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Pietro Frua: Mastering the Art of Automotive Elegance

Pietro Frua

Pietro Frua: Early Life and Career Beginnings

Pietro Frua, born on May 2, 1913, in the automotive hub of Turin, Italy, would go on to become one of the most esteemed and influential automotive designers of the 20th century. Raised in a modest family, with his mother Angela working as a tailor and his father Carlo as a Fiat employee, young Pietro was surrounded by the burgeoning automotive industry that would shape his destiny.

Frua’s journey into the world of design commenced when he enrolled at the Scuola Allievi Fiat, embarking on a path that would lead him to become a draftsman. His early education laid the foundation for his future endeavors, and after graduating from the Fiat Cadet School, he quickly found himself at the Farina factories in a drafting role. Little did he know that this would be the starting point of a remarkable career that would leave an indelible mark on the world of automotive design.

By the age of 22, Frua had ascended to the position of Director of Styling at the Stabilimenti Farina, the most important Turin coachbuilder at the time. It was during this time that he first encountered Giovanni Michelotti, who would later become his successor after Frua’s departure from the company due to conflicts with Attilio Farina.

Post-War Challenges and Entrepreneurial Spirit

The aftermath of World War II posed significant challenges for the automotive industry, with car-styling work being scarce. Undeterred, Frua turned his design skills to diverse projects, including children’s cars, electric ovens, kitchen units, and even a monocoque motorscooter. This period of diversification demonstrated Frua’s adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity.

In 1944, as the world emerged from the shadows of war, Pietro Frua founded his own company. Armed with determination and a vision for the future, he purchased a bombed-out factory, assembled a team of 15 workers, and equipped himself to design and build cars. This marked the beginning of Frua’s entrepreneurial journey, and under his guidance, panel beater Sergio Coggiola flourished, later establishing his own body shop.

The Fiat 1100 C Spider

Frua’s inaugural creation for his new firm was a one-off car with spider-type bodywork based on the Fiat 1100 C. The car earned recognition, securing the second prize in its category at the prestigious Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance in 1947. This early success laid the groundwork for Frua’s burgeoning reputation as a designer of distinction.

Rise to Prominence and Collaborations

The pivotal year of 1948 saw Frua making a significant impact at the Turin Motor Show, where he showcased a Lancia Aprilia Giardiniera at his stand. The 1950s witnessed Frua’s focus on studies and realizations based on Fiat platforms, but it was his collaborations with other esteemed brands like Maserati and Lancia that truly set him apart.

Maserati, recognizing Frua’s talent, became one of his early clients. Frua was tasked with styling Maserati’s new 2-litre, 6-cylinder sports car, the A6G. Over the course of seven years, from 1950 to 1957, Frua crafted 19 Spyders and seven coupés in three distinct design series, showcasing his versatility and artistic prowess.

The Maserati A6G Spyder

In a strategic move in 1957, Frua sold his coachbuilding company to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, with Luigi Segre, Ghia’s director, appointing him head of Ghia Design. This collaboration aimed to leverage the Frua brand without compromising Ghia’s relationship with its primary customer, Fiat. While leading Ghia Design, Frua played a pivotal role in the success of the Renault Floride, a commercial triumph with approximately 117,000 units sold in a decade.

Studio Tecnico Pietro Frua and Global Recognition

Despite the accomplishments at Ghia, disputes over the authorship of the Renault Floride’s design led to Frua’s departure. Undeterred, he founded the Studio Tecnico Pietro Frua, marking a new chapter in his illustrious career.

The 1960s emerged as a prolific period for Frua. While maintaining close ties with Fiat and Maserati, he designed the iconic Maserati Quattroporte and undertook numerous projects for foreign brands. Noteworthy among these was the Volvo P1800, designed by Pelle Petterson under Frua’s attentive eye.

Frua’s influence extended beyond Italy’s borders, with designs for Swiss subsidiary Ghia-Aigle and the establishment of Carrosserie Italsuisse in Geneva by former Ghia-Aigle employee Adriano Guglielmetti. Frua’s touch was evident in the prototypes built by Italsuisse, further solidifying his international reputation.

The Glas 1300 GT Coupé prototype

In 1963, at the age of 50, Frua collaborated with Germany’s Glas, designing the GT Coupé and Cabriolet, along with the V8-powered 2600. These designs, often referred to as “Glaserati” due to their resemblance to Frua’s Maserati creations, continued production until BMW’s acquisition of Glas in 1968.

