The early years
When in the aftermath of World War II the Italians took their cars out
of their hiding places, the Vignale brothers acquired a severely
abused Fiat Topolino. They fitted a new body of their own design, a fact
that was soon noticed by the British magazine 'Autocar'. They, however,
attributed it to a different coach builder, but the publication and
subsequent rectification attracted so much attention and clients
ordering a car of their design that in 1948 they were able to establish
their own 'Carrozzeria Vignale'.
The early designs were mainly based on the Fiat
1100, on the Cisitalia 202 that
in itself used many mechanical parts of the Fiat 1100, and probably
their most important competitor in the Italian market of 'vetture di
fuoriserie', the Lancia Aprilia.
The golden age
International recognition came soon. First, a young and brilliant
free-lance designer, Giovanni Michelotti, was attracted. Second, after
a few victories in various races, the already famous
Ferrari replaced Touring by
Vignale as the coach builder of their choice. Although the
Ferrari period was rather short, Vignale's name was settled for
The result was that orders came pouring in. Many special orders were
placed, not only from Italy but also others found their way to Vignale.
Cunningham from the USA is just
Bodies were always produced by hand. Sheets were rolled and hammered
into forms, and also the finer shaping was done by skilled metal
workers, judging by eye without a dummy.
The fifties were troubling times for coach builders that built their
models by hand. Many, like Saoutchik in France, were forced to stop
while others survived by specializing to design or expanding and
mechanizing their production. But Vignale stayed put, slowly
shifting from single orders to increasingly larger series. Especially
the designs based on the Fiat 600 and the
van versions of the Fiat Multipla
must have been rather popular.
Around 1960 Giovanni Michelotti, who always designed for other coach
builders as well, slowly concentrated on larger projects while
Alfredo Vignale took the road of expanding into more mechanized
mass production. Thus in August 1961 the carrozzeria moved to their new
premises in Grugliasco, just outside Torino.
Here, production really started. The last
Lancia Appias, the Flavia,
the Maserati 3500 GTV and
Sebring, and of course the Fiats that were
later even produced under Vignale's own name.
The economic forces of the late sixties appeared in the end too strong
for small coachbuilders like Vignale. The relatively small scale
production, quite labour intensive even for that time, made
Vignale cars too expensive to attract the large production needed
to survive. Alfredo Vignale had to give up and sold the firm to
De Tomaso who used the premises to accommodate Ghia's production
of the Pantera.
The end for Alfredo Vignale came also too soon: three days after
the sale he was killed in a car crash...