What's In An Homage
Some years ago, the two greatest carrozzieri paid tribute to their highly respected capi - in similar fashion, with dramatically differing results.
Neither Nuccio Bertone nor Sergio Pininfarina established the company that bore their family name. But both were outstanding business men, as well as exemplary patrons of the most legendary designers the automotive world has ever seen and played crucial roles in cementing the status of Bertone and Pininfarina not just as world-class design studios, but industry benchmarks.
Of course, by the beginning of this decade, not only had that benchmark status been lost, but both these storied companies were fighting for their very survival. Against such an equally dramatic and austere backdrop, it was hardly surprising that Bertone and Pininfarina turned somewhat nostalgic and tried to evoke better times with their concept cars for the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Geneva Motor Show.
First up was the Bertone Nuccio. After mounting losses, factory closures and inheritance disputes of soap opera proportions, by the year 2012 Bertone was once again focussing on its design business. Put in charge of maintaining the legacy of Scaglione, Giugiaro and Gandini was American former Lancia chief designer, Michael Robinson, who had already overseen the creation of two Bertone concept cars of dramatically different character (the Alfa Romeo Pandion and Jaguar B99).
Acting as a tribute to Bertone’s centennial and the man who had turned the company into a giant in its field, the Nuccio’s design aimed at paying homage to Caprie’s creative zenith, while simultaneously providing an idea of Bertone’s stylistic ideas for the future. For that reason, Marcello Gandini’s groundbreaking Stratos Zero lent some of its graphics and basic wedge shape, whereas the colour orange was applied in a manner reminiscent of Bertone’s Caprie studios. On top of that, fragmented grid patterns covering the Nuccio’s front air inlets and on its rear body aimed at adding some contemporary flair.
Given the almost instinctive visual appeal of the Stratos Zero’s extremely low shape and brilliantly simple graphics, the Nuccio should thus possess instant aesthetic flair. But almost as if to prove that the genius of Gandini at the height of his creative powers lay not so much in inordinate outrageousness, but an unparalleled, precise flair for the dramatic, the Nuccio lacks everything its prominent forefather possesses in spades: Poise, grace and a sense of proportion.
Towering where the Stratos Zero cowered, the Nuccio’s sheer sides, crowned by that awkward orange canopy, are like a particularly ornate Chinese pagoda structure to Gandini’s mininmalist, clean, yet all the more strikingly modernist fuselage. So overbearing is that projecting canopy that it lends the entire car a very top heavy stance, which utterly overwhelms the generously dimensioned wheels and makes the Nuccio appear far taller and narrower than it actually is.
So fundamentally flawed is the Nuccio in terms of stance and graphics that its peculiar paint, which lends it the appearance of a plastic toy, needs not even be discussed. Just like the frankly preposterous ‘invention’ of a front brake light, which - unsurprisingly - has not caught on since.
As swan songs go, the Nuccio is a particularly unworthy one. For despite that great design house’s inability to attract creative talent on the same scale as Scaglione, Giugiaro and Gandini after the latter’s departure, which inevitably resulted in creative decline of the ensuing decades, Bertone deserved a far worthier send-off than this caricature of a show car before its bankruptcy in 2014.
One year prior to Bertone closing shop for good, Pininfarina were in almost as precarious a state. After mounting losses, factory closures and family drama - which culminated with Sergio Pininfarina’s passing away in 2012 - the company was also fighting for its survival. On top of that, an externally hired new chief designer, Fabio Filippini, was expected to come up with some kind of statement of intent.
Out of all these considerations, the Pininfarina Sergio emerged at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. Like the Nuccio, it harked back to one of the carrozzeria’s more illustrious chapters - albeit in far less concrete a fashion. And in far more graceful a style.
If the work of any particular Pininfarina designer had to be singled out as the Sergio’s main source of inspiration, it would have to be Aldo Brovarone’s. His designs for the Dino brand in particular (Berlinetta Speciale, 206) would appear to have informed the Sergio’s shape - a fitting tribute indeed, for Sergio Pininfarina himself was arguably the biggest champion of the car the world would get to know and love as the Dino 206/246 GTB. And yet such a description would sell Sergio, the automobile, short, as its two-tone graphics and choice of materials were utterly contemporary, harking back to the spirit, rather than mere stylistic tropes of the great Pininfarina designs of yore.
The choice of a barchetta bodystyle appears to have been made in a similar vein, for it brings other Pininfarina/Ferrari designs of this architecture (Camardella’s Mythos and Okuyama’s Rossa) back to mind, without directly emulating them. More concrete a reference is the pattern of the air outlets above the engine, whose shape was first seen on Paolo Martin’s seminal Modulo concept car.
Thankfully, the Sergio does without pseudo innovations à la front braking lights, focussing instead on typical Pininfarina traits like clean surfaces (despite the odd airflow-aiding spoiler being discreetly included) and a flawless stance.
Even without paying much attention to nuance and details, the fates that beckoned for Pininfarina and Bertone after they had created their respective homage cars would appear to be inevitable. Of course, Bertone did not got out of business simply due to one terrible concept car: this would bestow the Nuccio with the kind of relevance for which it is utterly undeserving. But the differences in terms of craftsmanship, intelligence and taste are in such plain sight that nobody could be surprised by the eventual outcome: that Pininfarina’s services were simply deemed far worthier than Bertone’s by both the public and potential clients.
In the year 2019, the consequence of all of this is that Bertone is now relegated to the history books (despite an unrelated company of the same name being in business), whereas Pininfarina, after years of hardships and soul searching, is on the verge of presenting another tribute car: The Battista, an electric hypercar, aimed at establishing the carrozzeria as a bona fide sports car maker.
Any judgement of that homage will have to wait until the evening of March 4th, 2019. The verdict on the Sergio is crystal clear, however: It did its creators and its eponym proud.
Photos: Bertone (5), Pininfarina (5), all rights reserved
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