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Feature: Rare Bird

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Some men build cars that display a reminiscent fender flare here, an evocative shoulder swoop there, and maybe a grille that recalls an earlier decade, because they believe there is a future in referencing the past. Others, the real freebooters of faux, are not so creative. They pillage parts bins, add perhaps a louvered hood that has been remanufactured in fiberglass, and voilà, they present nouveau classicism. Or they simply slap vaguely vintage, carbon-fiber shapes over the modern innards of somebody else’s cars and badge them as their own. F&M Auto, an Italian coachbuilder, fits none of these descriptions.

F&M, a little company with a simple business plan, employs production methods that are truly and intentionally many decades behind the times. The company attracted attention in 2006, when it introduced its one-of-a-kind showpiece, the Antas GT. The firm refined the design this year before taking the vehicle on the international auto show circuit.

F&M is an offshoot of Autofficina Faralli Restauri, an auto restoration business run by Mario Faralli, his son Walter Faralli (the F in F&M), and their partner Luca Mazzanti (the M). They operate out of a two-story, bare-brick workshop in Lari, a medieval village near Pisa, in the heart of the Tuscan wine country. 

Over the last 40 years, Autofficina Faralli Restauri has become regarded as among the best, if not the best, in Italy at restoring and rebuilding anything from lightly tarnished classic cars to rust-eaten carcasses and rotted bits in baskets. Its portfolio includes an open-wheel, one-off Stanguellini racecar; a 1936 Lancia Astura; a Mulliner-bodied, short-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Phantom II coupe from 1930; a constant flow of Fiats; the brutish and barely manageable Il Mostro, the Maserati 450S that Stirling Moss raced at Le Mans in 1957; and a 1926 Austin 7 found in ill health on Cyprus.

Neither of the Farallis nor Mazzanti holds a university degree, not in engineering or automotive design. Executives at Pininfarina and Italdesign-Giugiaro might wear Armani suits, but this team works in T-shirts and overalls; Mario is the wood and leather man, Luca is the metalworker, and Walter does the painting, with help from his brother and Luca’s father. Everyone works mostly by instinct, using eyeball measurements and touch, and by standing back and examining their work from all sides until everything appears balanced, pleasing, and as good as the original.

“In the ’30s and even into the ’50s, people were building cars—especially the one-off racecars—without much money, but with passion,” says Mario Faralli through Mino Camilotti, an engineer who serves as the company’s marketing and development manager, business consultant, public relations man, and translator. “Each car, each engine, has a soul and helped build the history of automobiles through the dreams and vision of each man. And they learned by doing until they got it right.” (Mario later apologizes for his dismantled English, saying, “I prefer to speak in aluminum.”)

Autofficina Faralli Restauri has no laser cutting devices, computer-guided machinery, or metal presses. The Faralli crew, which includes a half-dozen craftsmen, works aluminum with tin snips, and if the original specs called for heavy-gauge aluminum, that metal—not a lighter, modern, more malleable alloy—goes into the rebuild. And it is shaped by hand with hammers. If the craftsmen begin a restoration with just a chassis and power train—or without even the power train—they first consult drawings, blueprints, or maybe only photographs to build the manichino, a heavy wire skeleton in the shape of the original car. 

“Soon,” says Mazzanti, “the car comes alive. It has to be done by hand, by the feel of the aluminum and creating a shape by touch. If a computer is telling you how to do a car, where is the romance in that?”

F&M employed this same sense of romance—and mode of manufacturing—in building the Antas GT, a masterwork that demonstrates the type of car the company can produce on a made-to-order basis. The one-off coupe has a wild design that recalls the days when motoring from point A to point B represented adventure and bravado.

The car’s name, taken from the Etruscan word for eagle, implies that the vehicle is audacious, dominating, and a conqueror of open spaces. The partners contend that the Antas does not plagiarize, but rather pays homage to, the barchettas and berlinettas from the era when their majesties Farina, Zagato, Bertone, Jano, Vignale, and Scaglietti were considered European royalty. During their reigns, from the 1930s through the 1960s, these designers overlooked no detail, constantly concerned themselves with quality, and operated under no time constraints, because deadlines might have compromised the sensual, free-form nuances and natural beauty of Italian auto design.

