Speed / August 2017

The Italian Job: Zagato Coachbuilders

Whilst not as well-known as Bertone or Pininfarina, Italian design house Zagato has penned some of the most exquisite automobiles ever seen during its near century-long existence.

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, 1960.

“Car companies don’t need an atelier to replicate what their own studios do. After all, they know their own brands better than we do,” laughs Andrea Zagato. “What they want is something that makes their car collectible, as opposed to just consumable. The fact is that most car companies focus on big production numbers, not on niches. And having a collectible helps sell the other cars they make. Nobody really knows what the future of cars will be either - hybrids, autonomous. So these special editions are a kind of celebration of the industry’s great brands too.”

Zagato may be eminently sanguine about the market mechanics of his business. But the head of the family firm that, since it was established by grandfather Ugo close on a century ago, has been styling special edition cars for the likes of Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Ferrari, Porsche and most famously, Aston Martin underplays the artistry; it’s one that typically at least doubles the value of the base-line vehicle. Catch sight of a really beautiful car wending its way along the coastal roads of the Italian Riviera - beautiful in a way intuited rather than rationalised - and it’s likely to be a Zagato.

It may be one of the less well-known of Italy’s automotive styling houses - against the likes of Bertone or Pininfarina - but arguably Zagato’s heritage in aeronautics, its emphasis on long, lean aerodynamic lines, lightweight sheet aluminium construction, signatures the likes of its ‘double bubble’ roof-line and more Bauhausian approach all add up to make it one of the more important. It’s typically a Zagato taking first prize at a Concours d’Elegance event.

Indeed, as Andrea Zagato notes, “we don’t have to please millions of people with our designs. We only have to please a maximum of 99 and sometimes as few as nine.” Nine or ninety-nine people, that is, with maybe £850,000 to splash on, say, Zagato’s latest for Aston Martin, the delicious Vanquish Zagato Volante. Such cars, Zagato says, aim to pique emotions of a kind that rise up in petrol-infused men perhaps only twice in their lives: “When you’re 17 and you’ve just got your licence and you dream of certain cars but end up in your parents’ Lada, and when your own kids have left home and you want that feeling again, and this time without the involvement of anything that might be considered a family car.”

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.