Eighteen years removed from his latest and most hopeful works, Franco Scaglione had sunk into obscurity. The automotive world that once exalted his designs had long forgotten about him. He had crafted some of the finest and most notable cars in history and yet, a single, happenstance article in Italy’s AutoCapital in 1993 became a final tribute before he quietly passed from lung cancer at 76.
Scaglione was born in Florence, Italy on September 26, 1916 and had a very late introduction to the automotive world. Conscripted for World War II after receiving his engineering degree in aeronautics, Scaglione spent three years at sea when a British torpedo killed a number of his crewmembers and saw him imprisoned for five years. When he was finally freed in 1946, Italy was in ruin. He was 30 years old and holding a degree that was virtually useless amidst its strained economy.
Scaglione sought work as a sketch artist for various fashion houses over the next five years, but had been intrigued with the automobile since his childhood. In his spare time, he drafted numerous designs – this time using his aeronautical education. In 1951, his penchant for futuristic design led him to apply to Italy’s most famed coachbuilders: Bertone, Carrozzeria Ghia, Pininfarina, and Zagato, to name a few.
Just Pininfarina and Bertone responded, but that was all he needed.
Scaglione’s relationship with owner Battista “Pinin” Farina was brief. Despite his humble demeanour and lack of professional experience, Scaglione was not willing to lose any credit over his designs in the name of Pininfarina, and the two parted ways after just two months.
Then 34, Scaglione moved on to the house of Bertone for some of the most successful years of his career.
His first design – the Fiat Abarth 1500 Biposto – was an instant success. It captured “Most Outstanding Car” at the 1952 Turin Auto Show and the curious attention from Packard executives – so much so that they purchased the car and brought it back to the United States as a design study.
Scaglione was promoted to head of design and Bertone’s reputation grew rapidly. It had been kick started after Stanley Arnolt, a Chicago industrialist and low-volume importer, ordered Bertone to design and build 380 cars based on an MG chassis. Known as the Arnolt-MG, its success led to a Scaglione-designed open-top 2+2 sports car based on the two-litre British Bristol. One-hundred and eighty cars later (not including two exclusive coupes), the Arnolt-Bristol repeated that success in America. The model changed Italian coach building and mass-market production forever.
Seeing the potential of this intercontinental market relationship, Alfa Romeo commissioned Bertone into a relationship that would see the creation of some of its most legendary models.
Scaglione’s first project, the Sportiva 2000, didn’t result see production, but contained a number of design cues that appear in later Alfa models.
His second – and most daring – Alfa Romeo project was the Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica study – or BAT, for short. Here, Scaglione was tasked with creating three aerodynamic designs in an effort to explore vehicle drag.
After four unreleased concepts, the BAT 5 was released in 1953 to world fanfare. Its radical design and sculpted rear wings made it an instant hit, and Scaglione achieved aerodynamic numbers unheard of on an automobile: its drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.23 is still better than a current Mercedes-Benz CLA or the BMW i8.
The following BAT 7 (unveiled in 1954) saw the best coefficient number of the three studies at just 0.19 Cd, while the final BAT 9 (1955) was worked to closer resemble Alfa’s production design language.
Scaglione capped off a period of aerodynamic focus with the 1956 Abarth Record Bertone which, fitted with various engine sizes, captured 20 international land speed records across three different classes.
Until this period, Scaglione had no high-production vehicles in his portfolio. He was the head of Bertone design, but his experience extended only to coachworks and low-volume projects. That changed in 1954 when he fine tuned Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta Sprint concept into one of the most popular vehicles to come out of Italy, selling over 24,000 models.
He followed that success with the 1958 rear-engine Sport-Prinz Coupé for German automaker NSU (20,831 produced) and the 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale (1,252).
Later that year Scaglione left Bertone, seemingly at the height of his career. But his first freelance project in 1960 paired Porsche and Abarth for 26 editions of the Porsche 356B Carrera GTL Abarth. The lower, lighter and more aerodynamically efficient racer captured class wins at Goodwood, Monza and Le Mans, and was blatantly quicker than the German original.
In 1963, a new manufacturer set on trumping Ferrari had just set up shop in Sant’Agata Bolognese and Scaglione was its designer of choice. Scaglione’s sketch of the 350 GTV prototype would become the foundation for the very first Lamborghini. When it finally made it to production, the renamed 350 GT had been massaged by Carrozzeria Touring, but still bared many of Scaglione’s design trademarks.
Scaglione’s next creation would become his most widely recognized of all.
Returning to Alfa Romeo for the Giulia (or Giulietta) Sprint Speciale in 1963, its Auto Delta motorsport division was looking to create a street version of the Tipo 33 racer. According to an article in Special Interest Autos (May/June 1994), “everyone voted for Scaglione” to undertake the project.
The result was the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale Coupé – Scaglione’s greatest, and final world-renowned design.
Often ranked as one of the most beautiful cars in history, the 33 Stradale was the first to feature a butterfly door design. Even with its 2.0-litre, 230 horsepower V8, the Stradale packed an impeccable power-to-weight ratio thanks to its lightweight 700 kilogram construction.
Of the original 33 units planned for production, just 18 Stradales were made. Less than 10 priceless editions of the model exist today.
Scaglione’s investment in his career was no more personal than during his collaborations with Italian coachbuilder Intermeccanica from 1970 to 1972. After numerous designs and failed production attempts which included funding from Scaglione himself, Canadian owner Frank Reisner relocated the company to Canada and left the famed Italian designer behind.
Wronged and walking away from an industry that he had given so much, Scaglione’s aerodynamic prowess was dearly missed during the OAPEC oil crisis when such designs were needed most.
An unfinished Fiat aerodynamic bus concept in 1975 was the last of any major correspondence before his health quickly declined and he fell into solitude for nearly 20 years.
It was a quiet end to a career that was starkly the opposite – and 100 years after his birth, is a story that will surely be told for 100 more.
Images courtesy of their respective manufacturers and Polyphony Digital.