So we woke up last weekend to the sad news that Bertone has been declared bankrupt. Earlier this year the group ceased trading but I think we all hoped that somehow they’d come back, perhaps with the support of a major European or Chinese manufacturer.
Bertone was launched by the then 28 year old Giovanni Bertone in 1912 – he’d previously worked for Diatto, and his new business concentrated on building carriages, as cars were still not common, but later moved into the building of special versions of standard cars, a practice at the time that the main manufacturers could not easily do so were happy for Carrozzeria Bertone to work on these designs for them. Giovanni’s son, Guiseppe (known as Nuccio or Gary) joined the family firm in 1933, taking over the reins after World War II.
Being based in Turin, Bertone was surrounded by many major car manufacturers and a budding friendship between Giovanni and Vincenzo Lancia, who nicknamed him Bertunot ensured a regular supply of work from Lancia as well as other commisions from Fiat, Lamborghini and Maserati amongst others.
Giovanni died in 1972 at the grand old age of 88 just before the launch of the Fiat X1/9, a significant car within the history of Bertone as this, and later on, the Fiat Ritmo (known here as Strada) were sold under the Bertone brand. This meant Bertone had become more than just a ‘Coachbuilder’ but now sold and serviced its designs directly. As well as this Bertone worked with Volvo on Coupe versions of its 260 and 760 saloon cars. The 780 Coupe (sadly never sold in the UK) was completely designed and built by Bertone for Volvo and sold over 8000 examples between 1986 and 1990.
However, one design Volvo did not take on was ‘Tundra’ a small-medium hatchback design offered to them in 1979, although a similar, but slightly larger design later went on to become the very successful Citroen BX – in some ways that was a coup as often the French manufacturers went to Pininfarina for their work. Citroen also went back to Bertone for the XM, ZX and Xantia models which all sold very well.
Bertone also signed an agreement with General Motors in 1986 and produced for them Cabriolet versions of the popular Astra/Kadett E, for the Astra F and G they supplied Coupe and Cabriolet models as well as working on the Pontiac Fiero GT for America. Sadly, General Motors did not go to Bertone for its Astra H ‘Twintop’ car and no longer sells a designer car, instead offering the larger Cascada model in its place.
Nuccio died in 1997 and the leadership of the Group moved to his widow, Lilli. However, with the global recession of 2008, car companies are doing more and more work ‘in house’, with less and less commisions for the European Design Houses to work on. Heuliez went out of business last October and Pininfarina has closed factories and reduced its workforce by over 60%, so I suppose it was inevitable that Bertone would struggle to keep going as an independant entity. To help stay afloat they sold off their factory to Fiat in 2009 and auctioned off a number of their classic concept designs in 2011 but it was all in vain.
One of the things I’ll remember Bertone for is its ability to work with anyone and everyone – not many people will know that Bertone designed the Skoda Favorit, a car that moved Skoda on in leaps and bounds. Indeed, perhaps this design had the most impact because, shortly after the Favorit was launched, VW bought into Skoda and the company is now a large part of the VAG behemoth. Would VW have committed so many Deutschmarks if all Skoda had was yet another facelift of the ageing 120 (Estelle) car?