Nothing invokes the image of a “classic sports car” than that of a little red Italian convertible, maneuvering gracefully on some tight and twisty mountain road at the very edge of rubber squealing speed with your hair blowing in the wind and adrenaline pumping through your veins. It’s with that spirit that we are proud to host the “Marques of Italy” for our 2015 Marque of the Year celebration at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Cortile Italian Macchina Show!
Over the last century or so Italian cars have become analogous with racing and performance. As we celebrate the iconic Italian Marques this year it’s only appropriate to explain some of the history that have made “Italian” and “sports cars” so very synonymous.
If you visit Italy you will find that Italian drivers are fast, aggressive and very skillful. Lane hopping and late braking are the norm and it's not uncommon to see cars tailgating at 80 mph. You can’t expect people to slow down for you or let you out. Rather, you’re expected to seize the moment, or, as the artist of this years PVGP poster, Dwight Knowlton, coined the phrase “Carpe Viam” - Seize the Road!
Below we take you through the twisting, turning and forever competitive history of the Italian marques....
Be forewarned: The history we've outlined here is just a very brief overview of of what has been bred out of a century of racing competition. No other country has produced so many marques who's primary goal has been WINNING RACES. Enjoy....
Where it started
The Targa Florio open road endurance race was considered one of the toughest competitions in Europe. The 1906 first running covered 3 laps equalling 277 miles through multiple hairpin curves on treacherous mountain roads, and at heights where severe changes in climate frequently occurred. Then, just as today, automobile manufacturer’s and drivers proved their mettle by winning races. It was out of that heat of racing competition that fueled many of the iconic Italian car marques of today.
Alessandro Cagno won the very first Targa Florio in 1906. He was employee #3 at the Fiat automobile company that had formed in 1899. Fiat was one of the first Italian manufacturers to be involved in racing. In 1908, Vincenzo Lancia, finished 2nd at Targa Florio. Lancia had been a race driver for Fiat starting in 1900. In 1906 he had started is own automobile manufacturer and launched his first production car, the Lancia Alpha, in 1908. By 1913, Lancia introduced the the very first complete electrical system as standard equipment on his cars. No doubt that innovation was derived from his racing experience. Although Vincenzo Lancia started his company in 1906, at the 1908 Targa Florio he was driving a Fiat. Not only where the boundaries of the race courses muddy at that time, so where the relationships between those early manufacturers. They shared component parts and people. It's always been a melting pot in that sense...
Some have said that the history of Italian car manufacturing reads like a soap opera, with tales of arguments and agreements, of splits, mergers and acquisitions. Indeed, the tales of who worked for whom, who raced for whom and who supplied what for whom are so very intertwined and melded together that it is often difficult to know where any single bit of innovation originated. Enzo Ferrari once said "If you see what a competitor is doing and it is better than what you are doing, you have to surpass them to ensure your cars are better." Italian manufacturer’s where constantly stealing away the best talent or forging new alliances, whether it be engineering, design, production or racing drivers. It’s that hot blooded molten cauldron of racing competition that forged Italian cars from the very beginning.
A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) was founded in 1910. ALFA produced its first car in the same year and a year later entered two cars in the Targa Florio race. That began their long association with motor racing.
In 1915 the company came under the direction of Neapolitan entrepreneur Nicola Romeo and, by 1920, the name of the company was changed to Alfa Romeo.
One of their first significant racing successes came in 1920 when they podiumed with a second place in the Targa Florio in an Alfa Romeo driven by a 22 year old by the name of Enzo Ferrari. But more about that later….
By the mid-1920s, the Targa Florio had become one of Europe's most important races for automobile manufactuers, as neither the 24 Hours of Le Mans nor the Mille Miglia had been established yet.
The Monocoque & Carrozzeria
- First, customers already accustomed to ordering carriages from a coach builder, would select an automobile manufacturer to provide only the rolling chassis, comprised of the chassis, drivetrain (engine, axles, wheels), suspension, steering system and the radiator - the radiator, usually its shell, soon became the only visual element identifying the rolling chassis brand.
- Second, the customer would approach a Carrozzeria, a coachbuilder, requesting a personal body design to be fitted on the new chassis. Initially, the long-established and refined skills used to build the wooden and metal bodies of vehicles were so specialized that most manufacturers had contracts with couchbuilders to produce bodies for their chassis. Such is the case with many Italian marques who, to this day, utilize Carrozzeria with famous names such as Bertone, Carrozzeria Touring, Ghia, Pininfarina, Scaglietti, Vignale and Zagato for their body design.
