Italian Automotive Excellence: Bellissima!

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 05/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

Elegance, engineering, allure: Italian coachbuilt cars, concept cars and motorcycles produced during the post– World War II economic revival are in focus at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in downtown Nashville, May 27 through Oct. 9.

Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945– 1975 features 19 visually compelling vehicles and three motorcycles from private collections and museums worldwide. Marques include Alfa Romeo, Bizzarrini, Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati. Exclusive to the Frist Center, the exhibition will be presented in the galleries of its magnificent Art Deco structure, once the city’s main post office.

“While providing a reminder of the role aesthetics can play in our daily lives, the exhibition also shows design excellence as a force that can transform a nation, in this case one that had recently been humbled by war, but which never lost its love for artistic expression in all aspects of life,” says Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala.

“Tied to an age in which graceful aerodynamics provided an optimistic language of the future, these vehicles are quite simply astonishing on both a visual and technical level.”

Returning as exhibition curator to the Frist Center after the 2013 presentation of Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles is automotive authority and guest curator Ken Gross, former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles. In addition to exhibition catalogues, Gross has written 14 automotive books, and he and Peter Harholdt shared the Ken Purdy Award from the International Motor Press Association for the Sensuous Steel catalog.

Highlights of Bellissima! include the ultra-rare mid-1950s Alfa Romeo Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnicas, the BATs, whose fins and tails suggest the curving wings and bullet-like bodies of bats in flight; the 1970 Lancia Stratos’ whose wedge- shaped body has doors that open vertically; and the arrow-shaped 1955 Ghia Gilda, named for Rita Hayworth’s character in Gilda.

The motorcycles are a 1957 Moto Guzzi V-8 “Otto,” a bike known for exceptional speed generated by its 8-cylinder engine; a 1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport, “the Ferrari of motorcycles” for its handling, aesthetics and exhaust throat; and the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport.

Gross has selected three of the cars to share in depth with Highline Autos this month:

•1946 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S (Collection of Christopher Ohrstrom, The Plains, Virginia) –– “In 1939 Alfa Romeo introduced its sporty 6C 2500, which was built in cabriolet, coupe, berlina (five-passenger coupe), and sedan formats. Despite the outbreak of wartime hostilities, a few examples were built as late as 1943 from leftover prewar components, but only for high-ranking military and civilian clients,” writes Gross in the exhibition catalog.

“This bespoke 6C 2500 S was commissioned in 1946 by a wealthy Milanese woman, Giuliana Tortoli di Cuccioli. Coachbuilder Gian Battista “Pinin” Farina had twenty-eight 6C 2500 chassis delivered from Alfa during World War II as part of his wartime contracts. Fourteen were delivered in 1942 and only six of those have survived to the present day. Pinin Farina used one of these chassis to craft this one-off car. The design has been attributed to both Pietro Frua and Giovanni Michelotti.

“After a famous but uninvited appearance at the Paris Salon in 1946, the Alfa was next exhibited at the 11th Turin Concours d’Elegance. It won the Automobile Club of Italy cup for “Best Open Car.” The next year, at the 29th Concours d’Elegance de Monte Carlo, the Alfa received the Grand Prix d’Honneur.

“It was the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles through 1947. That year, Pinin Farina purchased it from Tortoli and used it as his personal car for six months. In 1948 he sold the car to Leonard Lord, CEO of the Austin Motor Company, where it was used as the basis of the design for the Austin A90 Atlantic.

“Completely restored by the Guild of Automotive Restorers over a six-year period, this Alfa appeared at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, as well as at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2015, where it was awarded the Trofeo Foglizzo for “Most Beautiful Interior.”

•1962 Ferrari 250 GTO (Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl, Washington, D.C.) –– “Even though it did not come into existence through normal channels, it is reasonable to say that the 250 GTO was and is the ultimate expression of the classical front-engine racing sports car. And, as is evident from the astonishing prices attained by GTOs today, it is also the most desirable of all sports cars ever made,” writes Robert Cumberford in the exhibition catalog.

“The transcendent body design that has been so admired was not created by the hallowed house of Pininfarina that designed most Ferrari road cars, nor was it shaped by Sergio Scaglietti, who founded the eponymous Carrozzeria Scaglietti and built most Ferrari racer bodies before ceding ownership to Ferrari.

“The series was indeed built in Modena in Scaglietti’s shops, but the shape itself was from the inspired hands and eyes of Gian Carlo Guerra, a modest panel-beating workman who created a skeletal outline of what he wanted to see with aluminum wires, and then hammered sheets of metal to fit the contours he’d sketched in three dimensions to achieve those perfect proportions.

“Enzo Ferrari himself approved it for production. Guerra, the not-often-recognized designer of that Ferrari masterpiece, also wire-framed and built the slightly later and very lovely 275 GTB.

“Only 39 GTOs were made, adding to the value of the storied vehicle, but directly challenging the rules of competition events established by the racing authorities. In order to participate in FIA world championship racing events, at least 50 identical models of a car had to be made and sold.

“Enzo Ferrari argued the chassis of the GTO was basically the same as the semiluxurious grand touring 250 SWB (short wheelbase). When that was challenged, Ferrari threatened to withdraw from racing altogether. The racing authorities subsequently yielded and allowed GTOs to race.”

•1970 Lamborghini Miura S (Collection of Morrie’s Classic Cars, LLC, Long Lake, Minnesota — “Lamborghini shocked Ferrari and the Gran Turismo (GT) world at the Salone di Torino in 1965 when they presented the chassis for the radical P400 Miura. Coachbuilder Nuccio Bertone reportedly saw the Turin show chassis and told Ferruccio Lamborghini, ‘I am the one who can make the shoe to fit your foot,’” Gross writes.

“Marcello Gandini had succeeded Giorgetto Giugiaro as chief of styling at Bertone in 1965. Bertone had hired Gandini from Marazzi, a small Milanese carrozzeria. Gandini’s early sketches for the Miura electrified Lamborghini’s engineers.

“Named for the legendary Spanish fighting bulls originally bred by Don Eduardo Miura Fernández, the low-slung Miura berlinetta shocked onlookers in Monaco when it first appeared. Overnight, the P400 made everything in the Ferrari road-going car lineup obsolete. It would be years before Ferrari built a full-sized mid-engine sports car for the road.

“Compared to a bulky Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, the slender Miura resembled a stiletto on cast magnesium wheels. The four-liter, 350-bhp, six-carburetor V-12 was transversely mounted, directly behind the seats, as the youthful engineering trio had proposed.

“The Miura put Lamborghini firmly on the map as a serious competitor to hitherto unassailable Ferrari and Maserati. It was a technical tour de force, and its styling still looks contemporary. Lamborghini never planned to race these cars, although a few owners tried.

“Successors such as the Countach, Diablo, and Murciélago were even more outrageous, but the Miura represents Lamborghini in its purest iteration. Today, commanding seven- figure prices, the Miura remains the definitive Lamborghini and the premier sports car of its era.”

The Frist Center is open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; and Sun. 1–5 p.m. Admission is $12; $9 (ages 65+ and college students with ID); $7 (active military with ID). Children and young adults to 18 years are free. The iPod audio tour is $3. Parking is $3 for two hours. To purchase tickets, visit or or call 615.244.3340.

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