Updated: 6 days ago
Everything you wanted to know about the fate of the Bertone Collection after its auction sale to the ASI... and you never dared to ask.
All the pictures you see in this post are courtesy of my good friend Juan Luis Salido, who took marvelous shots despite the rather poor lighting conditions. Thank you very much!
On the 14th of September 2015, the 79 (seventy-nine!) cars and prototypes that were the property of the famed Bertone carrozzeria were put to auction.
The Italian ministry of cultural affairs had previously declared the collection a "bene di interesse culturale", thus placing under the same kind of tutelage of artistic artifacts: the Bertone collection could then be purchased only as a single lot that can't be separated nor exported.
If this was certainly a relief for automobile connoisseurs that feared for such precious pieces of car design history, it did complicate matters for their sale.
Who could buy 79 cars, most of them non-running prototypes, all together and under the not-exactly-trivial caveat to keep them under one roof in Italy?
Well, turns out that ASI (Automotoclub Storico Italiano) could, and did.
For around 3,5 million Euros, ASI is now the owner and caretaker of the 79 vehicles and will be for the foreseeable future... But where to put all of them, at least until a permanent exhibition facility can be found?
Easy! You dump them to Volandia, the aerospace museum nearby the Malpensa airport, thus creating a win-win situation: Volandia gains one hell of an exhibit and ASI has a place to store the cars while it plans its future "museum".
But the easy part stops here.
People outside the car design industry don't quite imagine how big is the difference between a "concept" and a production vehicle, and how this is reflected in their long-term preservation requirements.
Cars are pretty "difficult" items to preserve already, but concept cars are an even more demanding proposition:
While most motor show prototypes don't mind not being "used", as they often aren't operable in the first place, they just aren't built to last decades, even in dry storage.
Paints, fabrics, plastics on prototypes are just meant to look good for the duration of a motor show or two, so they can degrade over time even if left untouched.
Another characteristic of show prototypes is that they are usually built in a hurry and with minimal engineering considerations: trim and fittings are often glued together, made to stick and fit in their place with whatever means available, and are thus extremely vulnerable to damage, even with careful handling.
As you'll see in Juan Luis's amazing pictures, many of the Bertone prototypes have already been subjected to decades of neglect, as even Bertone didn't really have the resources needed to maintain its cumbersome collection. Big OEMs dedicate considerable time, skill and resources to the regular upkeep of their fleet of significant concept cars, but will ASI have what it takes, for all its 79 "vehicles"?
If not, who does?
But now, without further ado, let's delve deep into the exhibition. To make the process easier, I separate the various exhibits into three classic categories: Good, Bad, and Ugly.
As you might imagine, this will be by far the most numerous category, as the Bertone history is littered of brilliant prototypes and production cars.
The "JET2" is a shooting-brake based on the Aston Martin Vanquish, and it's been one of the very few good designs to come out from Bertone's twilight years. Looks even better than the base car and it's a bit of a shame that it didn't see production. The rear graphic (below) looks fresh even today.
This 1970s funky vehicle looks straight out of a movie set, brought a smile to my face.
Dune Buggies were all the rage in 1970s Italy, so Bertone built a couple of buggies using souped-up Simca 1000 running gear: quite an unusual choice!
The 1994 Karisma (below), based on Porsche 993 running gear, has aged less gracefully than I thought: looks rather fat and lacking surface refinement, but it's still Good.
Its concept of a gullwing-doored saloon was a nod to the Lamborghini Marzal, but the Karisma is sadly no design classic, albeit it was cool at the time.
The 1996 Slalom (below) was based on the Opel Calibra, most probably because Bertone had a good relationship with GM Europe at the time, given it built the Astra Cabriolet for Opel. This is another concept that looked far better on the magazines I read as a teen than it does now, but it's interesting nevertheless.