Editor's note: Are you seeing red yet? Quite the soap opera so far eh? We're only in the 1920's! This is part of the reason why the Cortile at the PVGP is a car show about ALL of the Marques of Italy: They are all so very intertwined that it's difficult to appreciate one marque without paying homage to several others at the same time. Keep reading, it gets more interesting...
Rosso Red, The Quadrofoglio & Scuderia Ferrari
In 1904, many national motor clubs banded together to form the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) which is the predecessor to the current FIA governing board which it become known as in 1950. Originally the country colors where: Blue to France, Yellow to Belgium, White to Germany and Red to the USA. Italy “adopted” its famous 'Racing Red' when a red Itala (Itala was a car manufacturer based in Turin, Italy from 1904-1934) won the Peking to Paris race in 1907 but it really wasn’t ‘established’ until the “Rosso Corsa" Alfa Romeo’s began to dominate racing events in the 1920’s.
The cloverleaf or “quadrifoglio” has been used on Alfa Romeo cars since 1923. As a friend of Enzo Ferrari, Ugo Sivocci was hired by Alfa Romeo in 1920 to drive in the three-man works team, called "Alfa Corse", with Antonio Ascari and Enzo Ferrari.
Sivocci was thought to have enormous experience, but often hampered by bad luck and considered the eternal second-placer.
To banish his bad luck, when the Targa Florio came around, Sivocci painted a white background with a green four-leaf clover (the quadrifoglio) in the centre of the grille of his car.
Sivocci had immediate success, crossing the finish line first in that race and several more to follow. The quadrifoglio subsequently became the symbol of the racing Alfa Romeos with a victory at the Targa Florio.
Editors note: Sivocci’s car number was 17. That number was retired upon his death in 1923 and has not been used by ANY Italian Race team since.
Which brings us back to Alfa Romeo who won the inaugural Grand Prix world championship in 1925 with Enzo Ferrari at the helm of the team.
Alfa Romeo had offered Enzo Ferrari a chance to race in more prestigious competitions but Enzo had been deeply shocked by the death of his friends and fellow racing drivers Ugo Sivocci in 1923 and Antonio Ascari in 1925. Ferrari turned down the opportunity to drive and focused instead on the management and development of the factory Alfa racing cars, eventually building up a team of over forty drivers.
1927 saw the creation of a new iconic endurance race: The Mille Miglia. The race was from Brescia to Rome and back: a figure-eight shaped course of roughly 1500 km — or a thousand Roman miles. Winning the Mille Miglia and it’s predecessor the Targa Florio became almost a matter of national pride for Italians. The Mille Miglia race was held twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957. It was won 21 times by Italian manufacturers.
In 1929 Ferrari started the Scuderia Ferrari team in order to enter amateur drivers in various races primarily racing Alfa Romeo’s. In 1930 Tazio Nuvolari won the Mille Miglia in an Alfa Romeo 6C. In 1933 Alfa Romeo experienced financial difficulties, and withdrew its in-house team from racing. The Alfa Romeo racing team was privatized and officially named Scuderia Ferrari with team leader Enzo Ferrari at the helm. Few people realize that the DNA for every Ferrari was actually born on Alfa Romeo's payroll. Enzo built a robust racing team from scratch starting in 1929, tapping some of the greatest pre-war drivers in Europe to lead the Scuderia to victory.
Editors Note: Ferdinand Porsche once said that Tazio Nuvolari is
"The greatest driver of the past, present, or future."
Enzo's team included the aforementioned "Flying Mantuan" Tazio Nuvolari.
In 1935 Enzo Ferrari built the Alfa Romeo Bimotore, the first car to wear a Ferrari badge on the radiator cowl. This is why you will see the famous Cavallino Rampante "prancing horse" medallion on the cowl of Alfa Romeo’s from that period.
