Amongst all the coachbuilders that were born in Italy during the golden age of the automotive industry a single one survives independently to this day: Zagato.The company founded by Ugo Zagato with the only scope of “construction and repair of bodies for automobiles and airplanes” is fast approaching the anniversary of its first 100 years of life. The Centenary will be celebrated in 2019, but until then the Milanese company has prepared a series of events and manifestations meant to showcase what the company stands for, bring together all Zagato enthusiasts and also to enrich its register of historic vehicles. The first event was the temporary display of Zagato cars hosted by the Pantheon Museum in Basel, Switzerland for a period of 6 months, starting on the 16th of November 2016 and ending on the 17th of April 2017. The Swiss “forum for oldtimers” is a special designed circular building, serving as a storing depot for various classics and also accommodating a workshop and a restaurant.
More than 30 cars bodied by Zagato have been shown to the public, some of them for the entire duration of the exhibition, others by rotation, ranging from the Alfa Romeos of Mille Miglia fame to one of their most recent creations, the Monstro powered by Maserati. In between everything from racers to prototypes, one offs and limited production cars, Zagato’s quirky yet innovative creations or automobiles industrialised for bigger names in the game. The viewing of the Zagato cars brought together from Swiss collectors and not only starts at the top of the Pantheon on a descending floor, curved due to the shape of the building itself creating the illusion of a bend on a circuit, just like a Parabolica filled with some of the most representative automotive creations from the last century. Leading the pack is the a red 6C 1750 Grand Sport, and this is not an insignificant coincidence. The Milanese Carozzeria has had its premises from the very beginnings inside Alfa’s hinterland and has always thrived in the vicinity of Alfa Romeo, as recognition came early with the 6C and 8C in the ’30s and later throughout the years some of its most famous creations were based on Alfa Romeo chassis. Such famous and successful cars here on display were the two developments of the Tubolare Zagato project in the ’60. Already established for a long time as collectors cars, the TZ and TZ2 were joined by their younger siblings, the TZ3 Corsa (which I’ve previously had the chance to see during Alfa Romeo´s Centenario celebrations in 2010) and a metallic yellow example of the limited run TZ Stradale based on the Viper platform. I think this was for the first time in history when all the TZ cars were brought together under the same roof. Not only special occasion then, but a rather unique opportunity. Other most special Alfa Romeo cars bodied by Zagato made up this hall of fame, like the most striking representant of the 1900 family – the SSZ in its characteristic metallic Oceano Verde colour or the bubbly Giulietta Sprint SZ in a red Coda Tonda version. Another rather special occasion for me personally was also to see for the first time Il Monstro – Alfa Romeo SZ – next to the Lancia Hyena. I’ve long believed these two cars were perhaps separated at birth as they seem to originate from the same school of thought, but the reality is somehow different . The Hyena is a Delta Integrale underneath, clothed by Zagato and imagined as a homage to the Lancia coupes of the ’70s, whereas the ES30 was designed by Alfa Romeo and assembled only by Zagato. A 2600 SZ was also there with its long Coda Tronca and a yellow 1300 Junior showing off its whole frontal side covered in Plexiglas. If this car looks modern even today I can only imagine how futuristic must have been perceived by the public when it was first shown in the ’70s.
Although the Alfas made up majority here other models from other makes were present too: the gorgeous Lancia Flaminia Sport and Super Sport Coupes, the aerodynamic Flavia and Fulvia Sport or the aristocratic Aston Martin AR1 and DB4, various Fiats and Porsches. Remaining an independent coachbuilder meant Zagato got to work for other companies as well: Lancia, Ferrari, Aston Martin or Bentley to name just a few. After the innovations of the ’30s when Ugo Zagato began transforming the cars using techniques used in the aviation industry, making them lighter and more aerodynamic, the company continued to leave its mark in the world with the Grand Turismo genre in the years after to the second world war. In the ’70 and ’80, under the guidance of the founder’s son -Elio Zagato- the firm looked to expand its activity to other areas of industrial design and has even pioneered in the sector of electric city cars. In keeping the tradition, a third generation Zagato man is leading the company today and continues to design and fabricate quirky yet beautiful cars. Under his guidance the company has even managed to offer its home city a fresh and original take on the Bombardier tram. After going through their amazing timeline I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the Centenario celebrations in 2019. Hopefully it will be another ground breaking Alfa Romeo… Not only it will honour the company’s beginnings but it will also make for another class leading, trend setting product. Now that Alfa has the technically advanced Giorgio platform what better way to valorise it then by letting the imagination of Zagato run free with it?