No country has excelled in coachbuilding quite like Italy; its design houses – Pininfarina, Zagato, Bertone – are bywords for beauty. Only one however is also synonymous with a unique and innovative construction technique that made cars lighter, strong, faster and more beautiful – Touring Superleggera.
The eight best cars of Touring Superleggera
The company was founded in 1926 when lawyer and former Isotta Fraschini chief test driver Felice Bianchi Anderloni and his partner Gaetano Ponzoni took over the defunct Milanese coachbuilder Carrozzeria Falco.
In those days, carmakers supplied bare chassis to coachbuilders who then clothed them with bodies of their own design. Bianchi Anderloni licensed a lightweight construction technique of fabric stretched over metal tubing from aviation pioneer Charles Weymann. This evolved into Touring’s patented Superleggera (Superlight in Italian) construction method of aluminium panels over a skeleton of steel tubing, separated by felt pads to prevent the two metals reacting.
Not simply lightweight and strong, the Superleggera method allowed Touring greater creative freedom in designing its cars and it was soon winning plaudits from the well-heeled in Italy and further afield, becoming a preferred coachbuilder for Alfa Romeo and other extoci marques of the day.
1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 ‘Flying Star’
One of the earliest, and most memorable Touring Superleggera designs, this was one of a number of ‘Flying Star’ creations. These were based on either Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 or Isotta Fraschini 8B chassis. This Alfa Romeo example, powered by the firm’s already legendary Mille Miglia-winning straight-six engine, was built specifically for the 1931 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
It was presented by socialite and model Josette Pozzo where its stunning white coachwork, matching white interior and nickel-plated dashboard secured it the coveted Coppa d’Oro di Villa d’Este trophy.
1939 BMW 328 Mille Miglia
Motor racing was a great source of national pride in the interwar period with Britain, France, Germany and Italy all vying for the honours in sports car and Grand Prix racing. So it was that Prince Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe commissioned Touring to create him a slippery coupe based on the BMW 328. Working without a wind tunnel, Touring nevertheless produced a design not only beautiful but efficient; in its competition debut at Le Mans in 1939 the car won its class, averaged 82mph and finished fifth overall.
The car’s most famous victory came the following year at the reinstated Mille Miglia, now run on nine laps of a 103-mile triangular course. The car was entered by ONS, Germany’s national sporting body and driven by Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer. It was planned with, well, German precision and the Touring-bodied car performed faultlessly, averaging 108mph and finishing more than 15-minutes ahead of the second place Alfa Romeo.
1949 Ferrari 166 Inter
Having created the coachwork for the first car entirely designed and built by Enzo Ferrari, the Auto Avio Costruzioni 815, Touring was naturally called upon to style the first road car to wear the great man’s name. The first Ferrari GT, the 166 Inter, was presented at the Paris Motor Show on October 6th 1949 in two-door coupé form.
It shared much the same underpinnings as the race winning 166MM; an Aurelio Lampredi-designed tube frame, double wishbone and live axle suspension with a longer wheelbase to provide more comfort and space. It was powered by a 2.0-litre version of the Gioacchino Colombo-engineered V12, producing 110bhp and giving the car its name; Ferrari nomenclature of the time was based on the swept volume of the cylinder.
1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante
Disco Volante is the Italian for ‘flying saucer’ (and the name of villain Emilio Largo’s hydrofoil yacht in the James Bond movie Thunderball, film fans) and with its biconvex cross-section when viewed from either the side or the front, it’s not hard to see why. The car was created as an experimental sports racing car with the design refined in a wind tunnel and featuring a faired-in underbody to reduce drag and susceptibility to crosswinds.
Three cars were built in 1952, all open-topped and powered by an alloy-blocked development of the 2.0-litre in-line four from the 1900, Alfa Romeo’s first production-line built car, which allowed them to reach an impressive 140mph. Two more cars were later built using the 3.5-litre straight-six from the Alfa Romeo 6C. Of the original three cars, one remained original, one was converted into a coupe and the other given a more conventional bodystyle; this was the only one which saw competition use. Touring produced a modern Disco Volante in 2013, based on the contemporary Alfa Romeo 8C.
1958 Aston Martin DB4
We really didn’t want to single out just one of the Touring-designed Astons which wore company owner David Brown’s initials, but for us the DB4 just sneaks it from the DB5 and DB6 which succeeded it. Touring had created three Spider versions of the Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark II in 1955 and so was invited to design the new DB4 which caused a sensation when it was unveiled at the 1958 London Motor Show.
Built on a platform chassis, the DB4 was powered by a new double overhead cam straight-six of 3.7-litres, designed by legendary Polish racing driver Tadek Marek, producing 240hp. Today the DB4 GT Zagato models might get the lion’s share of the attention but to our eyes, the ‘standard’ DB4 is just perfect. Aston Martin now uses the Superleggera name for its flagship production car, the DBS Superleggera.
1966 Lancia Flaminia GT
Fans of the Aurelia GT will disagree, and there is no doubt that car – the first with a production V6 – deserves its glory, but the Flaminia GT might just be Lancia’s best looking Gran Turismo. The Flaminia was Lancia’s flagship model, with a production saloon and coupé designed by Pininfarina but it was the limited-run GT and cabriolet that did justice to Lancia’s impeccable engineering.
Bodied in aluminium, the Touring cars can be distinguished by their four round headlamps as opposed to the two on other models, they also sat on a much shorter wheelbase, making them strictly two-seaters. Using the Francesco De Virgilio designed Lancia V6 and a sophisticated suspension set-up of double wishbone front and De Dion rear, the Flaminia GT was the choice of film stars and royalty.
1964 Lamborghini 350GT
It’s quite something when you can lay claim to having created both the first Ferrari road car and the first production Lamborghini. The 350GT was essentially a production ready development of the Lamborghini 350GTV, designed by Franco Scaglione. Firstly, the car’s Gioto Bizzarrini-designed, race-prepped 400hp V12, with its 11,000rpm redline had to be civilised, losing its dry-sump lubrication system and being detuned to a mere 280hp.
The lightweight racing chassis was also redesigned and strengthened, greatly aiding the car’s refinement. Production chassis were built first by Neri & Bonacini, then later Marchesi and sent to the Touring works where they were clothed using the Superleggera technique and sent to the Lamborghini plant for finishing.
1966 Jensen Interceptor
The Jensen Interceptor has always inspired an unwavering loyalty, having been brought back from the dead in three different decades, mostly recently less than 10 years ago. The original idea was simple: a grunty, simple American V8 in a dramatically styled personal luxury coupe as the Americans are fond of calling them. The power was taken care of by a Chrysler big block, originally in 6.3-litre form producing up to 330hp and styling was by Touring with the bodies initially built by Vignale before going in-house at Jensen.
The Jensen, with its solid proportions and wraparound rear glass – inspired some say by the Brazilian-built Brasinca Uirapuru – also became one of the first four-wheel-drive production cars. The FF (Ferguson Formula) variant had a four-wheel-drive system developed by the eponymous tractor manufacturer, anti-lock brakes and a rudimentary traction control system.
Lancia image by Bonhams. Lamborghini and Ferrari image by R.M. Sotheby’s.
Which is your favourite car from Touring Superleggera?
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