Zagato Logo Zagato is an independent coachbuilding company and total design center located northwest of Milan in the Terrazzano frazione of Rho, Lombardy, Italy. The company's premises occupy an area of 23,000 square metres (250,000 sq ft), of which 11,000 square metres (120,000 sq ft) are covered.
Ugo Zagato (he was born in Gavello, near Rovigo, on June 25, 1890) began his coachbuilding career in 1919 when he left Officine Aeronautiche Pomilio to set up his own business in Milan. This was: “the construction and repair of bodies for automobiles and airplanes”. He did so with the intent of transferring sophisticated constructional techniques that combined lightness with strength from the aeronautics to the automotive sector. Cars of the time were still bulky and heavy: Ugo Zagato conceived them as lightweight structures, with a frame in sheet aluminium similar to an aircraft fuselage. This change in direction came to represent a fundamental chapter in the history of taste and saw, in Europe, the adoption of the concept of functionalism applied to automotive design.
During the 20s Zagato concentrated on racing cars. In the beginning of the decade he was asked by Alfa Romeo to dress some Alfa Romeo RLs. But in 1925 Vittorio Jano, Alfa Romeo’s Chief Engineer, asked him to create a body for the Alfa 6C 1500, the Alfa Romeo P2’s heir, which should have been light and fast. Zagato, using his Aeronautics culture, succeeded in creating a sleek and light body for the car, which scored a 2nd place OA at the 1927 Mille Miglia and it won the 1928 edition. The 6C 1500 technical qualities were improved also on the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, which was introduced in 1927. It was bodied in several versions (Turismo, Sport or Granturismo, Super Sport or Gran Sport) and achieved overall victories in the Mille Miglia in 1929 (Campari-Ramponi) and 1930 (Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Giuseppe Campari and Pietro Ghersi filled the first four places). Enzo Ferrari started his career at Alfa Romeo in 1929 then founded Scuderia Ferrari as the official team for race Alfas. Also Bugatti, Maserati, Diatto, OM and even Rolls-Royce were clients of Zagato since the beginning.
Thirty-six these decades, Zagato continued building a variety of aerodynamic cars. He adopted inclined windscreens, more aerodynamic headlights, firstly enclosing them in aluminium hemispheres and then incorporating them within the bodywork, convex bootlids and perforated disc wheels that favoured brake cooling. Thirty-six Zagato bodied cars were at the start of 1938 Mille Miglia.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Ugo Zagato escaped from Milan and sought refugee at Lake Maggiore. On 13 August 1943 a RAF bombing raid destroyed his coachworks in Corso Sempione road. He found new premises at Saronno, alongside the Isotta Fraschini works, on behalf of which he constructed trucks and military vehicles and a futuristic Monterosa. He returned to Milan at the end of the war and re-established his company, close to the Alfa Romeo historic home at Portello. He searched for more spacious and more comfortable car greenhouses. They eventually crystallised in a new type-form characterised by airiness and visibility thanks to large glazed areas made with a new material, Plexiglas, in place of the traditional heavy glass. He called it “Panoramica” body, destined to mark the rebirth of his coachwork: Maserati, Lancia, Fiat and MG were “dressed” with this innovative body. In 1949 he built for Antonio Stagnoli a Panoramic body for his Ferrari 166 Mille Miglia (it was the first Ferrari coupé ever).
Gran Turismo Cars
As a gift for his graduation at Bocconi University of Milan, Elio Zagato, Ugo’s first-born son, received an open-top sports car based on a Fiat 500 B chassis in 1947. This car represented the beginning of his career as a gentleman driver (in a total of 160 races, Elio earned a place on the podium 83 times) and as a manager of the family company. The birth of the Gran Turismo category, conceived in 1949 by Count Giovanni Lurani, journalist Giovanni Canestrini and Elio himself revolutionised the world of automotive competition: the category comprised cars with sports coachwork and a production chassis or bodyshell of which at least 30 examples had to be built. They were, therefore, cars capable of being used on an everyday basis, comfortable and well-finished, yet sufficiently sleek and aerodynamic to race at weekends on the leading circuits. AC, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Aston Martin, Bristol, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati, Jaguar, Osca, wore Zagato GT bodies. In 1955 Elio Zagato scored a memorable victory of the International Granturism Championship at the Avus circuit driving a Fiat 8V Zagato.