Luigi Chinetti won at his very first 24 hours of Le Mans race in 1932 driving an Alfa Romeo for Enzo Ferrari. Chinetti and Enzo would become lifelong friends and later in his life he opened the first—and for a while the only—Ferrari dealership in the United States in the late 1950’s. [see this article for details]
In 1938, Alfa Romeo management made the decision to enter racing under its own name, ere-establishing the Alfa Corse organization, which absorbed what had been Scuderia Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari disagreed with this change in policy and was dismissed by Alfa Romeo in 1939. The terms of his leaving forbade him from motorsport under his own name, for a period of four years. However, Ferrari managed to manufacture two cars, named the AAC Tipo 815’s, for the 1940 Mille Miglia, engineered by Alberto Massimino and driven by Enzo’s old racing partner Antonio Ascari’s son, Alberto Ascari. This name comes up again later…
in 1939 and 1940, a Maserati 8CTF won back-to-back wins at the Indianapolis 500, the only Italian manufacturer ever to do so. World War II, however, brought a halt to most racing.
postwar: "Italian" & "Racing" become synonymous
The postwar period was an incredibly innovative and exciting time for Italian manufacturers. It was a cauldron of racing competition amongst Italian Marques that rose to a level boiling above and beyond any other country. In 1946 a new Italian racing brand was born called Cisitalia. Tazio Nuvolari was still racing and piloted the Cistalia a class victory at the 1947 Mille Miglia at the age of 54!. Ilario Bandini also piloted a Cistalia in 1947 to numerous victories. Prior to the war Siata sold performance parts to modify and tune cars manufactured by Fiat.
In 1948 production of Siata's first wholly original design, the Siata Amica, powered by a Fiat engine, began and Siata continued to make cars through 1975. In 1948 Lancia introduced of the the first 5 speed gearbox fitted to a road car and became very active in racing.
“Second is the first of the losers.”
In 1952 Alberto Ascari gave Ferrari its first Drivers Championship and then again in 1953. Ascari drove for Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati for the 1954 campaign. Ascari won the Mille Miglia driving a Lancia sportscar.
In 1954 Fangio won while hopping rides between Maserati and Mercedes and then continued his dominance in 1955, 1956 and 1957, the latter two under the banner of Ferrari and Maserati respectively.
By 1955 Lancia had achieved ten podiums in Formula One. In 1956, Ferrari had acquired the folded Lancia team's D50 race cars.
In 1956, the Targa Florio was celebrating 50 years and Italian manufactures had won the race 44 of those years.
Notably, 1957 marked the year that Argentine-born Alejandro de Tomaso made his Formula One debut as a driver. That becomes rather important later in our story as de Tomaso became the owner of Maserati and many other iconic marques in the 1970's. But, again, we're getting ahead of ourselves in the story....
After 1957, Maserati began focusing on building road cars due to financial difficulties. Some have said it was the Italian passion for the racing business that drove up the performance innovation of not only Italian cars but all automotive manufacturers in this period. Alas, it may also have been the focus on the racing business that took the focus off of selling consumer cars, and, by the 1960’s, many Italian Marques where experiencing lots of "financial difficulty."
Racing, they say, can make you a millionaire… if you start out as a billionaire.
Consolidation & Expansion
1961 marked the year that Alfa Romeo started importing cars to the United States. Meanwhile at ISO, after the success of the Isetta bubble car, and together with engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, and chassis builder Bertone, Renzo Rivolta began developing the Iso Rivolta in 1962 and moved ISO into the “GT/Gran Turismo” (Grand Touring) & performance sports car manufacturer category.
Editors Note; In October of 1963 the Ferrari Club of America was started, partially from the influence of Jack Katzen of Philadelphia and included as a club founder, Dick Merritt, who later raced in the inaugural Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in 1983 with his 1959 Ferrari 246 Dino.
Although race cars did not bear the name Fiat on the their grill in the postwar period, Fiat became the power plant of choice for many companies. An alliance with Fiat was crucial to the success for many of the iconic racing names. Since it’s founding, Fiat had expanded manufacturing into farm equipment, marine engines and even airplanes while at the same time supporting many many of the Italian marques who's focus was on racing and performance....
Starting in the mid 1960’s Fiat began buying up, some would say “saving”, their competitors. In 1967, Fiat purchased Autobianchi and took a majority stake in Magneti Marelli. The Fiat 124 was named “Car of the Year."
The Fiat Dino Coupé was launched with an engine based on Ferrari technology. The Fiat Dino allowed Ferrari to achieve the necessary production numbers to homologate the V6 engine for Formula 2 racing.
By 1969 Fiat had purchased controlling interest in both Ferrari and Lancia.
In 1971 Fiat acquired Abarth.
