After visiting the studio of Alessi designer Mario Trimarchi, we drove to Rho, Lombardy (northwest of Milan) to visit the headquarters and showroom of Zagato Milano, an independent coach building company that has been building some of the world's most beautiful and winning racing cars since 1919.
A representative of the company presented us with a slideshow explaining how founder Ugo Zagato used his background in aeronautics to design light-bodied, aerodynamic racing machines.
Cars at the time were bulky, and Zagato wanted to apply the lightness and strength of aircraft to the automotive business. His focused turned to racecars in the 1920s when Alfa Romeo asked him to revamp their Romeo RL models. Bugatti, Maserati, Diatto, Ferrari, and Rolls Royce all became clients soon thereafter. And Zagato-bodied cars went on to win several of Italy's Mille Miglia races.
What's so interesting is how they modify these cars. Zagato is strictly a coach-builder; they don't modify the mechanics (engine, suspension, etc.), nor do they touch the original cockpit (which has undergone too many crash tests to risk change). The original manufacturer still designs the interior, which is why the cars still carry the badges of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, etc.
Zagato begins with a blueprint of the original car and takes care to ensure that the redesign still accommodates these basic structural elements. Then they design inclined windshields, more aerodynamic headlights, convex bootlids, and perforated disc wheels (to help brake cooling). With the introduction of Plexiglass in the 1940s, he created the "Panoramica" body, and his signature "double bubble" roof. Here you can see the evolution of one design:
In the 1950s, Ugo's son Elio began racing cars in the new Gran Turismo category, which included cars designed for everyday use but sleek enough for weekend racing.
Today, Zagato produces bespoke cars for racers and car afficionados alike. They collaborate with the customer and the original manufacturer to infuse more personality into mass-production vehicles, typically working on 2-door, 2-seat coupes from Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, Diatto and Alpha Romeo. Here are before and after pictures of the car that was customized for the CEO of Bentley (note the curved back window and double bubble roof):
We then proceeded to the showroom to marvel at a selection of Zagato-body cars.
The full lineup:
This one (sorry, I can't remember what it is!)
And this little fellow (and yes, that sales woman behind me is smoking in the showroom! They smoke everywhere here...even in the restaurants):
I don't know much about cars, but even I could appreciate the beauty and design of these. And of course the men in the group, who seemed only mildly interested in the Missoni visit yesterday, were in Heaven :)