The difficult and painful Bertone case, for which we hope the best possible solution is found for Nuccio, this historical company and its 1,500 employees, has sparked much discussion on the present situation and destiny of our sector. In spite of its significance in terms of history and image, this individual case aside, I believe that there is substantial interest in understanding what coachbuilding, and Italian coachbuilding in particular, means, what its roots are and what its prospects are.
What significance still applies and what is no longer relevant for a term that has defined and continues to drive much of the economy and competitiveness of the Piedmont region and Italy? The origins of the industry date to the late 19th Century with horse drawn carriages – styling masterpieces in their own right crafted by many small artisan workshops.
The advent of the internal combustion engine ushered in the transition from the carriage to the motor car, a change that brought hard times for many coachbuilders of the time.
At the dawn of mass motorisation, the surviving larger artists/artisans/engineers specialised in creating customised vehicles on existing chassis that differed from the limited production models of the time, meaning that owners could be certain that their cars were unique in terms of originality, elegance, performance, innovation and prestige.
Those cars, often genuine works of art, embodied the definitive skills of the master coachbuilder: style, designing the body and engineering it to fit perfectly onto the chassis, and fabrication – three crafts which, over time, developed along different paths, to become services that are now also offered partially or completely separately.
After the hiatus of the First World War, the prestigious one-off car gradually became a thing of the past: it had become too expensive, economically unviable and less appealing in an expanding market that was now searching for a new distinguishing factor in the production of special editions. Those who understood the situation invested accordingly and grew, those who remained rooted in the past shut up shop. Another crisis came with the revolutionary introduction of monocoque construction on a mass produced scale, which forced the coachbuilders of the time to learn how to develop both the chassis and the bodywork as a single entity.
The article continues in Auto & Design no. 170