The legend of Lamborghini
Lamborghini thought Ferrari's cars were good, but too noisy and rough to be proper road cars. Most annoyingly, Lamborghini found that Ferrari's cars were equipped with inferior clutches, and he was continuously forced to return to Maranello for clutch rebuilds. Ferrari technicians would take the car away for several hours to make the repairs, not allowing the curious Lamborghini to view the work. Frustrated with the recurring nature of the problems, during one particularly long wait, he took the matter up with the company's founder, "Il Commendatore", Enzo Ferrari.
What happened next has become the stuff of legend: Ferruccio complained to Enzo in "a bit of an argument", telling him that his cars were rubbish; the notoriously pride-filled Modenan was furious, telling the manufacturing tycoon, "Lamborghini, you may be able to drive a tractor, but you will never be able to handle a Ferrari properly. You stick to building tractors and I will stick to building sports cars.” Enzo Ferrari's snubbing of Lamborghini had profound consequences. Lamborghini later said that it was at that point that he got the idea that if Enzo Ferrari, or anyone else, could not build him a perfect car, he might be able to simply make such a car himself. An the birth of the Lamborghini Bulls began.
Lancia, also a Fiat company, was successful in the arena of rallying in the 70’s and 80’s as well.
Prior to the forming of the World Rally Championship, Lancia took the final International Championship for Manufacturers title with the Fulvia in 1972.
In the WRC, they remain the most statistically successful marque (despite having withdrawn at the end of the 1993 season), winning constructors' titles in 1974, 1975 and 1976, and again 1983 and the finally six consecutive wins from 1987 to 1992.
“I have no interest in life outside racing cars.”
However, to fund the racing cars, Enzo needed to sell cars and the Chinetti-Garthwaite enterprise SOLD cars. In fact, many have said that the sales of the cars in North America funded the technical developments in Ferrari F1 cars in the 1970’s and led to the success Ferrari in F1 with Niki Lauda piloting in in 1975 and 1977 and Jody Scheckter in 1979. We are very honored at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Cortile to welcome Algar Ferrari as one of our sponsors of the Marques of Italy in 2015 and Tom Frasca, who was Luigi Chinetti's personal secretary for over 30 years as one of our Cortile Cup Judges.
Marques of Italy
In 1982 a group of United States Fiat enthusiasts who started the Fiat Club of America eventually forming 25 chapters across North America. In 1983 the “Fiat Lancia Underground” held their first gathering at Pocono Raceway and named the show FIAT FreakOut. In 1986, the club decided to change it’s name to Fiat Lancia Unlimited to welcome all Italian automobiles and widen it’s appeal to enthusiasts all over the world. The FreakOut became an annual event.
Sadly, Fiat stopped exporting cars to the United States in 1983. The following years saw good news and bad news for Italian Car aficionados.
The celebration in 2008 was so well received that the following year saw the founding of the Cortile Italian Car Show at the PVGP. Word must have gotten out about the resurgence of Interest in Italian cars because in June of 2009, Fiat Group and Chrysler Group LLC formed a strategic alliance. Consequently, Fiat has become the sixth largest car manufacturer in the world and it foretold the return of Italian marques Fiat and Alfa Romeo again being exported to North America.
Each year, similar to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix's selection of a "marque of the the year" the Cortile selects an Italian marque to highlight. Work began in earnest in 2010 by PVGP volunteers and FLU members Sean Kunkle, Andy Schor and Mark Sheldon to invite the Fiat FreakOut to Pittsburgh.
By 2011 Wayne Long, with the help of Steve Barney, the owner of the first Ferrari F1 car sold outside of Italy, started the Cortile Cup competition. After 27 years of not being sold in North America Fiat returned in 2011. Soon thereafter the the Fiat Lanica Unlimited club was renamed back to it’s original name: Fiat Club America.
The Alfa Romeo 4C was announced to be the first mass-produced car to re-enter the US market in 2013 and the first launch edition appeared in Pittsburgh in December 2014.
For 2015 the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and the Cortile is excited to be the host venue for the Fiat FreakOut as the centerpiece of the Marques of Italy display.
Fiat is Proiettore Macchina of the Cortile, due in large parts to the volunteer efforts began in 2010. We’re also hosting a group from the Ferrari Club America - Mid Atlantic chapter and the newly formed in 2014, Lamborghini Club of Western Pennsylvania. Please enjoy the show and the don't forget to make a donation to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Charities.
2015 is significant in Italian racing history. It marks the: