You all know that I have a thing for the Italian coachbuilders. Those little workshops where trained metalworkers lovingly beat their soul into steel body panels, where craftsmen with generations of experience behind them painstakingly varnish hand-cut wood trim. Pininfarina, Zagato, Touring Superleggera. All of them with styles their own, taking the mass-produced and transforming it into the tailor-made.
These geniuses put their mark on many of the most impressive pieces of machinery that automakers were putting out, even after the coach-built golden age before the War. I’m not going to go into all of the Ferraris, Lancias, and others, but there is one Maserati that I want to mention: The 5000GT.
When the Shah of Persia was dissatisfied with the power put out by the 3500GT, he went to Maserati and asked Mr. Alfieri for a new car along the lines of the car he tried but with the motor out of the 450S race car. The result was the 5000GT. The lines for the Shah’s car came from Frua, but most of the 33 other cars were divided up to receive lines from other coachbuilders, including Pininfarina, Ghia, Bertone, Michelotti and others. While Frua did do a few more, not one car had identical styling to another, making each example of an already rare car even more special.
What makes the 5000GT so exciting is that each iteration of the car shows what makes the coachbuilder who designed and built its body so special. Is every example attractive in an objective sense? I’ll let you decide, but the chance to see what each artist would do given the same starting point is a masterclass in automotive design.
I realize that the coachbuilders may be nearly irrelevant for a while now, churning out perhaps a few re-bodied Maseratis or Aston Martins when the point-one percent of the point-one percent has a hankering for something new to show off at The Quail. But while they aren’t necessarily what they were in the middle of the last century, coachbuilders continue to fascinate me, and I’d love to hear from you about the cars you think they did best.
Let me make one thing clear, though. I’m not talking about cars that left the assembly line with Bertone, Pininfarina, or Italdesign badges on the side. Those are cool. They are. But what I’m really talking about is the one-offs, the limited edition models, the show-cars. The rarified pieces of fine art that happen to be built on a road-going frame and drivetrain.
So what cars got the best out of Italy’s fashion designers for the road? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget the pictures. They’re kind of crucial in this case.