Gruppo Bertone, commonly known simply as Bertone, was an Italian automobile company, which specialized in car styling, coachbuilding and manufacturing. Bertone styling is distinctive, with most cars having a strong "family resemblance" even if they are badged by different manufacturers. Bertone has styled cars for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Citroën, Ferrari, Fiat, Iso Rivolta, Lancia, Lamborghini, Mercedes Benz, Opel and Volvo Cars, among others.
Giovanni Bertone started a carriage manufacturing business in Turin, at the age of 28. Along with three workers, he built horse-drawn vehicles.
In the first decades of the 20th century, cars were not common. The road traffic was dominated by horse-drawn carriages and the coaches built by the young Bertone were particularly regarded for their accuracy, quality and solidity. In 1914, Giuseppe Bertone, nicknamed "Nuccio", the second son of Giovanni Bertone, was born. This nickname later became known as the signature to Nuccio, one of the greatest Italian style masters in the world. The outbreak of the first world war triggered a major crisis of the young Italian industrial sector and heavily affected Giovanni Bertone, who was forced to close his shop.
At the end of the First World War, Bertone's business restarted and expanded its activities, and began focusing on the automotive sector. In 1920, a new plant was opened near the Monginevro 119 in Turin. Twenty people were on the payroll. One year later, the first important contract was signed to the company. This was a torpedo styled body based on the SPA 23S chassis. Then, the FIAT "501 Sport Siluro Corsa," the first of a family of models that would characterize the brand in the years to come, was designed. With that, the high performance sport car was born.
During the 1920s, Turin was represented as one of the worldwide centers of excellence of the car industry. Bertone was sitting on the hub of it and formed partnerships with almost all the manufacturers of the day. Giovanni Bertone began doing bodywork on the Fast, Chiribiri, Aurea, SCAT and Diatto chassis. The most important and long lasting relationships were those with the two biggest Turin manufacturers were FIAT and Lancia.
Vincenzo Lancia realised straight away that Giovanni Bertone was an outstanding skilled craftsman with a great future ahead of him. Affectionately nicknaming him "Bertunot", he commissioned Bertone to create complete car bodies, above all for the limited series that the companies of the day were not always equipped to manufacture. This was Bertone's first opportunity to carry out limited production of special cars on standard mechanical bases, and was the beginning of a great industrial experience.
These are very exciting years for Bertone himself, and also for the evolution of industrial style and design. The car body shapes are slowly but continuously changing, angular shapes begin to fade, wings start to be joined together. Giovanni Bertone produced torpedo and saloon bodies for FIAT and Lancia, and also for Itala, Diatto and SPA. He also worked on commissions for private customers eager for exclusivity. Alongside sports models like the 1928 Ansaldo 6BS, Giovanni Bertone also designed luxury cars like the Fiat 505 limousine and the Itala 51S, both in 1924. He later designed the Lancia Lambda VIII Series in 1928.
Despite the fact that the depression of 1929 had brought many Turin carmakers to their knees, Giovanni Bertone's shrewd management allowed the company to carry on creating cars with great appeal. In 1932, Giovanni designed the imposingly elegant Lancia Artena, which was produced until 1936. In 1933; the following year, a corner stone event for the Carrozzeria Bertone occurred. This was that Nuccio Bertone, who was nineteen at the time, officially began working in his father's company. In the same period, Bertone began working on commercial vehicles, and as the business grew, new premises were needed. The company moved to Corso Peschiera 225. Gruppo Bertone now had fifty members of staff.
In 1934, Bertone created the Fiat 527S Ardita 2500, a turning point in car design, with some incredible new details such as the stunning front headlights with fairing along the bonnet. With the Ardita a new kind of style was created, destined to take off towards the end of the decade, with FIAT and Lancia models astounding for their day. Examples were the 'six window' FIAT 1500 Aerodinamica, the opulent Lancia Aprilia Cabriolet and the novel Fiat 1500 Torpedo, with structural features that had never been seen before, such as the fold-away hood which stowed away entirely inside the car. With Giovanni's bold innovations and elegant creations, he was highly appreciated by car experts and fans.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the car market experienced a sudden, drastic downturn. Almost all the bodywork manufacturers, including Bertone, reacted to the crisis by turning to military vehicles of various kinds. The company created vehicles such as the Bertone ambulance on a Lancia Artena base. It was a hard time. The demand was scarce. Raw materials and labour was lacking. Military orders where difficult to fulfill. But production did not stop in the Corso Peschiera plant, some luxurious Lancia Aprilia are manufactured as well as the extremely elegant long chassis Fiat 2800 cabriolet, the only one of its kind, built on commission for race driver and motoring journalist Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi.
After the war, as the long slow process of reconstruction began in Europe, the big industrial companies gradually scaled up their production levels, and the bodyworks got back to work. During these difficult years Nuccio Bertone created cars like the Lancia Aprilia Cabriolet and the Fiat 1100 Stanguellini racing car, which were precursors to some of the design trends in the following decade.
