Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975 celebrates the visual dynamism and spirit of innovation characterizing Italian coachbuilt cars, concept cars and motorcycles produced during the post–World War II economic revival. Returning to the Frist Center after the 2013 presentation of Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles, automotive authority and guest curator Ken Gross has chosen 19 automobiles and 3 motorcycles from private collections and museums that are among the finest examples of Italian automotive design, including vehicles by Alfa Romeo, Bizzarrini, Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati. With the ultra-rare Alfa Romeo BAT models 5, 7 and 9 from the 1950s and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, this all-star assembly offers surprises for even the most knowledgeable car aficionados. These powerful and extraordinary cars exemplify the sexy and streamlined Italian design language that propelled Italy to the forefront of automotive design internationally.
After World War II, Italian automobile designers began to create sleek, low-slung berlinettas (coupes) that would win postwar races and inspire a legion of stunning road-going cars. New companies like Cisitalia and Ferrari used the resumption of auto racing as a platform to begin producing stylish cars that soon caught the attention of wealthy glitterati, movie stars, and influential industrialists. These clients relished the idea of exclusive, often bespoke automobiles, with powerful engines and advanced styling. Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, and smaller Italian carmakers soon followed suit; Ferruccio Lamborghini created a grand touring Berlinetta that would rival Ferrari’s.
With their startling, often sensual designs, Italian cars from the mid-century had an immense influence on the automotive industry around the world. The successful racing efforts of Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo ensured that Italian automakers dominated international competition. Lessons from racing were applied to the design of road cars and Italy’s auto industry helped lead an international styling renaissance. In 1954, Road & Track declared, “The Italian influence leads the automotive design world. It remains consistent, commanding, spirited and graceful.”
Coach builders worked with carmakers in Italy as well as those in countries like England and Spain. In the United States, Italians designed and built bodies for production cars like Nash, Hudson and even Cadillac. Chrysler hired Italian designers to build a series of dramatically modern concept cars, including Firebirds and Firearrows. Their so-called “Forward Look” styling intrigued American buyers and influenced many later production models.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.