Blog : Bye Bye Bertone…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Bertone’s proposal for the Jaguar XJ 40

Ben Adams

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?

Buonanotte Bertone!

Skoda Favorit (1993), picture: Skoda Tradition
Skoda Favorit (1993), picture: Skoda Tradition

Alexander Boucke

Based in Aachen, Germany, Alexander has had BMC>ARG cars around him since birth - in fact his earliest childhood memories are from buying a new Landcrab with his family at the age of two. The new cars have aged to classic cars and a few more have joined the family fleet - most of them by now proper classics and many with Hydrolastic or Hydragas suspension. Alexander joined the AROnline team back in 2002 when helping out to get some facts right on the Austin 3 Litre.

12 Comments

  1. Sad day that another coach builder, and design house has gone.
    As so many manufactures have now taken “styling” in house, does this mean that they will only stick to the family face, and if it doesn’t fit into a certain pigeon hole within their range, then it doesn’t happen?
    Will there be no more individualistic designs escaping into the public domain?
    Without the blue sky thinking of such people would the Miura, Countach, Urraco & Espada have ever seen the light of day? Maybe we would have been denied the Alfa BAT series of cars, the Iso Grifo, Maserati 3500, even the NSU Spider, and some Lambretta scooters. Less face it, Bertone didn’t just do high end exotica, the Inocetti Mini, and the Audi 50 came from their sketch pads.
    Whilst todays vehicles are now built to a plethora of rules and regulations, which dictate “what goes where” sometimes it takes someone to come out with the “wacky”, or just unusual, to show what can be done.

  2. Good, nothing good came from Bertone anyway, like most Italian styling houses the car that were were styled by them were alway angular, often awkward and sometimes outright ugly, people only liked them because they were Italian and therefore must be stylish. just like the way people think that everything made by a German company must be high quality. I honestly think that any amateur college graduate could make a better job at styling most of the crap that came from Bertone. Good riddance I say and let’s hope a group of proper stylists take their place and start making some genuinely good looking cars!

    • Kudos for standing up for such a fringe perspective, Steve.

      The mainstream will certainly bemoan the ending of a company that will not remain associated with some of the greatest cars ever styled, but also nurtured great talent that went on to achieve great things beyond Bertone’s ateliers.
      Without Bertone, there’d be no Giorgetto Giugiaro, Franco Scaglione (who wasn’t exactly renowned for penning angular cars, by the way) or Marcello Gandini.
      In short: our roads would look distinctly differently without Bertone.

  3. Indeed. The image above of the Favorit ably demonstrates that Bertone made above-average and pleasing design a reality even at the bottom of the motoring food chain.
    Shame Skoda didn’t/could’nt build the thing to the same high standards back then.
    Even sadder that they can’t now manage anything nearly as well detailed and easy on the eye with the current Fabia…

  4. The Bertone styled Innocenti Mini Hatch of 1974 was an extremely neat little car and certainly looked much better than Giugiaro’s Golf launched around the same time. A tragedy that the sports jacketed beards that ran Leylands UK styling studios failed to spot it through their horn rimmed glasses and pipe smoke and signed off the Allegro instead!

  5. I’ve owned and loved a few cars from the styling house of Bert and Tony. This is sad news indeed. Sure, the cars may all have had a certain one-size fits all angularity to them, but my Strada and Favorit were nothing if not refreshingly different from their peers.

    For me, though, it was when Citroen met Bertone that great things happened. I know there are big Citroen fans who feel the need to vomit when thu see the double Chevron on the shovel nose of an XM or Xantia, but I love the look of both these cars. They’re decent to drive, too. And as for the BX? I appreciate it’s on the fringe but I can’t think of a better looking, better to drive or more practical C-Segment hatch of the era. My old white one is definitely on the ‘ones I should never have sold’ list!

  6. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course – and car designs will always divide opinion.

    Personally, it’s very sad to see another styling house go under; maybe it’s just age but cars really do look bland and boring these days – designed by cost accountants, in-house, with as much flair as a paving slab. An external pair of eyes rarely does any harm.

    Sure, there were some howlers but I loved their work for Citroen, as well as Fiat’s X1/9. And, as much discussed here at the time, I would have loved to have seen the Jaguar B99 concept in limited production, branded Daimler – what a beautiful automobile.

  7. Only reading this now and sad indeed. Another victim of the great recession.

    Car designs now are all mostly bland, indeed most car designs now are crossover SUVs inspired by Tonka, walls of metal a world away from the balanced elegance of a classic Italian styling house.

    The Xantia got a lot of flak for not looking wacky. I thought it was a handsome design, it has aged well, the way the C pillars taper in can look slightly DS-like (especially noticable if you look backwards from the front seats).
    When Citroen went in house with the C5 they were inspired by the Ford Scorpio. The facelift improved matters, though they then were inspired by German fleet specials for the mk2 (and supposedly to be axed).

    The 90s Bertone Astra coupe was Tomcat-like, almost a shrunken Calibra. After the twintop, GM EU have all but given up on proper coupes – the Cascada being a “might as well use it up” exercise for the unused 9-3 Cabrio…

    The Favorit ushered Skoda into the brave new world of FWD hatchbacks. The Felicia was basically a facelift of this, followed by the taxi driver favorit Octavia, the marque has went from strength to strength, an example of turning a brand around, something BMW and GM failed at with their half-arsed attempts at running Rover and Saab.

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