With FIAT on the brink of taking over every desperate, cash-strapped, sales-ridden car company on the northern hemisphere- I thought it a fun idea to run-through an “Italian Job” list, the “Italian Combo”- of cars, if there ever was such a thing. The result of one part Italian- the other part- well, something else…
We’re going to see a lot of these creations till someone gets their act straight and actually makes a sensible car someone wants to buy. While I take time to really tell you what to expect from the FIAT-injected Chrysler and similar brands, here’s some clues as to what we’ve seen so far from the sunny boot. As far as the Italians are concerned, here are the Top 10 Italian-Something Collaborations of the Automotive World.
10- The DeTomaso Pantera
Sleek and sharp Italian design by Ghia with a Cleveland 351 Ford wedged behind the seats. Quite possibly the trashiest, loudest, and true exotic ever made; if not the one most likely to be involved in a tragic car accident with a drunk rocker at the helm. Elvis had one; he shot it because it wouldn’t start. Sold through your local Lincoln-Mercury dealer, back in the day. Keep it away from Brett Michaels.
9- The Citroen SM
Complicated… Trademark French air-suspension, overall sophisticated design with a Maserati V6 powering the front wheels. Such a hit, it won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award in 1972. Heavy, complicated (did I already mention complicated?) and a bit soft- it wasn’t the world-beater anyone had thought, and the EPA put an end to it Stateside. Then again, 1972 was the beginning of the end of the automobile in America thanks to the DOT and EPA… Yeah, an acquired taste if you can find one that doesn’t need suspension work.
8- The Dual Ghia
A limited, two-year collaboration between Dual Motors, utilizing Chrysler, with Italian coachwork by Ghia. A four-seat, exclusive, hand-built coupe or convertible. Undoubtedly inspired by the great American designer Virgil Exner, creator of the Forward Look, perhaps the most outrageous and original American automobile design periods ever- Dodge mechanicals were built in America, then shipped to Italy to be bodied and finished by hand. Frank Sinatra had one. Ronald Reagan too. Ronnie lost his in a poker game to LBJ.
7- The Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia
Proven, tried and true German engineering meets Italian good looks. World War II-era VW mechanicals meets chic 1950s modern Italian design- sold for about twenty years in VW dealerships everywhere. The gold standard of a “dream car” if you’re a Commie Beatnik. Probably the only Italian-looking car that actually worked, sold, and did both very well.
6- The Cadillac Allante
Cadillac cars, bodies by Pininfarina- specially shipped from Italy on special 747s, about fifty at a time, flown into Michigan and mated to the chassis. Talk about a Just-In-Time nightmare. J.R. Ewing of Dallas-fame traded his Mercedes for one in an episode back in 1986- after all, it’s “Important to buy American” and this rings true, especially in Texas.
5- The Isetta
This microcar of Italian origin and design, was soon built all over Europe, including Italy, France, Germany, the UK, and even as far-reaching as Brazil under license from a number of companies- yes, even BMW. Micro, or “bubble cars” such as this helped a war-torn, depressed world rise from the ashes. Who knows, we may be reverting back to this- I don’t know- you tell me.
4- The VW Rabbit/Golf Mk I
The original hatchback, German built yet penned and designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign fame. The economical, modern car that got us out of the Beetle-era and into the "sensible box with four wheels" era is an Italian creation- as simple and pedestrian as it may look- Italian.
3- The Volvo Bertone Coupe
Circa 1980 or so- Volvo thought it a great idea to jazz-up a 262 coupe, tack-on a vinyl roof, add some garish emblems and let Bertone of Italy hand build a limited batch claiming “unlike many exotic cars, it has the durability, safety, comfort and repairability of a Volvo…” Oh please- you still suck!
2- The Chevrolet Monte Carlo
While there is nothing Italian about this car- more Italian Americans circa the 1970’s and 80’s rode around in this car 1) thinking it’s Italian and 2) acting Italian. Well, at least the name is Italian. Right? (Well it should be- I mean, count the vowels.) This car is still a hit at Italian Festivals throughout the Tri-State area, and good examples in “mint condition” are worth a few “boxes of ziti” if you catch my drift. To quote my friend Vito- “there are two kinds of people in this world- Italians and those who wish they were Italian”- and well, if a car could wish- it would do just that. Forgettaboutit.
1- The Chrysler TC by Maserati
Take a Chrysler LeBaron convertible, add a “Turbo II”, Dodge Daytona- platform 4 cylinder engine, wrap the dashboard in leather and wood, put some port-hole opera windows in the removable hardtop and inscribe the Maserati Trident anywhere you see fit- and you have the Chrysler TC by Maserati- Touring Coupe if you’re nasty. Made by hand in Milan, by Maserati. Conjured up by Lee Iacocca and the late Alejandro de Tomaso- then owner of Maserati.
It’s funny how these things work out sometimes. FIAT now owns Maserati and Chrysler- so… It could happen again. Leave it to the Italians.
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