Let’s begin with the formative years of automotive design, and a dilemma I faced while casting my ballot for Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2005. With me in the winner’s circle was Wolfgang Egger, a friend who was then Alfa Romeo’s head of design. As I tried to choose between a sensational Delage and the exquisite 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 designed by Carrozzeria Touring, I asked Egger to tell me what he saw in the two cars, figuring his eye might catch something I had missed. “The Alfa does everything the Delage does,” he said, “but without trying.”
His observation underscores what may be the greatest hallmark of the carrozzerias’ designs, and what separated them from the rest: the seeming effortlessness of it all, with elements big and small coming together ideally to create an incredibly cohesive whole.
This Alfa Romeo, which ended up receiving my Best of Show vote, also exemplifies two of the major design influences of the 1930s: art deco and the nascent field of aerodynamics. Both were Touring hallmarks.
Touring first used art deco touches on its fabulous Flying Star Isotta Fraschini of 1931 and the lithe Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, which won Best of Show at the 1931 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Within months of the Flying Star’s debut, other coachbuilders and manufacturers were making cars that displayed similar sweeping chrome strips and body moldings along the hood and sides.
Aerodynamics came to the fore in the second half of the decade, when Touring’s motto was “Weight is the enemy, and air resistance is the obstacle.” Pinin Farina (later known as Pininfarina), Viotti, Zagato, and others were also building slinky, wind-cheating forms, but none enjoyed as much success with aerodynamics as did Touring, which designed the fastback coachwork for the BMW 328 that won the 1940 Mille Miglia.