Quite literally around the corner from Italy’s Zagato, in the same Arese industrial complex, in an equally unassuming building is Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera. Much like their neighbors Touring, is an independent run coachbuilder. The difference is at first glance Touring appears to be a much smaller operation, and arguably an even more bespoke one.
The Italian company is the one we have to thank for the Ferrari 166 Inter, Aston Martin DB5, Lamborghini 3500GT, Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, Jensen Interceptor, and yes, the new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. So yeah, they do good work here.
It’s true that Touring can only take on a handful of projects a year due to their smaller size and the way techniques required to make the cars they do. One car roughly takes 4,000 hours to build. From the conception of its design to delivery takes about a year. Emanuele Bedetti, Touring’s head of sales and marketing, estimates the company makes seven to eight cars a year.
Touring has been in the coachbuilding business since 1925. It got a lot of contract work back when cars were made on body-on-frame chassis but business slowed down when cars started adopting monocoque chassis.
Today, making seven to eight cars a year isn’t exactly enough to keep the lights on at their factory so Touring still does a lot of contract work for other manufacturers.
Everything is done in-house from the design, R&D, and even the painting. While I was there the last Alfa Romeo Disco Volante coupe was being worked on in their paint shop. Touring still gets some contract work from other manufacturers—for example, all the special paint Lamborghinis are done at Touring’s paint shop.
There was also a finished Disco Volante and their latest car, the Sciadipersia, on display in their factory. The Disco was in a gorgeous dark green and gold combination.
The Alfa Romeo 8C, in my eyes, is the most beautiful car to come out of this century so far and the Disco Volante is just as stunning. The Sciadipersia (don’t ask me to pronounce that) is a different and striking design, but that’s what the customer wanted. It’s certainly more interesting than the Maserati GranTurismo it’s based on.
These exclusive and unique limited run coachbuilt creations are becoming more sought after in the high-end market. In recent years we’ve seen an uptake in one-off commissions by collectors and those wanting to stand out from the crowd. Cars like the Rolls-Royce Sweptail, McLaren X-1, and Ferrari’s Special Projects division are proof there are people out there who are willing to give manufactures a blank checks for a car no one else can have.
But the difference between asking a manufacturer’s in-house division for a custom creation such as Lamborghini’s Ad Personam, Ferrari’s Special Projects, or McLaren Special Operations is they’re limited to the that automaker’s brand image or goal. MSO are unlikely to do a shooting brake for you and I can’t imagine Ferrari being too happy with designing a car that’s drastically different from its current design language.
That’s where coachbuilders like Touring and Zagato come in. Yes, they have a number of die-hard clients who they’ve worked with for several years but they’re also getting new customers coming in wanting more creative freedom they’d get from mainstream manufacturers. Some of these projects are shown to the public, however some are kept secret under the owner’s discretion.
The business of a reimagined car isn’t a new one, but with coachbuilding making a comeback and the increasing popularity of “restomods” the only thing holding these companies back is a customer’s imagination. Okay, with a restomod what can be done is a bit more limited but we’ve seen some stunning things come out of Singer and each car is tailored to the customer’s specific purpose. It’ll be much the same with the Automobili Amos Delta Futurista.
Having these coachbuilders and restomodders being smaller than the mainstream manufacturers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anything that’s a positive as customers are able to work much more closely and more intimately with the designers and engineers. Emanuele says Louis de Fabribeckers, head designer at Touring, has a lot of say in the engineering and manufacturing process which isn’t the case in much larger manufacturers.
The major challenge facing these coachbuilders is not sales or volume-related. It’s more the craftsmen working on these cars. As the industry is moving towards carbon fiber, the craft of bending aluminum is becoming rarer. Aluminum has been the favored material of Zagato and Touring—it’s what put them on the map in the first place. The whole “Superleggera” or “super light” ethos came from aluminum.
Touring are currently working on several new projects Emanuele wouldn’t delve into. However, a convertible version of the Sciadipersia, presumably based on the Maserati Grancabrio, is in the works. And there’s the new DBS Superleggera, which Touring makes the body for, of course.
It’ll be interesting to see where these coachbuilders go in the future. On the one hand, now is the time to cash in on the demand for their skill, craftsmanship, and ability to create unique one-offs for well-heeled clients. But on the other hand the dying art of aluminum craftsmanship means they’ll have to evolve somehow.