Through September 30, you can visit the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in northern California and see a display of some of the world’s most fascinating vehicles, those designed soon after World War II in a rare transatlantic partnership between American automakers and Italian designers and coachbuilders.
There was a similar exhibit earlier this year at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile di Torino, a stunning showcase located in the hometown to many of those Italian automotive artists.
You may have missed the show in Italy, and you may not be able to get to Danville, California, before the display dissolves and the cars go back to their home garages. But you can absorb the story of these cars and their creators in a bilingual book with a title as large and heavy as the book itself:
Stile Transatlantico /Transatlantic Style: A Romance of Fins and Chrome
The Creative Exchange Betwen Italy & America in Mid-Century Automotive Design
The book’s author is Donald Osborne, whose voice led him to sing with the Metropolitan Opera and whose knowledge of and love for collector automobiles — especially those designed in Italy — has led to a regular role in Jay Leno’s Garage.
In the Introduction to the book, Osborne writes of “a time of unparalleled creative activity and industrial activity as the automobile completed its transition from a toy of the wealthy into the transformative technological artifact of the 20th century.”
They served as tangible expressions of progress, personal freedom, style and prestige for both the manufacturer and the consumer who drove them.”
— Donald Osborne
“Automobiles designed and built in the decade and a half spanning the end of World War II through 1960 represented much beyond mere function. They served as tangible expressions of progress, personal freedom, style and prestige for both the manufacturer and the consumer who drove them.”
Osborne states his mission for the book, and for the museum exhibits he curated in Italy and California: to examine “this extraordinary moment in time, which saw the creation of some of the most important, dramatic and memorable automobiles in both America and Italy.”
That examination includes words and photography. Words are presented in English and Italian (Osborne wrote in both languages, with his Italian edited by classic car writer Massimo Delbo). In addition to Osborne’s words, there is a chapter by Don Williams of the Blackhawk and another by Corrado Lopresto, an architect and well-known Italian collector (and the only four-time winner at the Lake Como concours). The photography includes archival images as well as the contemporary work of famed automotive photographer Michael Furman.
Osborne introduces us not only to the vehicles but to their designers, and goes back to the 1930s to give us a running start with Harley Earl and Battista “Pinin” Farina. He also features some of the unsung heroes of automotive design, such as Giovanni Michelotti and Mario Revelli di Beaumont.
Revelli’s role is detailed, especially in a chapter written by Lopresto, who tells of buying an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Bertone coupe and then diving into its history.
Lopresto’s chapter comes midway through the book. It was about at that point that I was particularly struck by two of Furman’s many photos, except these were not of car exteriors but of the dashboard of a 1955 Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider America and of the seats in a 1956 Hudson Italia.
We tend to focus on those who design the exterior shapes and proportions of our automobiles, but what about those who have created the space we occupy as drivers and passengers within those shapes? Much is written about interior design of our homes and offices, but what about the interior design of the place we spend much of our time away from home and office? Perhaps a subject for Osborne’s next book? Or for Furman’s Coachbuilt Press publishing house?
No worries, however. While we await such a work, we’ll happily wear out the pages as we enjoy — again and again — our copy of Transatlantic Style.
Transatlantic Style: A Romance of Fins and Chrome
The Creative Exchange Between Italy & America in Mid-Century Automotive Design
By Donald Osborne
Coachbuilt Press, 2016
Hardcover, 284 pages