Hot Italians at the Petersen Auto Museum

Hot Italians at the Petersen Auto Museum

New exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum offers a chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most beautiful cars.

Hot Italians at the Petersen Auto Museum
The 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero concept car by Bertone, a forerunner and inspiration for many of the exotic high-performance cars of today. Photo by Tom Wood.

In L.A., style isn’t just a function of what you wear; it’s also about what you drive. Outside of Detroit, there is no more iconic home for the car culture than right here in Los Angeles. Convertibles, dragsters, low riders, custom jobs; it all happened here and usually before it happened anywhere else.

If you’re a motor-head or you love to observe the progression of automotive design since the turn of the last century, you might want to visit a new show at the Petersen Automotive Museum: Sculpture in Motion: Masterpieces of Italian Design. It opened on February 25 and gives visitors a chance to see auto style from the Italian perspective.

Since the Renaissance, Italy has been known as the cradle of design. Whether it’s Filippo Brunelleschi, the father of linear perspective, Michelangelo’s sculpture, Leonardo DiVinci painting or Armani suits, Italians have often led the world toward a more beautiful future.

That has been equally true for the automobile and Detroit has recognized this since the 1930s. At the Petersen exhibit, you will see a beautiful 1932 Cabriolet wearing the trademark blue oval Ford badge. It looks very similar to the other Fords of the era, but somehow it’s a little sleeker and more refined. In 1932, Ford executives asked famed Italian designer Pinin Farina to design and build a prototype cabriolet based on Ford’s basic model. The new design, with a little nip here, a little tuck there, came back from Italy as a more elegant and sophisticated car. Nevertheless, Ford executives decided to go with a bolder, more traditional (clunky?) American look.

The 1932 Lancia DiLambda Tourer by Viotti. Photo by Kim Calvert.
The 1932 Lancia DiLambda Tourer by Viotti. Photo by Kim Calvert.

Sitting next to the Ford prototype is a gorgeous, pure Italian design of the same period, a 1932 Lancia DiLambda Tourer. This is a one-off design, specially ordered by a wealthy Italian businessman and the only one with the body designed by Viotti. The amazing gracefulness of the sweeping fenders, the elegant detail of the interior, is breathtaking.

Some 20 years later, Fiat unveiled its 1952 “8-V” coupe, designed by renowned design firm Ghia. Fiat used the 8-V designation because they believed (incorrectly as it turned out) that Ford had a copyright on the term V-8. The car became known as the “Supersonic” because of its resemblance to the streamlined jet aircraft of the day, and it later influenced Jaguar and Aston Martin designs.

In 1952 Fiat unveiled its 8-V coupe known as the “Supersonic” for its jet fighter look. Photo by Rick Ruiz.
In 1952 Fiat unveiled its 8-V coupe known as the “Supersonic” for its jet fighter look. Photo by Rick Ruiz.

Another Italian re-design of an American car and the height of modern American elegance in 1953 was the Cadillac Series 62 coupe by Ghia. The two-seat coupe was hand built by Ghia craftsmen onto a bare chassis from Cadillac. Only two of these Cadillacs were made and one belonged to famed movie actress, Rita Hayworth. It’s not difficult to imagine Hayworth cruising around Hollywood and Beverly Hills in a designer evening gown and you wouldn’t dare get into the passenger seat in less than your best tux. The car exudes style and beauty – just like the screen siren that sat behind the wheel.

The 1953 Cadillac Series 62, custom built for Rita Hayworth. Photo courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The 1953 Cadillac Series 62, custom built for Rita Hayworth. Photo courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Italian style wasn’t just for movie stars and rich businessmen, however. There is no more iconic automobile in the world than the 1957 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa. This car (pictured below) was successfully raced all over the world, last racing and winning in Santa Barbara in 1962. Designed by Sergio Scaglietti, the car is a combination of power, precise handling and near-perfect streamlined proportions that has few rivals even today.

The 1957 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa. Photo by Rick Ruiz.
The 1957 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa. Photo by Rick Ruiz.

In the early 1970s, John Z. DeLorean left his job as an executive at General Motors to pursue his dream of building a new sports car of his own invention. The sleek, angular design of the DeLorean car went into production in 1981 and about 8,500 were produced before the company went out of business. The body was designed by Italdesign’s Giorgietto Giugiaro and included brushed stainless steel surfaces and gull-wing doors. What makes the DeLorean at the Petersen exhibit so unique is the gaudy American finish: 24K gold. This was a high-end promotional stunt undertaken with American Express for its new Gold Card, at that time, the most prestigious credit card in the world.

The 1981 Gold Plated DeLorean, conceived in America, designed in Italy, manufactured in Ireland and Gold Plated by American Express. Photo by Rick Ruiz.
The 1981 Gold Plated DeLorean, conceived in America, designed in Italy, manufactured in Ireland and Gold Plated by American Express. Photo by Rick Ruiz.

The progress of style through the years is often seen in the small details; the flare of a fender, an aerodynamic roofline, or maybe the finish of the interior. If you’re interested in how the small details of automotive design have evolved over the years, the Petersen’s Italian design exhibit gives you a look at the work of some of the giants who have been branding cars around the world with their unique, and in many cases, timeless sense of style.

Copyright © Rick Ruiz/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.

Rick RuizSingularCity member Rick Ruiz is a rare commodity – a native Southern Californian. He has written for Newsweek and the long-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, among others, and for the last 25 years, has been a communication consultant on environmental issues. Over the last 15 years, he has developed a keen interest in the martial arts, personal growth, spirituality and the unconventional.

Sculpture in Motion: Masterpieces of Italian Design February 25, 2012, and will run through February 3, 2013.

On exhibit:

  • 1932 Ford Cabriolet by Pininfarina
  • 1934 Lancia Dilambda Tourer by Viotti
  • 1947 Cisitalia 202 Coupe by Pininfarina
  • 1948 Alfa-Romeo 6C2500 coupe by Touring
  • 1952 Fiat 8V “Supersonic” coupe by Ghia
  • 1953 Stanguellini coupe by Bertone
  • 1953 Nash Healey roadster by Pininfarina (Very recently donated)
  • 1953 Cadillac Series 62 coupe by Ghia
  • 1956 Ferrari 250 TR roadster by ScagliettI
  • 1956 Alfa-Romeo 1900 coupe by Zagato
  • 1959 Ferrari coupe by Pininfarina
  • 1967 Ghia 450SS convertible coupe
  • 1970 Maserati quattroporte by Frua
  • 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero by Bertone
  • 1981 DeLorean Gullwing coupe (Italdesign)
  • 1991 Cadillac Allante roadster (Pininfarina)
  • 2006 Alfa-Romeo 8C coupe (Pininfarina)

Petersen Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

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