Two weeks ago, while wandering around the brand new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, I came across a particular brand of automobile that is a rarity to find. Located in the lower half of the Jan Kaplický designed building’s modern showroom was a 1961 Stanguellini Junior.
As I studied the contours of its red bodywork, I couldn’t help but think about all of the once great Italian names that have faded into a distant memory.
In the spirit of the Enzo Ferrari Museum, which aims to educate visitors about Modena’s rich racing heritage, I decided to take a moment to write about some of the many Italian automobile brands that are now a part of the past.
In 1925, forty six years after his father, Celso, first patented an idea for orchestral kettledrums with mechanical tuning, Francesco Stanguellini proved that a love for innovation runs in his family’s blood when he established the Stanguellini racing stable.
As early as 1906, Francesco started out race-tuning Fiats and once it developed into an official entity, Stanguellini became initially known for its success racing Mignon motorcycles.
With a heritage like that, it is no wonder that when Francesco’s son, Vittorio, assumed control of the company in 1932, the then nineteen-year-old was able to grow it into one of the most respected names in Italian motorsports.
Amongst the Modenese manufacturer’s major achievements were victories in both the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia by cars that were either produced or tuned by Stanguellini. The Stanguellini name became synonymous with cars that were light, strong and fast. In addition to this, Vittotio also counted both Enzo Ferrari and Formula 1 legend, Juan Manuel Fangio among his personal friends.
The company’s six world speed records, obtained by the Stanguellini-Guzzi Colobri at the Autodromo di Monza, were amongst its final triumphs and the last Stanguellini ever to be produced left the factory in 1964.
By the time that Vittorio passed away in 1981, he was known as the “Dean of Sportscar Manufacturers” and the father of the Junior because a Stanguellini won the very first international Formula Junior championship in 1959.
Although the company has faded somewhat from the public eye in recent years and no longer produces automobiles, the Stanguellini family remains passionate about racing and still own a Fiat dealership in Modena that houses the official Stanguellini museum.
[Photo Credits: Danielle Blaschuk , Wikipedia]
Guiseppe’s first company, Bianchi, was founded by his father, Edoardo, in 1885 and eventually grew to collaborate with famous cyclists riding in the Tour de France and other classic bicycle races.
In addition to this, one of Bianchi’s very first motorcycle racers was none other than the immortal Tazio Nuvolari. It was in fact while riding a Bianchi motorcycle that Nuvolari suffered one of his most famous accidents in 1926. After crashing in the fog at the Solitude circuit near Stuttgart, a German newspaper reported his death, to which the Italian replied “When someone announces my death, you have to wait three days before crying. Everything is possible!”
Bianchi also competed in motor racing events and produced high-end luxury cars until it no longer was economically beneficial to do so. In 1955, with Fiat and Pirelli on board, the newly-formed Autobianchi associated the Bianchi name with the production of passenger vehicles once more.
Its first vehicle, the Bianchina, made its debut in 1957 and was seen as an upscale compact car. Other famous Bianchi models were the Stellina and the Primula.
In 1968, Bianchi was forced to sell its share in Autobianchi and was placed under the control of Fiat-owned Lancia. The brand achieved huge success with its A112 model but eventually its plant, located in Desio, was closed and by 1996, the Autobianchi became a thing of the past.
In 1938, after spending several years making money in Africa, Ilario returned to his native Forli and set up a car shop as well as a Lancia dealership.
Bandini, who later became known as the “Drake of Forli”, was a passionate racing driver and mechanic and his love of racing soon translated into the desire to produce cars of his own. In 1946, Bandini Automobili produced its first car, a hand-hammered steel and aluminum vehicle that used a modified Fiat 1100 engine.
Popular models were to include the Bandini Siluro, which won Sports Car Club of America championships in 1955 and 1957, and the 1957 Sport International “Saponetta”.
Bandini continued to make racing cars until the 1980s and Ilario passed away in 1992, banishing the name that he made famous to the history books. Currently there are only forty six surviving Bandini cars left in the world, making the automobiles a very rare species.
[Photo Credits: Wikipedia]
Officine Specializzate Construzioni Automobile Fratelli Maserati (O.S.C.A.)
Although Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto Maserati had been retained with the company on a ten year contract, the brothers longed for independence once more and set to work creating a new company that would design and produce racing cars for private owners.
O.S.C.A. was operated from Maserati’s original factory in Bologna and the manufacturer’s first car, the MT-4, made its competitive debut in 1948. It was driven to victory by Luigi Villoresi at the Grand Prix of Naples with spectators at the event being particularly impressed by the car’s workmanship.
Although the manufacturer would see its cars and engines compete in Formula 1, its biggest successes came in sports car racing with O.S.C.A winning both the Mille Miglia and the Targa Floria.
One of its most famous wins came in 1954’s 12 hours of Sebring. On that particular occasion, Sir Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd drove an O.S.C.A. MT-4 to victory for the Briggs Cunningham team.
The triumph was a huge suprise as the underdog O.S.C.A car upset the favoured Lancia team largely thanks to its impressive reliability. Moss, who still drives a 1956 O.S.C.A in various historic racing events, explained why the little Italian car suits his driving style in a 2009 interview with British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “A small sports car suits me perfectly," he stated. “It (the O.S.C.A.) is only 1500cc and handles beautifully.” High praise indeed, from the man who is widely acknowledged as the best driver never to win a World Championship.
In 1963, the Maserati brothers would again sell their company, this time to Count Domenico Agusta and remained designing until 1966. Eventually the manufacturer ceased production in 1967 and their cars became collector’s items.
[Photo Credits: John Champan / Wikipedia]
Moretti Motor Company
In 1925, Giovanni Moretti formed the Moretti Motor Company so that he could design and build motorcycles. In the beginning, the company produced commercial vehicles, electric vehicles and alternate fuel vehicles before switching to producing conventional passenger vehicles in 1946.
First came the Cita and that was followed by the 600 and the 750. Moretti also took part in various motor racing events such as the 24 hours of Le-Mans and even produced a Formula Junior car.
In the 1950s, Moretti began using Fiat mechanicals and chassis for all of its road cars. After sales of the 750 range could not compete with Fiat, Gianni Moretti had to depend on his friendship with Gianni Agnelli to continue using the Fiat chassis, this time for the production of low volume models.
For Moretti, however, it was the beginning of the end and after production decreased steadily over the course of the next forty years, Moretti turned to making personalized conversions of various fiats. The Turin-based company officially closed its doors in the mid-nineties after producing its final car, the 1989 Ital Uno Turbo.
[Photo Credits: Wikipedia]
It may shock you to learn that these five names are but only a few of many Italian car manufacturers that are now extinct. The next time that you find yourself at a classic car event, keep your eyes peeled for these rare gems. After all, you never know when you will get the opportunity to see them again.
By Danielle Blaschuk