CARte Blanche

by Philip Djaferis

Italian presence at the 80th Geneva Auto Show – March 2010

The 80th Geneva Auto-show is currently on.  The only international annual Auto-show it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the globe.  What makes it so special and stand out from all other car shows is not only the presence of all significant manufacturers but also of the famous Italian coachbuilders like Pininfarina.  This year we see the comeback of Bertone with a stunning study commemorating Alfa Romeo’s 100th anniversary.

Alfa Romeo Pandion

Alfa Romeo Pandion by Bertone

Mike Robinson’s creation with scissor doors brings Bertone back into the limelight in stunning fashion!

Pininfarina which is itself celebrating its 80th anniversary this year also pays tribute to Alfa Romeo with a gorgeous 2-seater spider concept which it calls 2uettotanta.  The name plays with the words for 80 in Italian and Duetto, the name of a previous Pinifarina creation for Alfa Romeo from the 1960’s which had starred with Dustin Hoffman in the film The Graduate.

Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta by Pininfarina

The two cowls on the rear deck of the car are reminiscent of racing cars of the 1950’s.

Alfa Romeo 2ettottanta by Pinifarina

Coinciding with its 100th birthday, Alfa Romeo itself launches a brand new model in Geneva this year.  The Giulietta.  Borrowing a name from a model last produced in the 1970’s it replaces the 147 which being crowned Car of the Year in 2001 has served the brand well for ten years although sales suffered in the last couple of years with a constant flow of new competitors biting at its heels.  The Giulietta will from launch be available in four engine variations at five different power levels.  Two are diesels and two petrol engines ranging from the 1.6 litre 105PS Multi-jet diesel up to the top of the range 1750 TBi with 235PS.  You will have to be patient till June to lay your hands on one!  The Fiat Group is pinning a great deal of hope that the Giulietta will revive the fortunes for the brand.  The 159 series is languishing in a state of ‘life-support’ despite its many positive qualities specially with the new 1750TBi engines.  Past criticism of GM sourced power plants ought to be put to rest now, but nevertheless its a hard sell for people who only think ‘German’.

A new trend visible at the show was evident in ‘flat’ colour paints being used by several manufacturers.  One example was on an Alfa Romeo Mito in a matt white while a Brera was clothed in a menacing looking matt gunmetal grey-black!

But let’s get back to Italy’s coachbuilding scene.  Zagato has been one of the most flamboyant design houses over the years and this year they are presenting a production ready Perana Z-One, a Corvette V8 engined supercar first exhibited in prototype form at last years Salon.

Zagato Z-One Perana

It follows in the footsteps of past Chevy engined Italian exotica like the fabulous Iso Grifo and it will surely find its followers. The revival of long gone into hibernation Carozzeria is also celebrated in Geneva, Touring of Milan, made famous by their Superleggera (Italian for ultra-light) constructions which graced cars made by illustrious brands like Aston Martin, Lancia and Alfa Romeo. They are making an appearance for the first time in over 40 years with two creations. A coupé in the genre of the Zagato Z-One called the A8GCS based on the Maserati Coupé GranSport platform and the brand new Bentley Continental Flying Star shooting-break.

Bentley Continental Flying Star shooting-break

One hopes that all these projects succeed as they are surely enriching the car universe.  Some exponents are to my eyes less appealing and I am at a loss to understand who would wish to spend money on a car like a Foransari whose designs go so far out of the norm that one wonders which market its creators are after.  They are not particularly elegant, of enormous dimensions and rather plain features except perhaps the for the new RR600 Tender which has wooden inserts and applications worthy of a Riva speedboat. Foransaris are powered by 6 litre GM V8 engines and are obviously aiming at the very highest end of the SUV type market.

