The paths of the automotive history have taken us to the headquarters of Zagato situated north of Milan, Italy. In the city of Rho near the Autostrada the historical facility was built in 1960 and saw the birth of models like the Lancia Flaminia Sports, Appias, Flavias, Giulia TZs, Fulvia Sport, Alfa Junior Z and the Maserati Spider. It houses the history of a coachbuilder with a premises occupying an area of 23,000 square meters, of which 11,000 square meters are covered.
The company was established at the end of the World War I by Ugo Zagato who started his business in the aerospace industry. He founded his company in 1919 and decided to transfer his aeronautical skills from the sky to the roads. Zagato received many requests for cars with his advanced technical and stylistic features. Italian brands like Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia immediately realized the advantages of his rakish, streamlined designs.
After some pristine luxury bodies on Bugattis, Isotta Fraschinis, Fiats and Italas he soon converted to races aiming to dress cars with a special superlight body that recalled unmistaken the shape of an airplane. Legendary racing cars were created from these collaborations, such as the Alfa Romeo 1500, the 1750 Gran Sport, and the 2300 8C of the Scuderia Ferrari, which was managed by Enzo Ferrari himself. Powerful Vittorio Jano’s Alfa engines and Zagato’s light and aerodynamic bodies created a perfect match: Zagato Alfas were the most successful cars of this period.
At the time of Second World War, Ugo Zagato abandoned his Milanese home and sought refuge on the shores of Lake Maggiore, but continued his work. After the war his avant-garde styling, together with lightweight and wind-cheating lines were main features of Zagato’s models build by leading sports car manufacturers. That’s the period of “panoramica” bodies which were fitted upon several Fiat, Lancia, Ferrari, MG and Maserati chassis. Aiming to maximum lightness and performance, these cars were fast during races but also suitable for a “gentle” driving along public roads. They were involved in a specific class that became a real “philosophy” in the way of building: the Gran Turismo.
Ugo Zagato’s two sons, Elio Zagato (1919–2009) and Gianni Zagato (born in 1929), became involved within the company in the late 1940s. Due to the increasing business Zagato family decide to expand the factory so a new and more modern factory guaranteeing the future of the company. A new premises was found at Terrazzano di Rho in 1960, near Arese, alongside what was to become the new Alfa Romeo factory.
Ugo died in 1968 and both brothers continued the business. The following decades showed a continuing flow of new concepts and models, but also the conversion from solely being a coachbuilder tied to the production of sports cars to a service center working in the area of transport design.
From the end of 60s to early 90s, at Rho facility where built many of models today are considered as collectibles: Lancia Fulvia Sport and Beta Spider, Alfa Romeo Junior, Maserati Spider and Karif, and the Alfa Romeo S.Z. and R.Z.
At the 2002 Geneva Motor Show Ulrich Bez, the Aston Martin CEO, announced the DB7 Coupe Zagato. The 99 numbered editions revitalized both brands on the wings of the legendary DB4 GT Zagato. It was a startup of a new age for the company in terms of design concepts. Numerous models followed like the Ferrari 575 GTZ, Maserati GS Zagato, Bentley GTZ, Alfa Romeo TZ3 Corsa and Stradale.
A model not mentioned in this list, but another example of the collaboration between Aston Martin and Zagato, is the brand new Aston Martin V12 Zagato. The V12 Zagato endurance race car, presented to the public and this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, is once again an example of the true heritage between the two brands.
Zagato is currently headed by Andrea Zagato, who continues the work build up by his ancestors. We got a personal tour through the facility checking out the historical line-up of vehicles parked inside the central showroom. As the pictures may reveal to you, the showroom was packed with the most wonderful concepts and historical cars. The line-up consisted of at least ten very unique cars; an Alfa Romeo 6c 1500 Testa Fissa Zagato 1932 – it was raced by Scuderia Sports’s pilots at last historical Mille Miglia and scored a good third place OA -, Maserati GS Zagato, Aston Martin DB7 Zagato, Ferrari 550 Barchetta Zagato, Spyker C12 Zagato, Diatto Ottovù Zagato and one of the two Lamborghini L147 Zagato models; the intended successor to the Diablo until Audi came into play.
Many of the Zagato vehicles have the signature double-bubble roof that allowed clearance for racing helmets or heads, with minimal frontal area. Other trademark design features include no bodywork ahead of the headlights, flat door handles and the absence of bumpers and outside rearview mirrors. These characteristics are also included in their latest creations. Unfortunately, the Aston Martin V12 Zagato was not displayed during our visit because it was deeply under development for the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but the brand new member to the “TZ3 program” was.
The Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Alfa Romeo (1910-2010) and the long standing tradition of race and road going Zagato bodied Alfas. The initiative started in 2010 with the manufacturing of the “one off” TZ3 Corsa which won the Villa D’Este Design Concept Award in 2010 and followed with nine TZ3 Stradales. Seven have already been sold to different customers and Zagato collectors in Japan, USA and Switzerland. The first TZ3 Stradale has been delivered to the US Alfa Romeo and Zagato collector (and Saratoga Automobile Museum’s board member) Eric King. The TZ3 Stradale is based on the 2010 Dodge Viper ACR mechanical chassis with a carbon fiber body.
Clients have the ability to choose different setups, colors and interior trims. As a coachbuilder Zagato offers numerous options to its clients, creating one of a kind vehicles that are easily money makers.
The Zagato brand today is active in numerous directions of car creation; from the concept design from stretch to the bodyworks assembly and production. This allows Zagato to operate with two different business units. At first the Atelier, marked with the Z, manufacturing tailor-made bodyworks in very limited runs with an heavy involvement from clients. Secondly, Pret a Conduire focused on production cars distributed by other car brands. These projects cover a larger audience like the 2005 Lancia Ypsilon Sport and the 2011 Fiat 500 Coupé Zagato.
Worth noting is the Atelier Classic in which the company brings back to life the lost valuable Zagatos of the past using photometric technology. Zagato Sanction II models are official reconstructions, but not replicas, so overall it are real Zagato cars. To celebrate the centenary of Lancia in 2006, a Lancia Aprilia Sport was created identical to the car build by his grandfather in 1938. Due to the vanishing of the car Zagato started resurrecting the Aprilia Sport only by two images. Thanks to the photometric process, the whole technical measures of the body were obtained. Zagato client provided a Lancia Aprilia sedan chassis with its drive train and in the end the bodywork was handcrafted by master panel beaters, a solid, machined buck.
The Zagato brand as a whole is here to stay after more than 90 years of heritage, while other brands and coachbuilders slowly vanish from the automotive world. The development of new projects and cars will continue into the future using the design signatures of the brand. A good example is the CPP Milan joint venture that CPP and Zagato formed over the past months to ensure their long-term independence and take advantage of the opportunities left by the exit of their competitors from the industry. Both will jointly oversee projects such as the critically acclaimed 2011 Aston Martin V12 Zagato, now confirmed for limited-run production.
The factory as a whole is worth a visit by any automotive enthusiast. The truly historical background of the building and its content lets you experience the historical and Italian company in any possible way.
Thanks to Zagato and Alvise Seno for the tour and the explanation.