Rosso Fioravanti

Updated: Apr 1

Turin's National Automobile Museum celebrates the career and legacy of the charismatic Leonardo Fioravanti, with an exhibition that's been a very pleasant surprise for my somewhat jaded, cynical eyes...

Leonardo Fioravanti, despite being one of Italian car design's most prominent figures, is not a very well-known name outside the rather small circle of car design aficionados.

Born in Milan in 1938, he's hired at Pininfarina in 1964 right after his engineering degree. His career at Pininfarina takes off fast: he becomes head of the Centro Ricerche in 1972, then head of Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche (the design-engineering arm of Pininfarina) by 1985.

This goes a long way into explaining why Fioravanti is not exactly a household name: Pininfarina never publicized their own designers, as the company (understandably) preferred to nurture and grow the prestige of its own name, rather than the ones of its employees.

Not that the great man didn't try it.

Leonardo Fioravanti isn't exactly of the shy and retiring type, and this exhibition at the "MAuto" bears its mark evidently... Yet the end result is pleasant, not the overblown ego-trip I was kind of expecting.

The core of this exhibition are, and couldn't be anything else, some of the iconic Ferrari models Fioravanti gets widespread credit for: the 365 GTB-4 Daytona that was his big break, then the long lived 365-400-412 series, then the Ferrari that possibly defines Ferrari better than most: the immensely successful 308 GTB/GTS.

Any designer would sell his mother to the devil to have any of such cars on the portfolio, so I'm inclined to partially excuse an outsized ego, in this case...

The car that is said to have inspired Rover's SD1...

While the Daytona is road registered and it's on loan to the museum, this rather inappropriately painted 365 GT4 2+2 does belong to the museum's collection: Enzo Ferrari demanded "a car fit to go to La Scala", and Pininfarina certainly delivered: this series of four seaters are a paragon of elegance, one that's quite a shame to paint bright Ferrari red.

As Fioravanti himself claims, this model series is the longest lived in Ferrari history, as it was sold for eighteen years, a feat that's highly unlikely to be repeated.


To me, this is still "the" Ferrari shape

These cars are now fetching quite a lot of money, and I can perfectly understand why: it's the Ferrari I'd still buy myself, given the chance: who cares if it's slower than a modern GTi, it's the look and the experience that matter, as I'm not good enough of a driver to exploit a 458 anyway...


Opposites...

But these iconic Ferrari models aren't what I most enjoyed from this exhibition. Not by a long shot. I fell for the sketches of young Fioravanti, when he still was an engineering student that wanted to design cars. Those were fantastic time capsules, and open a fascinating window into the man himself.

Like this 1958 drawing of something very Ferrari-Superamerica-looking, an example of that transatlantic cross-fertilization between Detroit and Turin that's so typical of the Fifties... The sketch is pure "old Italian school": rather static perspective, proportions only slightly emphasized, realistic wheel/tire proportions... The kind of "figurini" that were made at the time.

The doodle below is an interesting tidbit of Italian automotive industry: it's dated 1958 and, at the time, Innocenti was investigating the possibility of license- producing cars from the German firm Glas, maker of the Goggomobil, among others. Young Fioravanti must have been wondering about that...

Below there's another cool one: this is a mid-engined two seater, one that appears to have a very compact boxer four cylinder, maybe a twin...

Some more doodles from the mid 50s, these more cartoon-like...

More young Fioravanti doodles... How cool is that locomotive?


I'm pleased Mr. Fioravanti decided to include his teenage dreams as an exhibit, as it's truly fascinating to see what he was thinking at the time, and also how much his ego was already well developed even then: he actually preserved all this stuff!

His doodles certainly are something most car designers, and many who dreamed to be one, can related directly to: who didn't draw cars on the notebook, instead of following class at school?

Young Leonardo evidently found the time to study as well, as he did graduate as an engineer from the Milan Polytechnic, with a specialization on aerodynamics, a field that Fioravanti has been fascinated with throughout his life.

His graduation thesis project has been preserved (of course!) and it's another cracking exhibit...

Can you see where comes from the 1967 aero-saloon project Pininfarina did on the BMC 1800 running gear?

The BMC 1800 by Pininfarina... Yet another missed opportunity of the British motor industry...

That fastback saloon proved to be widely influential, as many European manufacturer embraced this bodystyle in the 1970s: first Citroen, with the 1970 GS, then Lancia with its Beta in 1972, then the Rover SD1 by 1977... And these are just a few examples!

Speaking of fastback saloons, one certain Lancia also comes to mind...

Yes, the Gamma. Here there is a "piano di forma" from its design development phase...

Scale 1:5, all sections, package... Modern "sketch-monkeys" have no idea what this is, nor have ever done one... And we're at a loss for that. Such drawings are great to understand how the car "works" in the three dimensions, and are a reliable reference for any modeler, digital or not. How many hours of 3D trial-and-error could still be saved by one of these old-fashioned "piani di forma"...


On the right, at the bottom of this drawing, there are the main dimensions of the future Lancia hastily scribbled over, and another interesting tidbit of automotive history: the date is mere months after the 1969 takeover of Lancia by Fiat. So Fiat wasted no time in planning a replacement for the Flavia saloon... As this very drawing suggests!

If you read carefully, it says "Lancia Flavia Berlina", as the Flavia's replacement was, of course, still unnamed.

These are the things that truly set off the automobile nerd in me, I'm truly fascinated by such little facets of history. Maybe I should seek medical help...

By 1991, Fioravanti has his own studio, which was located in Moncalieri, near Turin, and its perhaps most interesting concept car is the 1994 Sensiva.

From its biomorphic design to its teal shade, the Sensiva just screams "1990s", yet it still looks rather nice today, which is something I can't quite say about later Fioravanti stuff...

Turin Motor Show 1994: the Fioravanti Sensiva

Fioravanti's obsession with aerodynamics is all too evident in this 1996 model, the Flair... Which doesn't have any, by the way.

The Flair was designed to fit the Fiat Bravo underpinnings, but is evidently a non-functional "push-mobile", and one that doesn't even have an interior.

The Vola from 2001 was exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show, as the Turin venue by then was already a thing of the past, and famously featured the Fioravanti-patented revolving hard-top... Which was a stupid idea: albeit simple in its engineering, the revolving hard top heavily compromises the overall design of the car for no real benefit. On top of that, the hard-top as it closes throws on the unfortunate driver every dirt, dust or water that may have fallen onto it when it was open...

The interior was very obviously an afterthought. This being 2001, the Vola still has a "phone" with buttons...

Below we encounter another of Fioravanti's late fixations: the reduction of components by the way of symmetry: same door left/right, same bumper front/rear... The industry quietly kept doing its own thing, as such ideas are brilliant only on paper: in reality you end up heavily compromising the design of the vehicle for an ultimately negligible saving in overall production costs.

The Fioravanti NYCE

The 1998 F100 was intended by Fioravanti as a tribute to Enzo Ferrari in 1998, the year the Drake would have been 100 years old. To be honest, this looks better than many cars we've seen wearing a Prancing Horse lately... Note that this one doesn't: Ferrari did not allow the use of the badge. The F100's weakest angle is the front, where it really shows its age, but could still be the basis of something interesting, in my view.

Fioravanti F100 R

Here we see some actual Ferraris... And one that pretends to be one!

Also present and accounted for, sadly, the Yak and Hydra, the last Geneva Motor Show exhibits by Fioravanti, when his firm had lost relevance and the world had largely moved over the Turin design houses, for the good and for the bad.

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