Sergio Scaglietti: Ferrari designer and coachbuilder


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The Independent Online

The car designer and coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti created of some of the finest and most beautiful cars ever built.

Enjoying a close working relationship with Enzo Ferrari, Scaglietti designed a series of road and racing cars in the 1950s and 1960s that won prestigious races and were bought by the rich and famous. With an intuitive flair for style and function, the technically brilliant Scaglietti seldom used blueprints or sketches, using "the eyes alone", as he said, to sculpt cars including the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, the Testarossa, the 750 Monza, the 500 Mondial and the California Spyder. He also built numerous road cars to the designs of Pininfarina. Many of his cars now sell for millions.

The youngest of six children, Sergio Scaglietti was born in 1920 to Ernesto, a carpenter, and Gentilina, near Modena in northern Italy. When his father died, Sergio dropped out of school. Four of his brothers were carpenters, but he wanted to work with metal, and at the age of 13 became an apprentice at a company that repaired bodywork on cars and lorries. He started out sweeping floors, but was soon learning the techniques of panel-beating and hammering out bonnets.

In 1937, he moved to a garage a stone's throw from the Scuderia Ferrari factory, the racing car company established by Enzo Ferrari in 1929 to race Alfa Romeos. Scaglietti's skill was first noted when Enzo asked him to repair a racing-car wing. Thereafter, Ferrari commissioned him to undertake more complex projects.

The Second World War intervened and Scaglietti became a tank driver and motorcycle instructor. In 1951, he and two partners opened a custom coach-building business, Carrozzeria Scaglietti, in Maranello. Initially burdened with debt, the business struggled. However, Scaglietti's break came when the owner of a Touring Barchetta, a two-seater Ferrari sports car, commissioned a new body for his damaged vehicle. Enzo Ferrari was impressed and began sending him more work, and they became life-long friends. By the mid-1950s, Scaglietti had become the carrozzeria [coachbuilder] of choice for Ferrari. Towards the end of the decade, backed by Enzo Ferrari, Scaglietti expanded.

Shunning pencil and paper, Scaglietti worked out his designs in his head, and with his hammer fashioned hisdesigns by pounding sheets of aluminium over bags of sand, making sleek masterpieces out of unforgiving material. The results were some of the firm's most stylish and famous models, many of them driven to victory in important races, including the 250 Testarossa in the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 250GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione, considered by many as Ferrari'sbest-looking car, which won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood in 1960 and 1961, as well as blowing away the AstonMartins and Chevrolets at the 1960Le Mans 24 Hours, where it tookthe first four places. Arguably his most famous car was the Ferrari 375 MM, which he designed for the film director Roberto Rossellini in 1954 as a gift for Ingrid Bergman.

With few produced, these cars are now highly sought after – none more so than the 250 GTO, of which only 36 were built, in 1962-63. For many aficionados, the GTO is the ultimate expression of Scaglietti's aspirations: "I worked for racing, for speed, but also for beauty," he said. In 2008, one sold at auction to a British bidder for £15.7m, while in August this year Scaglietti's 1957 Testarossa 250 prototype was sold at auction for $16.4m. Scaglietti is also credited with the "headrest" bump that can be seen on most racing Ferraris of the 1950s and 1960s.

Scaglietti's high-end cars were desired by some of the world's richest people. One European royal gave him two precious, pedigree racing pigeons; unaware of their value, he inquired how best they should be cooked.

Scaglietti sold his business to Ferrari in the 1970s and retired in 1985, although he continued as a consultant for 10 years. In 2004, Ferrari named its new four-seater fastback coupé the 612 Scaglietti; the design, especially the large side scallops and the headlights, pays homage to Scaglietti's 1954 custom-built Ferrari 375 MM.

Sergio Scaglietti, coachbuilder: born Modena 9 January 1920; married 1940 Maria Neri (died 1991; two sons), secondly Loredana; died Modena 20 November 2011.