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The History of the Italian Automobile

Part 87: Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera

By David Cavaliere

“Il Peso `e nemico, la resitenza all´aria l´ostacolo.” (Weight is the enemy, air resistance is the obstacle.)

– Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni

Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera has a history and tradition that stretches back more than 90 years. It has always been synonymous with elegance, quality and technical innovation. Touring’s famous ‘Superleggera’ (light weight) form of body construction can find its origins in 1920s aviation industry. The method used lightweight tubular aluminum frames and attached light alloy panels, thus strengthening the structure. Flexibility and light weight were the key components. Aside from light weight, Superleggera construction system gave great flexibility, allowing Touring to quickly construct innovative body shapes.

In 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni and Gaetano Ponzoni, longtime friends and attorneys, purchased the controlling interest in the Milan-based coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Falco. The firm’s founder, Vittorio Ascari, was the elder brother of Alfa Romeo champion Antonio Ascari and the uncle of Ferrari Formula One Champion Alberto Ascari (See Part 53 – Ferrari in Formula 1, April 5, 2017). The new owners changed the name of the firm to Carrozzeria Touring. Ponzoni had banking experience and assumed the responsibility of administration. Anderloni, a former test driver for his brother-in-law Vicenzo Fraschini of Isotta Fraschini, (See Part 50 – Isotta Fraschini, March 6, 2017), assumed the styling and engineering duties.

The firm’s first custom-built bodies were for two of Italy’s premier marques – Alfa Romeo (See Part 2 – Alfa Romeo, January 21, 2016) and Isotta Fraschini. The designs for each of the cars preceded the use of Superleggera; however, each established Touring as a style-setter at the dawn of the 1930s. Anderloni’s use of art deco touches on the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 and Flying Star Isotta Fraschini were soon mimicked by other coachbuilders on both sides of the Atlantic, who began producing cars with sweeping chrome strips and body moldings like that of the Touring designs.

Racing success for a Touring-bodied car came in the 1932 Mille Miglia (See Part 58 – The Mille Miglia, May 18, 2017). Driving an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spider Touring, Baconin Borzacchini won the 1,000 mile race. It was the first of six wins for cars clothed by Touring and the only one that was not built using Superleggera.

Touring was the first coach maker to install a wind tunnel inside its own plant. Although not very sophisticated by today’s standards, it helped the designers develop shapes that could cheat the wind. In 1937, Touring introduced its now famous weight-saving construction in the form of the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B. One of the cars took first place in the Turismo class of the Mille Miglia and finished fourth overall.

Beginning in 1937, Alfa Romeo produced a larger capacity straight eight engine and the new model was dubbed the 2900B. Thirty-two cars were built over a two-year period, most bodied by Touring, with a few by Pininfarina. In 1938, Enzo Ferrari’s racing stable was replaced by an in-house racing team for Alfa Romeo called Alfa Corse. Enzo led the team, which prepared four 8C 2900B Corto (short wheel base) cars for the 1938 Mille Miglia. Each used Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera spider bodies. Three of these cars had their engines tuned to produce 225 hp, while the fourth, assigned to Clemente Biondetti, was powered by an engine from an Alfa Romeo Tipo 308 Grand Prix car, delivering 295 hp. The Alfas finished in the top two positions, with Biondetti winning his first of four Mille Miglia (See Part 59 – The Simeone Foundation Museum, June 1, 2017). Also of interest was Piero Dusio’s fourth place finish in a privately entered 8C 2300 (See Part 19 – Cisitalia, June 2, 2016) that same year.

Touring also designed the 1940 Mille Miglia winning BMW 328 coupé. The 328 became world famous after the special Touring ‘Superleggera’ coupe finished fifth overall in the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans. For the 1940 Mille Miglia, BMW entered five cars, finishing 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th. That year also marked the first true cars produced by Ferrari, but without his name. The cars were the two Auto Avio Costruzioni 815s, raced in the Mille Miglia (See Part 17 – Auto Avio Costruzioni, May 12, 2016) by Alberto Ascari and Marchese Lotario Rangoni Macchiaveli di Modena. The bodies were by Touring.

The company quickly reemerged after the war, with the Superleggera system widely licensed and copied. Felice Bianchi Anderloni died in 1948 and his son, Carlo Felice “Cici” Bianchi Anderloni, took over management of the firm under the guidance of Ponzoni. The two would remain in charge of the firm until 1966. Cici led the design and production activities on some of the most important early Ferraris, such as the 166 and 212 in Coupé, Spider and Barchetta form. The egg-crate grill of the 166 became a signature Ferrari design element and is still in use today.

One of the most memorable Touring designs was the 1952 C52 Disco Volante. Based on the Alfa Romeo 1900, it was heavily redesigned with a state-of-the-art space frame, oval cross section and rounded aluminum body. It was characterized by graceful curves and punctuated by bulges for necessary drivetrain components. Although designed as a race car, it never left the starting line. Only five cars were built, but the design inspired an entirely new concept of the sports car. You can see styling cues from the C52 in numerous cars that followed, none more so than the 1961 Jaguar E-Type, a car that Enzo Ferrari called “the most beautiful car ever made.”

The Superleggera patent allowed Touring to build both unique masterpieces and limited series models, all exhibiting exquisite craftsmanship. It was involved in series-produced cars, including the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint, Lancia Flaminia Coupé (See Part 61 Lancia – Vittorio Jano to the Rescue, June 15, 2017), Lamborghini 350 and 400 GT (See Part 52 – Lamborghini – The Early Years, March 23, 2017) and the Maserati 3500 and 5000 GT (See Part 69 – Maserati Gran Turismos, August 10, 2017). Aston Martin was licensed to use Superleggera for three of its famous DB series – the DB4, DB5 and DB6, paying Touring a fee of £9 per body!

Touring’s fortunes began to decline as automobile manufacturers replaced body-on-frame construction with monocoque construction. Mass production was their key to profitability; however, for smaller production runs, body manufacture was still assigned to coachbuilders. Some carrozzeria closed up shop, while others invested in additional manufacturing capacity. Touring Superleggera built a new plant in Milan, but market conditions and labor problems led to the company winding up business in 1966. Fortunately, it never needed to declare bankruptcy, so the Touring name could live on.

Gaetano Ponzoni retired from business and lived a quiet life away from the automotive world. He died in 1978. Cici joined Alfa Romeo as advisor and designer. In 1995, he contributed to the revival of Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, serving as President of the Jury until his death in 2003.

In 2006, a group of investors resurrected Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera in Milan as a design, engineering and coach building concern. At the 2008 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, Touring debuted the Bellagio Fastback Touring, based on the Maserati Quattroporte. In 2013, it introduced the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante by Touring, a limited-series of just eight units. It won that year’s Design Award at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and is as stunning as the original C52 was revolutionary some 60 years earlier.

In the next feature we will look at the designs of Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale. Please send comments to [email protected].