At the end of the 1940s, Nuccio Bertone turned to racing, at the wheel of a number of different cars, including a Fiat 500 Barchetta, which Nuccio built for himself. At the end of the decade the meeting with Vittorio Stanguellini led to the creation of a coupé with a Fiat 1100 chassis which got a high public appreciation..
The 1950s brought in the first orders from countries other than Italy, in particular from MG and Bristol Cars Limited in 1952. The following year, Nuccio Bertone designed the prototype for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, which was presented at the 1954 Turin Motor Show. A production of 1000 was originally planned, but in the end nearly 40,000 vehicles were made between 1954 and 1965. The car ceased production in 1965.
The relationship between Bertone and Alfa Romeo reached its creative peak with the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) concept cars which pushed back the boundaries of car design and aerodynamics: the BAT 5 in 1953, the BAT 7 in 1954 and the BAT 9 of 1955. Research into aerodynamics culminated in the production of the Abarth 750 Record in 1956, built on a Fiat 600 chassis and tested on the high speed track at Monza. This Abarth set an impressive ten world records, including doing 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) at an average of 156.36 km/h and covering 10,125.26 km in 72 hours.
In 1957, the company expanded to start the production of the NSU Sport Prinz. The factory in Corso Peschiera could not cope with the forecasted production volumes. Construction work began in Grugliasco on the outskirts of Turin, for a new plant which became operative in 1959, with a workforce of 550. At the end of the 1950s, Bertone came up with some sports berlinetta which were to make history, such as the Giulietta Sprint Special, the Aston Martin DB2/4 and the Maserati 3500 GT.
The 1960s were the years of the Italian-style GT. Nuccio Bertone came up with five variations on the theme which would always be dear to his heart, in the shape of five extremely racy GT models: the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint, in coupé and cabriolet versions, two Ferrari 250 GTs, one named 'Wax' after the commissioning client, and the other for the his personal use, the Aston Martin DB4 GT 'Jet' and the Maserati 5000 GT. At the same time, two new industrial partnerships were getting under way, with the work on the SIMCA 1000 Coupé and the BMW 3200 CS limited series, as was the important, but unfortunate ASA 1000, better known as the "Ferrarina", or "little Ferrari" (as the project originated with Enzo Ferrari), which, despite the high expectations of the public, never made it to the automobilemarket.
The Iso-Rivolta GT 300, the Iso-Rivolta GT 340 and the Iso Grifo were also created in the 1960s. Nuccio Bertone also designed a prototype cabriolet of the latter and a racing version known as the A3C. The Grifo years were also the years of the Corvair Testudo, driven personally by Nuccio Bertone to the Geneva Motor Show in 1963. The following year saw the Alfa Romeo Canguro, followed in 1965 by the Alfa Romeo Giulia GT, the rightful heir of the Giulietta Sprint.
In 1965, Carrozzeria Bertone experienced a major turning-point, with the launch of the Fiat 850 Spider. The commercial success of this model led Nuccio Bertone to increase the company's production capacity to 120 units per day (between 1965 and 1972 nearly 140,000 were produced, the great majority of which were sold in the United States). With the Fiat 850, the company took a giant leap forward in terms of production volumes, from the 13,000 bodies produced in 1966 to nearly 30,000 in 1968, an increase of 40 percent.
The end of the 1960s saw the beginning of the partnership with Ferruccio Lamborghini that was destined to make history in the car world. The first vehicle to come out of this was the Lamborghini Miura, which presented at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, which reinvented the high performance coupé design concept. The Miura was followed by the Marzal in 1967 and the Espada in 1968. In the same period, two other coupés appeared: the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Fiat Dino Coupé, both out in 1967. Astounding, ground-breaking cars, inventing their own language for the design of the future: these were Nuccio Bertone's trademarks. At the Paris Motor Show of 1968, he presented the Carabo concept car, based on an Alfa 33 chassis.
1970 Fiat 850 Autobianchi 112 Bertone Concept
By 1970, Bertone had a workforce of 1,500 staff, and the Grugliasco factory covered an area of 267,000 square metres (2,870,000 sq ft). The partnership with Lamborghini led to the development of the Lamborghini Espada which by 1973 was known as the worlds fastest 4 seater. The Design was inspired from his earlier Jaguar concept the Jaguar Pirana. After his initial success with the Espada he went on to design the Lamborghini Jarama and the Lamborghini Urraco. With the Stratos Zero prototype, which built on a Lancia Fulvia 1.6 HF base, Bertone came to represent a new point of reference in modern art, as well as on the international car design scene. The Stratos Zero, which was presented at the 1970 Turin Motor Show, went beyond mere questions of style to create a timeless blend of architecture, sculpture and industrial design. The following year, with some of the Zero's styling cues as a starting point, Bertone created the Lancia Stratos Stradale, a compact coupè destined mainly for the racing circuit, and which in fact went on to bring home numerous victories in various rally world championships.