Ah, how I wanted to see this: the seminal Tundra concept from 1979. Based on a Volvo 340 chassis, its design then served as a basis for that absolute pinnacle of automotive design that was the 1982 Citroen BX. The car is thankfully well preserved, but its metallic paint does show some funky defects on the bonnet. Love this!
The Tundra's color scheme is more late 70s than Disco Music...
Speaking of precursors of the Citroen BX, the Jaguar Ascot (below) was based on an XJ-S, but you'd never tell by looking at it.
The Ascot is decently preserved, but it shows some damage done by careless handling.
Here (below) is where the "Citroen-esque" feel is more evident...
Aaah... Luxobarge Love... Not one, but TWO Volvo 780s
Looks more like an abandoned parking lot, this Volandia place, which feels intriguing while you visit, feels like you sneaked into someplace you shouldn't be in.
During the last years of his life, Nuccio Bertone acquired many cars to complete its company museum, and this Simca coupé (below) is one of them.
In 1980s Italy off-roaders were in vogue, so Bertone stepped in to cash on this lucrative market: the Freeclimber 1 and 2 were built at Bertone's Grugliasco factory and were based on the Daihatsu Rocky (Freelander 1) and Feroza (Freeclimber 2). The Interior and exterior received a sprinkle of Bertonian style and BMW engines found their place under the bonnets. This Freeclimber 1 actually circulated, as its period plate suggests.
Below there's the smaller Freeclimber 2.
This 1969 prototype (below) was based on the Fiat 128, and it's positively futuristic compared to the rather sedate and mundane Fiat design.
Fancy a low mileage, unmolested Opel cabriolet? Here you are...
If not, the best-preserved Punto Cabrio in the world may do the trick!
Few people now remember the humble Skoda Favorit (below), here in a rather unique, much snazzier spec than standard...
Now comes a rather sad discovery: the 1983 Alfa Romeo Delfino, based on an Alfa 6 chassis, has been crashed sometime in its life, and never repaired. It's unlikely it'll ever be restored to its former glory.
OK. Now things start to get serious...
This Stratos is likely to have been purchased by Bertone later on, as it sports the spoilers that were a popular upgrade, but not fitted as standard.
When lighting wasn't a priority in car design...
Absolutely pristine Fiat Dino Coupé 2400. Its lovely green paint seems to be the same as the nearby Alfa Romeo Montreal, but it isn't. The Dino is a darker metallic shade...
.. While the Montreal has a pastel green that's very 70s indeed.
his Alfa Romeo GT is a full-scale presentation model: looks like the real deal, but it isn't.
Bertone was desperate for work and had hoped to build the Alfa GT in its own Grugliasco factory. When Fiat decided to build it in-house at Pomigliano D'Arco, Bertone devised a convertible version... Which never got the green light and it's likely has never had a canvas top properly engineered.
Here comes one of Lancia's biggest missed opportunities: how Fiat could decide to dismiss this pretty 1995 Kayak in favor of the in-house Kappa Coupé, is beyond me.
One is the see-through model, besides it there's the full-blown running prototype.
Below there are a pair of Giulias: a SS and a Sprint, the latter modified to resemble the one Nuccio Bertone personally owned in the 60s.
As you'd expect, Bertone's most famous creature, the X1/9, has here pride of place, with many examples preserved in the collection.
The prototype that's widely credited as a precursor of the X1/9, the Autobianchi Runabout, is also duly present (below)
Below: Cute little Fiat 850 Sport Spider, here in the USA version.
Then we get to the heavyweights, the Lamborghinis...
Many, many years ago, I sat in this very Miura...
This Miura is an "S" model, and it's believed to be the only one in this shade of orange.
This late Espada sat in the Bertone warehouse covered in rubble and forgotten until the late Mike Robinson discovered it and ordered the Bertone workshop to restore it. I applaud his decision, much less the workmanship of who did the job: the body of this Espada may look good in pictures, but the reflections are all over the place... This car has been bodged and deserves a proper restoration.
