Giuseppe "Nuccio" Bertone (1914-1997) experienced change in a way we can hardly imagine, living through a century where horse-drawn carriages gave way to exotic supercars. Like Harley Earl and Battista Pininfarina, Bertone helped create the business of modern design.
In 1912, Bertone's father began building premium carriages in Turin, Italy, but the business had turned to specialty-bodied sports cars for Fiat and Lancia when Nuccio, the second son, joined the business in 1933 at age 19. Somehow the carrozzeria survived the Great Depression while building elegant automobiles for the upper classes.
Once the company got back on its feet after World War II, Nuccio Bertone began racing sports cars, and it led to a commission from Vittorio Stanguellini to build a series of high-performance Fiat-based coupes. When Stanley "Wacky" Arnolt, a car dealer from Chicago, visited the 1952 Turin auto show and saw these cars, he hired Carrozzeria Bertone to build 200 MG-based sports cars for the U.S. and then followed it with a Bristol-based car.
With the family business now on a sound financial basis, Nuccio Bertone hired well-known designer Franco Scaglione. When Alfa Romeo asked Bertone to create a successor to the influential Disco Volante ("flying saucer") sports car concept, Scaglione designed the radical BAT 5 (Berlina Aerodinamica Technica), a dramatic expression of the new streamlined style of the 1950s, for the 1953 Turin show.
But it was the business of design that became Nuccio Bertone's lasting contribution. In 1954, Alfa Romeo commissioned Carrozzeria Bertone to design and build 500 cars to satisfy a complicated stock sale based on a lottery. Scaglione and Mario Boano collaborated to create the Giulietta Sprint, which appeared at the 1954 Turin show, and Bertone ultimately built 40,000 of them. Bertone could now style, prototype and manufacture cars in volume, and this business model inspired the whole coachbuilding industry. Bertone later built the Fiat 850 Spider and Fiat X1/9 in volume, and many other cars in lesser numbers.
Nuccio Bertone never lost his taste for more exclusive expressions of automotive style, and when Scaglione left in 1959 he hired the 21-year-old grandson of a famous fresco painter who had never even driven a car before-Giorgetto Giugiaro. The youngster designed a series of striking GTs, but he made his name with a design for Lamborghini, which had recently sprung to life. Giugiaro was inspired by the Ford GT40 to create the Lamborghini Miura for the Turin show in 1966. It popularized the mid-engine Italian supercar as we know it.
Bertone furthered the genre with the Countach LP500 at the 1971 Geneva show, a concept from his newest design discovery, Marcello Gandini. Nuccio Bertone always hoped that this association with Lamborghini would prove as profitable and prestigious as Pininfarina's link with Ferrari, but the financial troubles of the little car company turned the dream to dust.
Bertone was quick to credit Scaglione, Giugiaro and Gandini for the design successes of his company, but he was proud of his role as a tastemaker. He always penciled suggestions on the drawings of his designers (much to their dismay), and noted, "Many times I drove their pencils." The results had an impeccable elegance that will always be associated with Bertone.