Ah Italy, the land of mouth-watering pizza, pasta, and Ferraris. Italy is famous for many things such as their art, fashion, architecture, and of course their food! Being the closed-minded American redneck that I am I don’t care much about the art or the fashion or the literature. I do love me some pizza and Italian sports cars though. For such a young country, established in 1871, Italy has made a huge impact on many of those stages in which it is known for. Say the word Supercar to most people and they immediately think Ferrari or Lamborghini. For many years the Italians dominated that market and they are still one of the major players in that genre. There is a rich heritage in the Italian automotive industry and that has produced some of the most beautiful cars ever designed. Timeless creations like the DeTomaso Pantera, Lamborghini Miura, Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale, and Ferrari 250 GTO have all hailed from the small country. It’s not just supercars that petrol heads love from Italy either. Cars like the Lancia Stratos, Alfa Romeo Giulia sprint, and Fiat 500 to name a few. Ok, maybe not that last one, but it is still iconic nonetheless!
Pninfarina is a name that’s thrown around the car design world especially when it comes to Italian auto makers. Pininfarina is an Italian car design firm and coach builder who’s designed some of the most beautiful cars ever made and have been doing so for 90 years now. Founded in 1930 the company has been employed by companies like Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia, GM, and Maserati for help in developing and designing their automobiles. The last few years has seen the company dabble in high-speed train, bus, yacht, and aircraft design as well. The company was the first coachbuilder to produce unibody constructed bodies which was no surprise as they had close relationships with Lancia, the pioneer in monocoque design at the time. World War II ended automobile production and the factory was destroyed by Allied bombers.
After World War II the company got its footing with the Cisitalia 202 coupe which is noted for putting the small company on the map and after a meeting with Ferrari in 1951 the rest is history. All of the cars produced by Ferrari from 1951 to the F12 Berlinetta which ended production in 2017 were designed by Pininfarina. During that time they designed many cars for other people as well including one which I thought was odd, the Cadillac Allante from the 80s. It was actually built and painted at the San Giorgio plant in Italy. The company ceased production of automobiles in 2010 after finishing an Alfa Romeo contract but they are to thank for all of those beautiful pieces of rolling artwork over the years. Now owned by the Mahindra group their latest creation coming this year is the Battista, named after the founder Battisata “Pinin” Farina and it promises to be the most powerful car designed and built in Italy…ever. It’s all electric and is said to produce 1,900 hp and close to 1,700 ft lbs. of torque!
Alfa Romeo has made a return to the U.S. market recently, but their story started over 100 years ago. After an Italian aristocrat acquired company shares of a failing French car manufacturers plant in Milan in 1910, he opened it back up under the name “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company) A.L.F.A. That same year the first car out the door was the 24hp, yep they named it after the power output of the 4.1-liter engine. A few years later in 1914 Alfa entered the racing scene with the Alfa Grand prix which was the first car to feature twin-spark ignition and reached speeds in the upper 80’s. As with all of the European car companies of the era, vehicle production came to a halt with the start of WWI and the factory was purchased and retooled to build aircraft engines. In 1918 investors took the company public under the name Alfa Romeo and was registered in 1913.
Alfa really dug into the racing circuit after WWI winning its first world cup in 1925 and was followed by decades of racing success. One of the prettier cars to come from Alfa was the 33 Stradale which is considered by many to be one the most beautiful cars ever made, which only 18 were built. It was the inspiration of today’s 4C and remaining examples are valued at over 13 million dollars now. Speaking of the 4C, I think they are one of the best looking little lightweight mid-engine cars ever made. Because of its lightweight the 237hp turbo four-cylinder is enough for 0-60 times in the low 4 second range and I’m sure it handles like it’s on rails. My favorite car to come from the Italian company as of late is the Giulia Quadrifoglio as I’m a sucker for powerful sedans. The car looks downright aggressive in person and pictures don’t do it justice. With a twin turbo 505 hp V-6 the sedan will run to 60 in under 4 seconds and top out near 190 mph. If I were to give Alfa Romeo my money, it would be for the Quadrifoglio!
Am I the only one who thinks Group B rally when they hear the name Lancia? I doubt it but I immediately think “Stratos” or “Delta” when I hear the name. Vincenzo Lancia raced cars and understood the mechanics behind what made a good car before he went off on his own and opened his own shop in 1906. Like many of the prominent Italian manufacturers, Lancia went racing to prove their worth and they were pretty successful with their Lancia Alfa making a name for themselves. Vincenzo passed away in 1937 but his son took the reins and hired one of Alfa Romeos designers. Lancia’s high quality and low demand for vehicles made for an unsustainable business and was acquired by Fiat in 1969. This turned out to be a good thing as Lancia benefited from Fiats access to Ferrari’s technology. The Stratos was one of the coolest Italian cars to come out in the 70’s. It was very successful in the Rally world and is best known for its Group B success winning the World Rally Championship the Stratos was powered by a glorious sounding Dino V-6 sourced from Ferrari.
The 037, another Lancia creation and my personal favorite from the manufacturer, debuted in 1982 and won another manufacturers championship for Lancia in 1983. Designed by Pininfarina and tuned by Abarth it was probably the most beautiful rally car of the era. The 037 had big shoes to fill being the successor to the Stratos and the odds where against it with strong competition from the Germans via the Audi Quattro. The 037 still managed to win the manufacturers championship ahead of the Quattro and it was the last championship for a 2-wheel-drive car. The 037 was short lived though and Lancia replaced it with another now-iconic car, the S4. The Lancia Delta S4 is remembered as one of the greatest fire breathing Group B cars of all time. The racing spec S4 was mid-engine, although one couldn’t tell that from a distance. Powering the racecar was a 1.7L 4-cylinder engine that was supercharged and turbocharged. This twin-charged setup meant that the car was always on boost and made a claimed 450 hp although many believed it was closer to 550. Later testing proved with minor tweaks the engine could easily produce well over 800 plus hp. All of the Lancia’s look right at home in their iconic Martini livery but you could own an example of any of these cars as the manufacturers had to build a certain amount of road going versions to sell to the public per homologation rules!
Italians love their cars and it shows as Italian cars seem to be built and designed with true passion. Names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are all synonymous with luxury, performance cars with styling like none other. While these companies are the most recognizable today there are many who got their start on a smaller scale such as the ones discussed here. These companies aren’t as big and famed as the supercar giants that hail from the little boot-shaped country are today, but they helped lay the foundation for the others, especially in motorsports! I’m sure we will revisit the Italians in the future, and we can look at the world class supercar builders a little closer and see what makes them so special. From all of us here at Gearbox have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!