Inspired! The Best of Vintage Italian Sports Cars




A lot of the world fails to recognize that engineers aren’t just people who are comfortable with calculators and looking up material coefficients. To be good, to be legendary, you have to be an artist too.

[Ed. Show us your most inspiring designs. Enter our product design competition. There are prizes up to $3000 USD for the winners, plus a trip to LiveWorx.]

That means you have to work from both sides of the brain, and that’s not always easy. But when art and engineering all come together, the results are magnificent. Nowhere is this more evident than in the mid-century Italian sports car.

Alpha Romero

1954 Alfa Romeo BAT 7. The Blackhawk Collection. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

Look closely. The design behind this BAT 7 is based on a study of aerodynamics. The shape of the front eliminates airflow disruption at high speeds while eliminating extra resistance generated when the wheels turn. It is an extremely light automobile (a mere 2,400 pounds) with side windows set at a 45-degree angle.

In the back (see the image below), a slim pillar divides the car’s tail, which includes two fins tapering upward and slightly inward, giving the car its unique, sleek look.  

Beauty from chaos

It’s not a coincidence that these wild designs emerged just after WWII. Machinery and technology developed during the big war heavily influenced sports car design in Europe for decades.

“Wartime work in aeronautics helped Italian engineers and designers develop familiarity with aerodynamics, lightweight construction, exotic metals, and technologies such as multicamshaft high-revving engines and power-enhancing superchargers,” says Ken Gross, guest curator at the upcoming exhibit, “Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975.”

Taking place at the Frist Center May 27-October 9 in Nashville, the show brings together rare and stunning Italian-designed automobiles and motorcycles in a museum setting. Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Alfa Romeo, and of course Ferrari and Lamborghini models will all be represented.

1954 Alfa Romeo BAT 7. The Blackhawk Collection. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

Shaping the future

While the war helped shape the designs, the cars were also visionary. Their designs are “tied to an age in which graceful aerodynamics provided an optimistic language of the future,” says curator Mark Scala. “The vehicles are quite simply astonishing on both a visual and technical level.”

One could only imagine what the studios were like at Italian car design firm Pininfarina (they designed the Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati among others) during the 60s and 70s. And since CAD software wouldn’t come around until the 80s, they would have done it all with pencils and ink on vellum.

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

We can all still draw inspiration from the work of our grandparents’ generation. But of course now we have 3D CAD surface and can work much faster. Just launch your freestyle app, and start working:

It’s not too late to create timeless design

World War II vets everywhere are now retired and are sadly disappearing, but that doesn’t mean the end of legendary design or even the great Italian sports car. In fact, there’s a whole school devoted to teaching promising students the mysteries of motorsport design.

If you can’t get away for that long, maybe you can get to the Frist in Tennessee this summer for the exhibit

1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport. Collection of Somer and Loyce Hooker. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

Or maybe you don’t need to do any of that because you already know plenty about standout design. Perfect! Enter our product design competition. There are prizes up to $3000 USD for the winners, plus a trip to LiveWorx in Boston this June. Learn more here.

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