The science of design, or of line-drawing, if you like to use this term, is the source and very essence of painting, sculpture, architecture… Sometimes… it seems to me that… all the works of the human brain and hand are either design itself or a branch of that art. – Michelangelo
It is impossible to discuss the history of the Italian automobile without mentioning Sergio Scaglietti. The son of a carpenter, he was regarded as the Italian automotive industry’s modern-day Michelangelo — a sculptor whose medium was metal. He was known as Ferrari’s “maestro of aluminum.” His designs are revered by historians and collectors as some of the most beautiful cars ever created.
Sergio Scaglietti was born on January 9, 1920, in Modena, Italy. He was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13, following the death of his father. To help support his family, he went to work in a local garage, where he learned to repair, by hand, the bent and dented bodies of cars damaged in auto accidents. Four years later, Sergio’s brother, along with a partner, bought the business and Sergio became one of their first employees. The shop was not far from the racing headquarters of Scuderia Ferrari. One day, Enzo Ferrari asked him to fix the mud flap on a racing car. This almost chance encounter might as well have been by Divine Providence.
The war forced Ferrari to move his operations from Modena to nearby Maranello. Sergio, whose automotive skills were not in demand during the war, became a bomb-maker for the partisans. But once the war ended and Ferrari was free to build cars once again, it was Scaglietti who was on the short list to build the bodies for Ferrari.
In 1951, Scaglietti opened his own custom coach-building business, Carrozzeria Scaglietti, located across the road from Ferrari. At that time, Ferrari would only manufacture the rolling chassis and drivetrain. For the bodies, Enzo employed several different coach-builders to clothe his machines. Performance was Enzo’s utmost concern and thus, styling came second. Scaglietti’s method was to receive a prototype from the legendary designer Battista Farina, or one of his associates and interpret it in aluminum, rarely using a drawing. He made a wire frame, then hammered the metal into the shape he envisioned. He did this on bags of sand because wood proved too hard. He did everything, he said, “by the eye.” Many of the classic cars he built are said to still bear lumps on the bodies from the swing of his martello.
In 1955, Sergio greatly expanded his operations (with a loan by Ferrari) and was put in charge of bodying the majority of Ferrari’s competition cars. He won Enzo’s trust, not only because of his skills with metal, but also because of his relationship with and support for, Enzo’s son, Dino, who died in 1956. The brilliant artisan became not only a business partner, but also the best friend of Enzo Ferrari.
The fruit that was borne of this collaboration includes some of the most memorable and coveted cars of today, including the 500 Mondial, 250 Monza and the Testa Rossa. Additionally, he transformed many of Pininfarina’s drawings into reality, including the 1957 California Spyder, 1962 250 GTO and 1967 275 GTB.
There is a humorous story about the naming of the famous 250 Testa Rossa. The chief of production came to Enzo and complained that production had to stop because there was no black paint for the engines. When Ferrari asked what color was available, the answer came back ‘Red.’ With that, Ferrari said, “Paint the engines red and we’ll call it the Testa Rossa,” (redhead in Italian). The body of the Testa Rossa was a radical design and had a tremendous impact on every sports car designed during the next quarter century.
In August, 2011, the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype that Sergio designed was sold at auction for $16.4 million. Sergio owned only one of his own cars, a California Spyder that he bought after a friend told him he could make money on it. Sergio lost $1,000 when he sold it.
In the late 1960s, with his firm struggling because of labor troubles, Sergio took the opportunity to join Enzo in a sale of his business to Fiat. He continued managing his coach-building firm until his retirement in the mid-1980s. Today, the Scaglietti brand is wholly owned by Ferrari. Ferrari’s 612 Scaglietti model, and the Carrozzeria Scaglietti customization program were named for the ‘maestro of aluminum.’ Scaglietti died at his home in Modena on November 20, 2011 at the age of 91. He was not the most prolific of coach-builders but he was an artist and a genius with his hammer. He was also responsible for some of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time.