Will ASI ever do it? Unlikely...
This car is low. Very low...
Here comes one of my favorites: the 1972 Camargue (below).
The Citroen GS was a brilliant design in itself, but this coupé is gorgeous... It's the car I'd have stolen from the exhibition... Yes, I know, I'm weird...
Remarkably well preserved too...
I adore this...
Here comes the Ferrari corner, with the 308 GT4 keeping company to the prototype it later spawned, the Rainbow.
Very reminiscent of the Jaguar Ascot, one can see why Ferrari never considered it for production...
Bang-up into the new millennium, the one and only car I save is this Birusa: I admit I still rather like it, despite it coming from Bertone's darkest years.
"Coda Tronca" rear ends from two very different Bertone eras...
Can a minivan be cool? Yes, if you power it with a Lamborghini V12 and let Marc Deschamps loose: the 1988 Bertone Genesis struck me deep in my formative years when Turin still ruled car design and minivans could have gullwing doors...
Fittingly, nearby the Genesis there's the 1986 Zabrus (below), based on the ill-fated Citroen BX 4TC homologation special. Citroen and Bertone enjoyed a great relationship throughout the 80s, as the runaway success of the BX saved the brand from extinction.
The Lotus Emotion, unimaginatively named and based on the Esprit, looking good and well preserved, as do the two electric roadsters Blitz.
Now we dig into Bertone's less brilliant ideas, the ones few remember and for good reasons... First, an LWB X1/9, built for no discernible reason.
It's really hard to comprehend why Bertone built this longer X1/9, sacrificing handling and style for very little added interior room...
Thankfully, this remained a one-off...
I absolutely no idea that Bertone thought about a dramatic update of the X1/9 for the 1980s, one that looked like this:
Reminiscent of the Tundra and the earlier Rainbow, it's an interesting tidbit of Bertone history but I'm happy the X1/9 continued until '89 as it was... Even if it nearly didn't: the one you see below is a strange X1/9 ragtop, with its roll-bar sawed off and a canvas top. I really don't see the point of such a model.
Sorry Marc Deschamps, the Ramarro (below) wasn't an improvement over the C4 Corvette it was based on. Striking yes, but definitely not a looker.
While the 1994 Karisma beside it has aged less than gracefully, the 1998 Pickster (below) has been largely forgotten, and that, I'd say, is for good reason.
On the surface, it seemed a clever idea, the Slim (below). It wasn't.
While remarkably prescient in concept, this Fiat Enduro crossover, based on the Bravo, is interesting but... Man, its design has aged badly...
The front angle is arguably better, looks less heavy from here.
At the 1994 Turin Motor Show, Bertone presented this coupé based on its Punto Cabriolet. Fiat decided not to build it and, for one time, it made a good decision.
The Jaguar B99 looks good, albeit its over-exaggerated proportions make it look more American than British... Then why is it into this section?
Because it shows clearly how Bertone had fallen out of step with the times: how relevant could be a retro-designed Jaguar presented right when the brand was shedding its old "national heritage" image... Small wonder the Jaguar people were unimpressed with it.
Brace for impact, as now we look at the prototypes from Bertone's darkest hours, the ones I wouldn't mind if they had been destroyed.
The Villa... How can I describe it?
This monstrosity fully represents all that went wrong during the Piatti/Biasio tenure at Bertone, when the firm lost all its relevance and credibility.
Frankly, ASI shouldn't bother preserving such an aberration for posterity.
Another product of those sad days is the Suagnà, a car where even its name sucks. This retractable hardtop variation on the Grande Punto has all the appeal of an old shoe.
The Novanta owed its name to Bertone's ninety years in business. As its design all too clearly suggests, the days of Bertone were numbered by then.
Here my photo reportage from Volandia finishes, I hope you enjoyed this trip down Bertone's history, through its amazing highs and depressing lows.
It may be gone, but certainly not forgotten.