F&M favors the looks and allure of Maseratis, which explains why the chassis and power train of the Antas were adapted lock, stock, and suspension from a 1967, quad-cam, 4.7-liter, V-8 Maserati Ghibli (which another of those Roman gods, Giorgetto Giugiaro, designed.) The Antas, with a silhouette reminiscent of a 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B—right down to its French blue paint—required two years to design and, using gentle taps with a small hammer, a year to build. All of the riveting was done by hand, and the interior woods were sculpted by mallet and chisel. The engine was turned one roundel at a time, and the balance is perfect. (Click images to enlarge)

For decades the business of the Farallis and Mazzanti has been restoring the visions of car builders long gone. “So,” explains Mazzanti, “we decided to build a car based on our own ideas, on our own dreams, and building it using the methods of yesterday.”

F&M may be willing to sell the Antas, for about $1.4 million, but the company also can create a completely different car (prices start at about $550,000) for you: maybe something along the lines of a 1938 Alfa Le Mans, though with younger underpinnings, or even better, any body from your imagination—which is the way carrozzerias used to function—built upon the foundation of a Maserati. F&M believes that Maseratis epitomize the verve, excitement, and visual joys of Europe’s golden GT times. “The Maserati is a reflection of what the Antas project is all about,” notes Camilotti. “It has a good engine, a historic design that is typical of the era we are trying to re-create. But the true beauty of the Antas concept is that you can have whatever you want, say, a classic body on a modern Ferrari if you so choose.”

Buying an F&M car involves a return to the way life in Tuscany used to be. An 18th-century villa located on a hill near the township of Crespina and surrounded by the Poggio al Casone vineyard recently was transformed into a boutique hotel; it also serves as a temporary residence for customers (“We will consider them friends, not clients,” says Mario Faralli), where you can lounge and sip a superior Chianti between visits to see how your car is progressing. 

A second lodging, the Villa San Marco, constructed in the ninth century, has served as a parish church, monastery, oratory, bishop’s residence, and, shortly after World War II, a college for young Jews volunteering for agricultural management of Israeli kibbutzim. It, too, has been restored and converted into a hotel with baronial suites, a vaulted dining room, a labyrinth of distressed brick halls, and a working chapel (mostly for local weddings) with original frescoes by Maurizio Magretti.”

We’ll fly you in by helicopter,” promises Camilotti. “Your first treat will be Amedei chocolate. It is made only in Tuscany, ingredients come from around the world, and it is the chocolate that teaches you how to taste chocolate.”

Of course, the real treats are the cars, including the Antas, which has a shape that combines familiar Art Deco elements with an avant-garde Art Center College of Design look. It is well proportioned but also a little oversized and bulbous, with a fin bisecting the rear window and trunk. The silhouette is ferocious yet elegant. 

The interior displays a similar mélange. The flat-bottomed, F/1 steering wheel contrasts with minimal instrumentation that includes little more than a Jaeger tachometer and speedometer, both of which are as big as saucers. The upholstery, liners, and padding are as soft and as modern as an Italian leather jacket. Overhead are ignition switches that could have come from the Hindenburg.

The Antas’ snorting and bellowing, from eight Weber-fed cylinders, is a total throwback. So, too, is the car’s acceleration (from zero to 60 mph in five seconds), which is more of an enormous surge than a smooth passage.

The Antas has no power steering, and the windows have hand cranks. The manual 5-speed transmission is coarse enough to suggest that it was developed soon after the birth of synchromesh. Absent are computer monitoring and electronic controls to tame a driver’s mistakes.

Yet that is the way it used to be, when motoring was fun because it was not easy. Steering was more of a prediction, and braking a rough estimate; capricious and certainly unpredictable machines could become quite irritable if you failed to get either action right. 

The Antas reflects those times. It may not be perfect, but it is authentic.

F&M Auto, www.femauto.it

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