The Turin auto show, which opened in the Northern Italian city on June 10, is no longer the international event it once was. As Italy's manufacturers coalesce under the Fiat banner and withdraw from important foreign markets, the show no longer attracts much attention outside Italy.
Except, that is, for the spotlight it throws on the aspect of the industry that has been and still is, the specialty of the region — styling and design. Turin is the place to see what the latest trends are, and with local firms like Pininfarina and Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign at its head, the Italian styling business is still a world leader.
Pininfarina and Giugiaro both introduced new design concepts for the show, and the two vehicles could not have been more different. Pininfarina, celebrating its seventieth anniversary, produced a one-off — which will not enter production — based on Ferrari's front-engined F550 Maranello. The Rossa (Italian for 'red') is a fine combination of the latest trends in sportscar styling with echoes from the classic Ferrari sports racers of the late 1950's and early Sixties. The nose is reminiscent of the pontoon-fendered 250 TR racers, with a simple grille whose roots go even further back, while the rear is short and stubby, oozing power by emphasizing the exhausts and wide wheels and tires the way a Viper does.
The cockpit is stark and simple, in the style of the racers that ran in the Mille Miglia rather than the luxurious Grand Touring Ferraris that sold to film stars and playboys. It's an exciting car, and it is a valid continuation of the long-standing relationship between two great Italian companies.
Giugiaro and Italdesign are much more than hired guns who have worked for a number of companies across the world and still do. The company's concepts, which today have a major input from Giorgetto Giugiaro's son Fabrizio, tend to be diverse and often aimed at finding a customer. The one shown in Turin, however, appears to be designed to create a stir — it's difficult to envisage anyone wanting to put the Touareg into production. As the name implies, this is a vehicle aimed at the desert, and the massive tires, four-wheel drive and Chevrolet V-8 would be a good basis for such a vehicle. The styling, however,
is more Sahara Las Vegas than Sahara North Africa. Most of the exposed body parts are formed from the aluminum sheet more commonly associated with industrial flooring than automobile construction. The roof is perforated and the doors are vestigial, being neither proper doors nor taking the utilitarian route of not having doors at all. It's a poser's prop rather than being a realistic proposal for a desert vehicle, and the only practical aspect is the fact that it carries so much chrome and brightwork it would be easy to spot from the air when its owner got lost in the sandy wastes.
Three other concepts were worthy of attention. One was a swooping, exciting, elegant open-topped model, the F100r, designed by former Pininfarina stylist Leonardo Fioravanti, who now works on his own behalf. The car has no mechanical underpinnings, unfortunately, so we can't even dream of seeing it on the road, but it matches glamour with real practicality. The shape of the car, and particularly the windshield, is designed to use aerodynamic forces to avoid the buffeting associated with open cars — the fact that the multi-curved screen also looks good is just a bonus.
Stola, a firm that sells its skills in body-design and building to a number of major manufacturers, has for some time used the Turin show to exhibit one-off design studies. This year it called on past master Marcello Gandini, who shaped the Lamborghini Miura among other cars, and he came up with the S81, a version of his classic Lancia Stratos of the 1980s for the new millennium. Tight, compact and fluorescent orange, it was as notable for its unusual interior, with seats that supported the legs down to the pedals (a feature also shown on the F100r) as it was for its exterior.
The third interesting concept came from Ford's Turin styling studio, Ghia. It was an open-topped two-seat version of the popular Ka minicar, and it looked good enough to go into production tomorrow. Unfortunately there were no Ford executives on hand to ask about the possibilities, for Ford, like Nissan, Toyota and Honda, were not present in Turin. There is evidently an undercurrent of feeling among some manufacturers that the Turin show, held in what is effectively Fiat's company town, and in Fiat's building, is too dominated by the Italian giant.
Surprisingly, Fiat has a relatively — in view of its size and local importance — small stand at the show. It's nothing compared to the vast areas taken over by the Big Three in their hometown show in Detroit; one wonders what would be the reaction at the North American INTERNATIONAL Automobile Show if the foreigners dropped out because the locals dominate the proceedings?
There were new cars making their public debut in Turin — Alfa Romeo offered a pre-launch look at its small 147 sedan, set for the market in the fall, while Korea's Hyundai had a true world premiere for its four and five-door compact, the Elantra. Land Rover showed its new Crew Cab Defender, while Mercedes put the new C-Class on public show for the first time. But with some of the world's biggest companies not prepared to play in Fiat's backyard, the Turin show is a shadow of its former self.