Foransari RR600 Tender

The vehicles (its hard to call such huge machines cars) are very bulky in all directions and are only suitable for wide open spaces.  The rounded shapes, total lack or sparing use of chrome, mostly with simple round headlights and lack of creases on the body-shell will definitely not remind one of an Italian exotic and have more of a luxury kit car look to them! Their logo in brushed aluminum also looks rather low budget…some chrome would definitely give the impression of higher value.  There is no alternative for the extrovert millionaire who wants a go anywhere vehicle…

Fiat, is at present ‘the’ Italian car manufacturer, having absorbed all the best known brands of the country still surviving other than Lamborghini. What is happening at Fiat is rather confusing as they do not seem to appear to have a concept of what they wish to be in their car lineup.  Sports cars have disappeared, large cars are gone, station wagons in the classic sense of the word inexistent, so what is keeping them afloat? The 500 is the obvious answer.  The new 500C appears to be a winner and the Abarth versions will definitely be hot selling items down the line. One also wonders what will happen with the 16 which is a joint venture with Suzuki and built in Hungary . Now that Fiat is cooperating with Jeep its days are definitely numbered…Their Geneva stand was one of the most refreshing, different and colourful and children seemed to enjoy it! However, the highlight of the stand was not the 500 or the 15 but the new twin-air 2-cylinder engine which will be appearing in productions later in the year.

Lancia is on ‘life-support’ depending on the very accomplished but rather ignored new Delta to sustain the brand internationally.  The new Hard Black version certainly has presence and looks very menacing and it will find its followers, but is likely to be eclipsed in terms of power by the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta which will make its bow soon.  The news that Lancia and Chrysler will be merged must be accepted with some trepidation as there are too many unknowns as to how the brands will function and what future products will offer.  The chances of Lancia moving up to compete in the ‘premium’ category with Audi & Mercedes seem slim. So where to Lancia?

Their brothers at Alfa Romeo have also been struggling to maintain momentum and the arrival of the new Giulietta comes not a moment too soon to beef up an impressive line-up which includes the Mito, 159, Brera and breathtaking but limited production 8C.  Will the market accept it? I believe it will be a success for Alfa as it encompasses all that one would look for in a sporty hot-hatch and will be a formidable adversary to the Golf, A3 and BMW 1 series, only if potential purchasers go and try it…

Coming to Ferrari now, where the stand was in ‘green’ mode with a Ferrari 599 GTB in a rather fetching light green metallic and championing new electric/KERS technology lifted from the previous season’s Formula 1 effort.  It will take some years to see the production version of this but it show one that super-car manufacturers are not immune to the inexorable trend towards lower emissions.

Ferrari 599GTB with KERS

Ferrari’s stand is always one of the most popular and the display was worth the visit…

Ferrari stand

Maserati, whose stand is just opposite Ferrari’s in Geneva had the new GranGabrio on show. It will be fascinating to see its progress in the market and in a niche where Maserati never covered before. of course, in the past Maserati played in the same league as Ferrari, but today is positioned slightly below Ferrari and addressing competition at the upper end of the lines of the likes of Porsche, Jaguar or Mercedes. Racing pedigree is kept alive and nurtured by the very effective MC12 which had made its appearance on the scene about three years before.

Maserati

Abarth is being treated as a separate brand in the Fiat pantheon and on their stand one could admire the 500 and Punto Abarths.  This surely was one of the smarter moves of Luca de Meo before he was poached by VW. Abarth has a glorious past and one awaits to see further fruits from this endeavor with impatience.  A small and lightweight two-seater sports car perhaps? The 500C on display, although a soft-top can’t really qualify as a sports car…fast for sure, sporty, certainly, but one can’t help but wait for a lithe and gruff two seater one day…

Fiat 500 Abarth

Supercars were an Italian invention and the choices don’t end with Ferrari and Maserati.  Pagani has been quietly and steadily been developing their 7.3 litre AMG Mercedes powered Zonda and the latest iterations of the Roadster and the R were there to be amazed at and drool over.

Pagani Zonda

Lamborghini, now firmly under the care of Audi and inter alia VW is slowly developing into an even more formidable competitor to Ferrari than it ever was. The Gallardo with its V10 engines and the Murcielago with its V12s display and arrogance and youth where perhaps Ferrari is more of the old boy on the block honing its quiver of irresistible machines to greater accomplishment…

Gallardo

The final exponent emanating from Italy was the IED design studio and they presented the following concept.  In my opinion its not ground-breaking in any way but a rather neat model reflecting the potential of the school.

To close this summary of Italy in Geneva here is a photo of an Alfa commemorating 100 years of the brand. Long may they live…

Alfa Romeo, 100 Years

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