The name Bertone has a certain familiar ring to it in the car design world, with a history spanning more than 100 years. All time greats such as Lamborghini Miura and Countach, Lancia Stratos and Alfa Romeo Giulia SS were born at Bertone, and a large number of concept cars and production cars alike were created there over the years. Sadly, the original Bertone family company came to a halt in 2012, and their collection had to be sold. Some special cars were sold separately, but the large bulk of the collection was sold as one, and it is now possible to see this collection at the Volandia museum near Malpensa airport outside Milan. Oh, and Bertone has been revived – more about that further down.
A fine December morning saw me arriving at Volandia to see something I had been wanting to see for decades. Well known photos of Bertone’s numerous designs flew around in my mind, and although the facilities weren’t yet ready (the official opening will be in March 2018), it was almost surreal to see so many of my celebrities in one place. Left to my own devices, I started off with a section of concept cars, with names such as Lotus Emotion, Opel Blitz, Chevrolet Nivola and Autobianchi Runabout.
Around the corner, another row of concept cars. The Bertone Genesis stood out for me, seeing as it was built around a Lamborghini V12 and underpinnings. My story from a few years back came to mind. Its peculiar minivan design and seating layout makes it an intriguing creation. Other classics included the SAAB Novanta, Chevrolet Ramarro and Bertone Birusa.
Big names lay ahead: Three Lamborghinis were grouped together with two Ferraris, and each and every of them are classics in their own right. Miura, Espada, Countach – 308 GT4 and Rainbow. The colours were spot on as well, the brown Miura looking absolutely ravishing and the blue Rainbow flaunting its lines and angles. Oh, and that yellow Lancia Stratos HF!
On to a fine selection of this and that – Dino Coupe and X1/9 made for Fiat, GT, Montreal and Giulia SS for Alfa Romeo. Great production car successes, and with designs to make any neighbour put on that longing gaze. On a drawing board, iconic drawings of the Stratos Zero and HF to remind us that Bertone wasn’t only about design, but also technology. The Citroën Camargue, though, is all about that quirky design.
Some of the cars of the collection showed clear sign of neglect and disuse, and Volandia had cleverly placed most of these in an officina workshop section, where they would sit in hope of being returned to former glory. Classics such as the Volvo 780 Coupe, Bertone Freeclimber, Jaguar Ascot were joined by a motley crew, making for a bittersweet sensation. The group of beach buggies, on the other hand, made me want to jump in and head for the dunes (somewhere a bit warmer than wintery Italy, that is).
The more recent concepts on display included the Jaguar B99, Aston Martin Jet 2, Porsche Karisma and BMW Pickster. The design of the B99 in particular was quite successful and well received, although not by Jaguar themselves, who found it untoward that someone should tell them how their cars should look. In addition to these concepts, the low drag and ditto emission Bertone Z.E.R. looked a bit out of place in the hallway. The pair of two-wheelers had their own room, and looked as if they had spent a few too many years in eachothers company.
As promised, here’s a bit about the current status of Bertone, now owned by French group AKKA. Later that same day, I met up with Bastien Massé, sales director of Bertone, at their temporary offices in Beinasco on the outskirts of Turin. He told me that they were aiming at giving Bertone two feet to stand on; one would be creating new designs and concept cars and the other would be building cars for other car companies. Being independent, Bertone would enjoy being able to work with just about anyone.
Bertone recently held a design contest, inviting anyone to join, and as I asked about this, Bastien told me he would show me the winning entries, and that I would be the first outside Bertone to see them. They had selected one winner for exterior design and one for interior, and it was easy to see the Bertone lineage in the exterior design, but it was still a novelty. I found the “b” on the roof a clever detail. “We wish to stay true to the tradition of Bertone by constantly renewing our design language”, Bastien told me, showing me some entries that had taken the retro approach – “this is not what we want”.
Bertone’s new premises, aptly located along Viale Nuccio Bertone in Grugliasco, were close to being finished, and will house more than one hundred engineers and designers upon completion. It would seem that Bertone is back in the game. So if your supercar isn’t special enough, give Bastien a call and ask for a one-off Bertone design.