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Michelotti did a lot of design work for Triumph. This is the 1961 Conrero Le Mans.

Appreciating Michelotti and the History of the Italian Automobile

Part 75 – The Designs of Michelotti

By David Cavaliere

In last week’s feature we brought you the story of Giovanni Michelotti. This week we bring you some of the most famous and unusual cars that he designed. He is considered the father of freelance car design and essentially created the field when he opened his own studio, Carrozzeria Michelotti in 1949. His work demonstrates an elegance and flow that follows form and function; however, he did create some extraordinarily functional and visual features in his cars. Never one to repeat the same theme over and over, one can generally recognize his designs, even though he had no single trademark embellishment. Michelotti declined numerous offers to join coachbuilders and automakers in Italy and abroad. He was content to remain in Torino and maintain his independence as a freelancer. He died in 1980 at the age of 59, after a short battle with cancer. Carrozzeria Michelotti closed in 1993.

Michelotti’s first job as an independent contractor was to design the body for a variant of the Ferrari 166 Inter. This was the first of 192 Ferraris he penned, including the beautiful Europa Coupé in 1953. The mid 1950s were a fruitful period for Michelotti as a designer and Vignale as a builder. The two collaborated on many projects, producing some extraordinary automobiles.

Moretti S.p.A. was founded by Giovanni Moretti in 1925. The automaker had specialized in “minicars” however, in the mid-1950s, Moretti decided to focus exclusively on high-end models. The sensuous 1200 Spider was yet another beautiful design by Michelotti to be built by Vignale. It was presented to the public at the 1955 Brussels Auto Show. Few examples were built. 1955 also saw the creation of the bubble-topped Raggio Azzurro I, commissioned by Enrico Nardi. The car was based on Lancia Aurelia V6 mechanicals. It was penned by Michelotti and built by Vignale.

One of his most interesting designs was for the Triumph Italia 2000 Coupé, built between 1959 and 1962. It began when Salvatore Ruffino, owner of CESAC, the company that distributed Standard-Triumph in Italy, approached the automaker to supply chassis and mechanical components to build 1,000 cars. Ruffino hired Michelotti to design the car. The resulting two door coupé was well received at the 1958 Turin Motor Show. It was billed as “Italian artistry and British craftsmanship.” The TR3 chassis and mechanical components were supplied by Triumph in the UK and built by Alfredo Vignale in Turin, Italy. Problems arose when Triumph was acquired by Leyland Motors in 1962. The new owner backed out of the deal with Ruffino and in all, only 329 of the model were produced.

Virgilio Conrero was one of the most successful Alfa Romeo and Lancia tuners in Italy (generally described as second only to the great Carlo Abarth) and produced a small number of Conrero-Alfas that are prized today for their performance and good looks. His reputation led Standard-Triumph to commission him in 1961 to produce a four car team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Michelotti designed the aerodynamic bodywork, allowing the car to remain stable even at speeds of 150 mph, unfortunately, only one car was completed.

Giovanni Michelotti’s association with BMW began in 1959 and his designs helped propel the automaker to new heights. His most important design was the BMW 2002; however, his most beautiful design was the BMW 3200.

We will take a break from cars next week, but return with Part 76 on October 12th. Send comments to [email protected].