In 1972, at the age of 88, Giovanni Bertone died. In the same year, as a kind of tacit tribute to the company's founder, the Maserati Khamsin and the Fiat X1/9 came out. The latter, foreshadowed by the Runabout concept car, was the heir of the 850 Spider, and went on to enjoy the same runaway commercial success. Based on the Fiat 128 chassis, but with a mid-rear engine, the X1/9 went into production in 1972 and 160,000 units had been manufactured by the time production ceased in 1988.
Meanwhile Nuccio Bertone's prolific drawing board saw a succession of supercars, runabouts and provocative style concepts. These included the 1973 Series 3 version of the Lamborghini Espada which redesigned the dashboard configuration. Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari 308 GT4 of 1973, the Audi 50 and Innocenti Mini 90 of 1974, the Fiat 131 Abarth Rally in 1975 and the prototype Alfa Romeo Navajo in 1976.
In the same year, the company began working for Volvo, on the 264 TE. The Volvo262 C, which was presented at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, was entirely manufactured by Bertone, from the assembly of the basic body to the fitting of the mechanical components and the road trials. This procedural turning point had a big hand in transforming the company, which was now all set to become a car manufacturer in its own right.
From the start of the 1980s, the Fiat Ritmo Cabrio and the Fiat X1/9 were produced and sold directly under the Bertone brand, meaning that the company was now responsible not only for production but also for the sales network and after-sales assistance for the two models.
In 1982, Nuccio Bertone turned out another important design, the Citroën BX. After entering into a joint-venture with Volvo in 1985 the company began production of the Volvo 780, a two-door saloon entirely created by Nuccio Bertone, from the formal design of the model to the full production cycle.
A new commercial agreement drawn up with General Motors Europe in 1986 saw production of the Kadett Cabrio handed over to Bertone. The new Pontiac Fiero GT body design was also due to this relationship the with stile Bertone department of the company. The partnership with Opel continued with the first generation of the Astra Cabrio, and with the Astra Coupé and AstraCabriolet. The end of the 1980s saw the Citroën XM, and the Freeclimber off-roader with mechanical components by Daihatsu and BMW engines.
Without abandoning its commitment to exploring the new languages of car design, Bertone entered the 1990s with its focus on technological innovations. Capturing the attention of public and experts alike at the 1992 Turin Motor Show was the aggressively futuristic Blitz barchetta, a showcar which featured an electric engine and avant-garde construction solutions. The barchetta had a tubular chassis in special steel integrated with sandwich-structuredfiber glass panels, bodywork in composite materials and carbon interiors.
In 1993 the Opel Astra Cabrio and the Fiat Punto Cabrio begun production, with the entire production cycle for both cars at the Grugliasco factory; assembly of the bodywork, mechanical components integration, paintwork and fittings. A complete production cycle, ending with the final testing process, which is carried out according to the procedures and standards of the commissioning companies.
In 1994, continuing the company's research into low environmental-impact vehicles, Bertone presented the Zero Emission Record (ZER), a futuristic reinterpretation of the Abarth 750 Record. Expressly conceived and created to yield the highest performance levels in the electric car sector, the ZER (which has a Cx of 0.11) set the world one hour long distance record (199.822 km), and broke the 300 km/h barrier, setting the new world speed record for electric cars (with a top speed of 303.977 km/h).
In 1994, Gruppo Bertone became the first manufacturer in Italy to be awarded the ISO 9001 quality certification. Meanwhile, Nuccio Bertone did not turn his back on a past dedicated to bodywork and continued to design working prototypes; the Karisma in 1994, a four-seater berlinetta on a Porsche base, the Kayak in 1995, a coupé on a Lancia K base, the Slalom 'coupé de chasse' on an Opel Calibra base, and the Enduro 4x4, a SUV on a Fiat Brava floorpan.
Bertone after Bertone
On 26 February 1997, on the evening of the Geneva Motor Show, Nuccio Bertone died, leaving the world to grieve "one of the greatest coachbuilders of the century, and international Maestro of Italian style" in the touching words of Fulvio Cinti, motoring journalist and car historian.
In 2009, the Grugliasco plant, along with its manufacturing activities, was taken over by FIAT. Bertone underwent a major restructuring and became a fully integrated service company in the automotive, transportation and industrial design sectors. Bertone's major competitive advantage is the unique ability to respond in a flexible and extremely fast way to the demand and needs of its customers. Bertone has a workforce of roughly 300, mainly engineers and designers, 300,000 engineering hours per year capacity, can manage up to four prototype projects per year, starting with the first style drafts to the effective manufacturing of the prototype. The Bertone "Atelier" continues its traditional work in designing and manufacturing one of a kind cars, upon customers specific requests.