design concept for Jaguar called the B99.
It started with a dramatic sketch, and the resulting vehicle looked pretty cool.
Adrian’s team even came up with a B99-GT race car version, which was a bold style statement.
Both cars reflected the Geoff Lawson era at Jaguar, with lines devolved from the original 1968 Jaguar XJ6.
(Jaguar’s current design director, Ian Callum, has defined an entirely new design signature for Jaguar, and despite any naysayers it has turned out to be a winning formula)
However, for now the famous design works on via Roma in Torino are closed. But, the only real 'assets' left to sell are the buildings, and production equipment!
Apparently, a few years ago, the Bertone logo and brand name was transferred and registered to a new company based in Milano, Bertone Cento.
|Marco Fillippa & Lilli Bertone|
Bertone Cento is run by Lilli Bertone and Bertone’s former MD, Marco Fillippa. Funnily enough, I smell a rat here.
It's said many of Stile Bertone’s customers have already moved over to Bertone Cento, whilst the remaining 'assets' are up for grabs.
The last of the Design Directors, Michael Robinson, responded to requests for interviews, texting: “I can’t afford to be dragged into this valley of tears, the real perpetrators should be taken out and shot!”
The real question here is: “What next for the remaining Italian Carrozzeria?”
Ghia is owned by Ford, Stola is run by Mercedes-Benz, Ital Design has been acquired by Volkswagen Group (and its business is booming, beyond VWAG commissions), Pininfarina is struggling under debts of USD$182 million, and Touring of Milan is limping along.
The fact is no car company today is willing to pay between USD$1-2 million for these coachbuilders to build concept cars for them. The Italian brand names no longer attract the cachet they used to, so there’s no point in paying a premium for a concept exercise from the Italian design companies.
As we know, most car companies are completely capable of producing their own concept cars in-house, so to me it seems like another chapter in the automotive industry moving on from its historical precedents, with the talent, skill and passion of the Italian Carrozzeria being left in the dust and exhaust fumes of progress.