The 1960s also witnessed Frua’s involvement with AC Cars, producing the Frua-bodied 7-litre AC Frua Spider and coupé. His expertise extended to the Monteverdi High Speed 375S, a sport coupé with a Chrysler engine, showcasing Frua’s ability to collaborate across borders and with various powertrains.

Legacy and Later Years

As the 1970s unfolded, Frua’s presentations became less frequent, but he continued to demonstrate his impeccable taste and craftsmanship. One of his final designs to enter series production was the Maserati Kyalami, a two-door GT unveiled at the 1976 Geneva Motor Show.

The Maserati Kyalami, one of the lastest creations.

In 1982, Pietro Frua faced a personal challenge as he battled cancer. Despite undergoing surgery, his health declined, and he passed away on June 28, 1983, at the age of 70. Frua’s legacy endures through the timeless designs he created, the innovative approaches he embraced, and the influence he exerted on the world of automotive design.

Conclusion

Pietro Frua’s journey from a draftsman in Turin to an internationally acclaimed automotive designer is a testament to his unparalleled talent, resilience, and visionary spirit. His ability to seamlessly blend form and function, coupled with his entrepreneurial endeavors, contributed significantly to the evolution of automotive design during the mid-20th century.

From his early days at Farina to the establishment of his own design studio, Frua’s impact was felt across renowned brands like Maserati, Renault, and Volvo, leaving an indelible mark on each collaboration. The “Frua line” became synonymous with elegance, taste, and a commitment to excellence that transcended borders.

As we reflect on Pietro Frua’s storied career, it becomes evident that his legacy extends far beyond the cars he designed. He was a trailblazer, a visionary, and a driving force in an era that shaped the future of the automotive industry. The timeless beauty of Frua’s creations continues to inspire generations of designers, ensuring that his influence remains etched in the annals of automotive history.

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Tribute to Marcello Gandini with the Prototype Unveiled at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show: A Unique Model Exuding Elegance and Personality

From May 24 to 26, the BMW Group Classic and the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este will host the legendary Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. The most spectacular cars from different eras and around the world will compete in various categories to win prestigious awards. Among these are the coveted BMW Group Trophy awarded by the Jury, the traditional Coppa d’Oro based on public votes, the Design Award for concept cars and prototypes, and the special ASI Trophy for the best-preserved post-war vehicle.

The presence of the Automotoclub Storico Italiano (ASI) at this unmissable international event is highlighted by the display of the Citroën GS Camargue prototype from the ASI Bertone Collection. This car enriches the theme dedicated to Marcello Gandini – the recently deceased master of car design – set up in the park of Villa Erba on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26. Also at Villa Erba, as part of the “Amici & Automobili” event, the ASI-affiliated Veteran Car Club of Como will accompany the Camargue with a precious selection of historical cars from its members.

The Citroën Camargue was first presented at the Bertone stand at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show, where it was met with great enthusiasm from both the public and the press. Built on the innovative Citroën GS platform, which was launched in 1970, the Bertone coupé, styled by Marcello Gandini with the assistance of Marc Deschamps, retains the compact sedan’s layout and dimensions. The car features distinctive front and rear overhangs – the front being much more pronounced to enhance the car’s dynamic look. Lower and wider than the GS, the Camargue boasts a wedge-shaped front typical of Gandini’s style, contrasting with a truncated rear end supporting a broad, panoramic canopy with amber-tinted glass, paired with a chic metallic champagne-colored body. Despite its striking and original design, the Bertone proposal did not reach commercial production due to Citroën’s economic crisis during those years, which led to its merger with Peugeot in 1974.

The format of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este includes a double location in Cernobbio, on the shores of Lake Como. On Saturday, May 25, the exclusive Hotel Villa d’Este’s park will host the display of all competing cars, the jury inspection, voting, parade, and the awarding of the Coppa d’Oro and special prizes. Simultaneously, Villa Erba will host the “Amici & Automobili” meeting with an exhibition of historical cars from clubs and enthusiasts.

On Sunday, May 26, the event will continue at Villa Erba with a festival celebrating automotive passion: all cars in the competition will be displayed in the park until the concluding parade, where the Design Award, class prizes, and honorable mentions will be awarded.