The Zagato Company - Post WW2

By Chris Koopmann


Post-war history of Zagato

With the end of the war in 1945 Ugo Zagato together with his sons immediately founded a new corporation 'La Zagato'. New premises were found at the outskirts of Milan.

After graduating in business administration in 1946 Elio Zagato became the administrator of the new company. It should be noted that Elio Zagato was also a successful racing driver.

Elio Zagato was the driving force in those important years of bringing the company back to fame and success. His racing experience influenced the development of many cars and led to the image of Zagato as a sports car body maker. In that time a new type of car was developed: The GT (Grand Touring) car which combines a standard production frame or platform with a sporty body.

A typical early and very beautiful example of a GT is the Fiat 8V Zagato. This car was a prestigious project which should bring Fiat, already a mass producer in the 'bread and butter'-car class, fame in the upper market segment. It was equipped with a V8-engine and bodywork was mainly done by Zagato. In 1955 Elio Zagato won the famous AVUS-race in Berlin on a Fiat 8V.

One of the first projects after the war was the development of the 'Panoramica' series of cars. The idea behind it was to enlarge the glass areas of a car up into the roof. While the bodies were aerodynamic they proofed to be comfortable, spacious and elegant. Among other makes mainly Fiat 1100's and Topolinos were converted into 'Panoramicas'.

The '50s were a glorious time for Zagato, order books were full and a lot of new ideas were developed. Two ideas need to be mentioned: The famous 'double bubble' and the truncated tail.

The 'double bubble' was the logical consequence out of the tendency to improve the aerodynamics of the cars. In order to improve the penetration and to reduce the drag the roof line of the cars were lowered. To allow enough headroom in the passenger compartment the 'double bubble' was invented. A side effect of this idea was a tougher roof structure, allowing to use lighter or thinner material which made the cars even more competitive.

To improve the aerodynamics of a car you either have to lengthen the tail with good effects on aerodynamics but not very pleasing effects for the eye - or you go the opposite way and cut the tail of a car.

The basics of this principle were found in the '20s and '30s by the German Wunibald Kamm, but it were Elio Zagato, Gianni Zagato and Zagatos most important designer Ercole Spada who really made use of this idea:

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ was the first car making use of the truncated tail. The famous Alfa Romeo TZ1 and TZ2 and the Junior Zagato were based on the design principles of the Giulietta SZ.

Another project which added fame to the Zagato factory was a Formula 1 car: The famous and awesome Alfetta 159. The body was built in the Zagato factory. With this car Juan Manuel Fangio became world champion in 1951.

Co-operation was not only restricted to Alfa Romeo:

Lancia Aurelia, Appia, Flaminia, Flavia and Fulvia were available with the stylistic 'Z' on the body. The Lancia Fulvia Sport was in terms of production figures the most successful Zagato creation: 6970 cars left the premises in Terrazzano di Rho, the companies location since 1962.

Carlo Abarth had some of his fiercest little racers equipped with Zagato bodywork.

Fiats, Maseratis, Ferraris were in very limited numbers 'dressed by Zagato'

Non-Italian manufacturers included Aston Martin, Bristol, Rover, Jaguar and Volvo.

The production stop of the Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600Z marked the end of the glorious Zagato years. For years we could see design studies on various motorshows without any success. During the crisis Zagato was producing armored cars for the Italian government, electric golf cars and survived with the assembly of cars on contract basis, e.g. the Maserati Biturbo Spider.

In the recent years Aston Martin Vantage and Volante Zagato, Alfa Romeo SZ and  SZ Spider and Alfa Romeo Roadster Zagato were promising projects with bigger production figures.

An overview of the production after 1945 can be found in the list of cars produced after the war.

If you look on the long tradition of Italian coachbuilders advancing the art and science of automobile design with their elegant style Zagato is truly one important representative. Famous names like 'Carrozzeria Touring', 'Allemano', 'Castagna', 'OSI', 'Viotti' or 'Vignale' are not existing anymore. 'Bertone', 'Pininfarina', 'Ghia' and 'Zagato' are nowadays the most prominent Italian coachbuilders.

This year (Editor: 1999) is the 80th anniversary of Zagato design - congratulations!