The story of Zagato - For the love of Beautiful
How Ugo Zagato fused his love for automobiles and aviation into the Zagato brand.
Coach building. The act of manufacturing custom made body parts and designs for a car, based on an already existing car. Usually implemented in one-off programs of many luxury brands such as Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari. Custom, handmade vehicles tailor made and crafted for the highest of the high class, only for those who are in the pursuit of perfection, and for the ones who desire the rarest of the rare.
The Italians have perfected the art of coach building since its introduction in the early 1900s, blending their love for art and the automobile. Companies such as Zagato, Pininfarina and Bertone creating such fine, hand-crafted one-off masterpieces. In this article, we will look at the story of one of Italy's most prestigious coach builders, Zagato, and dive into how Ugo Zagato had combined his love for aviation and automobiles, proving that form and function can hold each other hand in hand.
Ugo Zagato, founder of Zagato. (This was the best quality photo I could find of him on the Internet)
Ugo Zagato was born in Gavello, Italy on June 25 1890. He was born to a family of five brothers. Unfortunately, at the age of 15, he had lost his father. As a result of his father's untimely death, he had to emigrate from his home in Italy, Northbound to to Koln, Germany. In 1909, he returned to Italy to serve in the military, joining the coach building company Carozzeria Varesina in Varese, along with studying at the Santa Maria design school.
In the year 1914, Italy had joined the first World War. Zagato had moved to Torino as a result, applying himself into Italian aircraft manufacturer Pomilio. During his experience there, he had grown a love for aviation and aircraft, while learning how to build aircraft bodies with new lightweight materials such as aluminium. Utilizing his experience from aircraft building, he founded Carrozzeria Ugo Zagato in the year 1919, a company that specializes in coach building cars out of lightweight materials.
The Zagato badge on an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato
Carrozzeria Ugo Zagato built hand-crafted, lightweight racing and one-off cars for notable companies such as Alfa Romeo, as he had built close ties with the brand. Unfortunately, after World War II had ended, their only workshop in Torino had been destroyed. Later, Zagato had rebuilt their workshop outside Milan, along with renaming the company into La Zagato.
La Zagato specialized in coach building just like Zagato's previous company, only this time he also offered services for aircraft repair and construction. He offered both services in order to apply lightness and strength from aircraft materials to their automobiles. At that time, cars were still huge, bulky and very heavy. Zagato had tried to re-invent the automobile using lightweight materials. He constructed his cars using materials such as aluminium and fiberglass. What Zagato had done represented a fundamental chapter in the European auto industry, the application of functionalism into automotive design, along with proving to the world that cars can be functional and beautiful.
Into the world of Racing
The Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Zagato
In the 1920s, Alfa Romeo had commissioned Zagato to manufacture and modify some of their Alfa Romeo RLs, along with building bodies of the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500. Zagato had a close connection with Alfa Romeo, since they had formed a partnership back in the days of Carozzeria Ugo Zagato. Alfa Romeo wanted their new car to be light and fast, as it would race in the Mille Miglia. They chose Zagato to build their new race car because they knew a thing or two in building lightweight, aircraft derived cars.
Using Zagato's knowledge in aircraft, he had created an elegant and sleek racing car, lighter than the competition at the time. Thanks to Zagato, Alfa Romeo had won second place in the Mille Miglia with the Zagato built 6C 1500. Zagato's lightweight trickery had also been applied onto the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 in 1927. It had won the Mille Miglia twice in the years 1929 and 1930. After Alfa Romeo's win, the Zagato brand had grown exponentially, with notable customers such as Bugatti, Maserati, Diatto, and reaching to as far Rolls-Royce in England!
Aerodinamico e Panoramica.
The Ferrari 166 Mille Miglia
Zagato had implemented aerodynamics into newer models of his during the 1930s, applying what he had learnt during his time at Pomilio along with his experience repairing aircraft at Zagato. As a result, newer cars looked more curvaceous than boxy, along with being more beautiful, efficient and faster than the competition. Some aerodynamic improvements that he had done to were new, hemispherical headlights, inclined windscreens, convex bootlids and perforated disc wheels developed from aviation.
Ugo Zagato had to escape from Milan and flee to Lake Maggiore as the Second World War had come about. Unfortunately, he had his workshop destroyed once again, during a RAF air raid. Zagato worked at Issota Fraschini, a truck manufacturer. He applied his expertise on lightweight and aerodynamic vehicles there, just like back then at Zagato. One of his creations there was the futuristic Monterosa truck.
After the end of the war in 1945, Zagato returned to his home base in Milan and re-established the company, close to Alfa Romeo in Portello. He had bought a new warehouse, along with renovating it to feature lightweight Plexiglas instead of regular glass. Zagato called it the Panorimica body, and applied it to future projects, such as Italian racing driver Antonio Stagnoli's Ferrari 166 Mille Miglia.
The Fiat 8V Zagato
In the year 1950, Ugo Zagato's firstborn son, Elio Zagto, was gifted a one-off hand built open-top sports car based on the Fiat 500. This marked the beginning of Elio Zagato's racing career. Out of 160 races he attended as a gentleman racing driver, he had earned a place in the podium 83 times. He then stepped up in Zagato, becoming manager of his father's company.
A year earlier, the Gran Turismo category in racing had been born. Cars that were made to be both luxurious and fast, conceived by Count Giovanni Lurani. At least 30 examples had to be built in order to participate in Gran Turismo, and all cars must contain a sports coachwork and a production chassis or body shell. Zagato had specialized in building those type of cars, and as expected, demand for their services rose even higher, with companies such as Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bristol, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati and Jaguar racing with cars featuring Zagato GT bodies.
