Something special happened on May 20, just outside Milan. Maybe it had something to do with the spirit of the nearby Expo, but probably not. So much happened all at once that it’s difficult to choose where to start. The launch of a new car? The rebirth of an old racetrack? The high quality classic car meeting? The gathering of important collectors? The track day, or the private party with friends? Let me explain…
Andrea Zagato and the warm-up
Andrea Zagato manages a company, Carrozzeria Zagato, which has belonged to his family for 96 years. He grew up surrounded by cars, and his parents and relatives all had some involvement with motor vehicles. He now runs the company on a daily bases, but cars are his passion as well as his work. In fact that was the main reason for the extraordinary gathering last Wednesday: “My wife Marella and I had just finished the Mille Miglia in our Alfa Romeo 1900 Zagato, as had lots of our friends in the Scuderia Zagato. Many of them are from abroad, but they had stayed on in Italy for the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza. Marella and I decided to do something with the free day in between and arranged a warm-up party with friends, with cars as a background”.
The old, new racetrack
The old Alfa Romeo factory in Arese has been demolished. It’s owned by Fiat, which got Alfa Romeo for free from the Italian government in return for a promise that the Arese factory would keep on its workers. But Fiat is instead transforming the old factory into a department store, the biggest in Europe, not only disregarding the promise made, but tearing down a piece of automotive history. Thanks to the strong stance taken by the Municipality of Arese, the Alfa Romeo museum, though still closed for now, has been saved. However, the old Alfa test racetrack was destined for demolition. A group of investors, led by the Autodromo di Vallelunga, decided to rescue it, and after some refurbishment, it’s ready for action again. The Zagato event marked its first “official duty”. In a nod to the track’s history, the first car back on the tarmac was, of course, an Alfa Romeo, a 6C 1750 Compressore. “We are all neighbors,” says Andrea Zagato, “our headquarters are less than 1 kilometer from the Alfa Romeo factory. We’re still there, and the race track is practically at the end of our garden.”
When you decide to have a party, the first thing you need are friends to attend it. The Zagato family can count on a very big group of friends, and many of them did indeed come along, bringing their own Zagatos with them. 22 cars made it to the Arese racetrack, the party’s centerpiece. It was wonderful to see such an incredible mix of styles and decades in one place. There were cars from the early 1920s and ‘30s, streamlined GTs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, as well as the boxier vehicles of the ‘70s and ‘80s. But since Zagato is one of the very few coachbuilders still in existence, there were also some “new models” of more recent vintage, including a TZ3, and some Aston Martins made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the English brand. “Gone are the years when manufacturers came to Zagato asking us to design and, after approval, manufacture a body. Now we are an atelier, creating pieces of art on wheels. So we never make more than 9 examples of the same car: we want them to be one-offs (in the art world, up to 10 prints of a work are still considered “one-off”). Thanks to our skills, we can play with style more freely than the big companies, and can move into the future well before them.”
All the ingredients for a successful party were already in place, but to make it truly unforgettable, you need a surprise. “Some time after we thought of the idea of the warm-up party,” says Andrea Zagato, “we realized that the car we were manufacturing to enter the Prototype Class at the Villa d’Este Concorso could be got ready a few days earlier than scheduled. It is a kind of miracle we managed – usually these things end up needing extra time not less… And so we decided to arrange a surprise for our friend by bringing the new car, the Mostro, to the party.”
In 1956 Maserati produced the 450 S, a 4.5 liter racer, with a Barchetta two-seater body. In 1957 one of these cars was redesigned as a Coupé by English engineer Frank Costin, who wanted to improve the aerodynamics. The car was then built by Zagato and raced by Sir Stirling Moss in Le Mans in 1957, though a mechanical failure prevented it from finishing. Due to its looks, which were not as beautiful as most Zagatos, and far from the Italian style, the car was nicknamed “Il Mostro”, the monster, by Zagato’s employees, and the nickname stuck. Il Mostro was subsequently adapted to be road legal, and it went on to become one of the most iconic cars of the period. “This is why we’ve recreated a modern Mostro,” says Andrea Zagato, “a race car that can be easily registered for road use. We think the future will see a radical change in the world of car manufacturing. Well established companies will disappear and new ones will arrive. It’s now quite possible to imagine a company like Google building cars, something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. But what will never disappear, we believe, will be the “iconic” product that becomes a legend and survives far longer than its original producer. Look, what happened with the Mini, for example, where the name of car became a brand itself, surviving the disappearance of Morris, BMC, Leyland and so on. The Mostro, powered by a V8 Maserati engine and with a chassis by Automobile Gillett, is our idea of the future, bringing innovation that is still linked to our tradition.”