In 1955, Elio Zagato had secured a memorable victory at the International Gran Turismo championship at the Avus circuit, while driving a Fiat 8V Zagato.
The iconic Aston Martin DB4 Zagato
Coachbuilding in Italy had grown from a niche, job production category to an entire industry, as demand for special bodies had grown. In response to that growth in demand, Zagato built a new factory in Terrazzano, northwest of Milan. In the year 1960, Ugo Zagato had received the Compasso d'Oro design award with the Fiat Abarth 1000 Zagato. During his partnership with Alfa Romeo, Zagato had built masterpieces such as The Giulia SZ, TZ, TZ2, 2600 SZ, 1750 4R and the Junior Zagato.
Zagato had not only partnered with Alfa Romeo despite being the closest to. Other notable companies that he had partnered with at the time were Lancia with the Appia Sport, Flaminia Sport and the Super Sport, Bristol, with the 406 and the 407, Osca with the 1600 GTZ, and most notably, Aston Martin, with the beautiful and striking DB4 Zagato.
The Honda Hondina, by Zagato
The Alfa Romeo Junior Z, along with the Lancia Fulvia Sport had boxier bodies compared to other models that Zagato had made. However, during the 1970s, the Global Oil Crisis had been put into place. Demand for sports cars came to a screeching halt, as fuel prices skyrocketed. Zagato had come up with some unconventional ideas to leverage the crisis, such as offering electric cars. However, battery technology did not develop well enough to apply to everyday cars, after seeing their only electric prototype, the Zagato Zele, not meet their expectations.
Zagato had embraced the boxy shape afterwards, with the unveil of the Ferrari 3Z. Other boxier models that Zagato had made were the Ferrari 330 Convertible Zagato, the Cadillac N.A.R.T, the Volvo GTZ, the Honda Hondina concept, the Fiat Aster, and the Lancia Beta Sport Spider. These cars may not be aerodynamic like Zagato's main design principles, but they still kept the lightweight legacy found throughout the Zagato brand.
The Technological Revolution
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato
After the oil crisis had ended, the higher demand of exclusive spiders and coupes increased once more. Zagato created limited, exclusive variations of existing cars, such as the Aston Martin Vantage and Vantage Volante Zagato. During the 1980s, the world was undergoing a technological revolution, with the application of computer technology to aid everyday life. Zagato had taken full advantage of it by applying Computer Aided Design, or CAD to design their limited-run production cars.
Zagato's first car build with the aid of CAD was the Alfa Romeo S.Z. Coupe and the R.Z Roadster in 1992, making it the first cars in the industry to be produced with the application of CAD. The S.Z. was an experimental coupe that paid homage to Alfa Romeo's sporting image, along with keeping the philosophy that distinguished the Alfa Romeo-Zagato partnership from anything else in the industry.
Computer Aided Manufacturing
The Lamborghini Raptor concept, designed and built by Zagato
The demand for high-end exclusive sports cars continued to rise, and Zagato had to catch up to keep their business afloat. As production by hand was a long and tedious process, Zagato had to switch to Computer Aided Manufacturing, a faster and more efficient process to keep up with constantly rising demand. Zagato was no longer solely a coachbuilder, but rather a service center in the extended area of transportation design. They built prototypes of not only cars, but of railways and industrial vehicles too, rooting back into the days when their founder, Ugo Zagato worked at Italian truck manufacturer Issota Fraschini.
In 1991, Zagato introduced two cars styled based on the Ferrari Testarossa, which gave Ferrari inspiration for their newer models, the F355 the 360 Modena, and the Ferrari Enzo. The Testarossa Zagato concept was built aided by computer manufacturing, along with other concepts such as the Lamborghini Raptor, elected as the Best Concept at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show. The Lamborghini Superdiablo concept was also built using Computer Aided Manufacturing, with its design features soon such as the fighter jet-esque side air intake trickling down into the Lamborghini Murcielago.
The Alfa Romeo-Zagato TZ3, a homage to the strong partnership between Alfa Romeo and Zagato.
In the year 2000, Zagato created custom made and handcrafted creations for distinguished clients and gentlemen drivers, deriving its design philosophy based on the Berlienettas of the 1950s. Zagto calls this the Era Neoclassica design, combining timeless classical designs of Zagato in the past, along with new-era technologies and applications. One classic Neoclassica feature found in most Zagato cars was the iconic double bubble roof, along with the return to curvaceous, aerodynamic designs while still keeping lightweight.
Some cars crafted by Zagato using the Neoclassica design approach were the Ottovu Diatto concept car, the Ferrari 550 GTZ, the Aston Martin DB7 Zagato, the Bentley Continental GTZ Zagato, and the Alfa Romeo TZ3, a car that pays homage to the long standing partnership between Alfa Romeo and Zagato.
The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato shooting brake.
Today, Zagato still manufacturers one-off, exclusive, and boutique vehicles for high-class commissioners. Some notable creations that Zagato has made recently are the the Ferrari 550 GTZ, the Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato series, and coming soon, the fourth iteration of the Alfa Romeo TZ series, the TZ4 in 2019.
Zagato also contributes to innovations in the world of mobility, such as the People Mover, an autonomous moving pod designed to transport people around densely populated metropolitan areas, utilizing electric technology, along with full Level-5 autonomy. Working prototypes of the Zagato People Mover will be displayed at the 2020 Dubai World Expo. Zagato also designs trains, such as the China Railways CRH1, a high speed train built in partnership between Canadian manufacturer Bombardier and Zagato.
Today, the company is lead by Elio Zagato's firstborn son, Andrea Zagato, still continuing the family legacy. Zagato's DNA of lightweight, beautiful, aerodynamic, hand-crafted and functional cars still passes on till the present day.