The story began in 1884 with the birth of the original Bertone, Giovanni who opened his own coachbuilding firm in 1912, but it was his son Nuccio who created the Bertone we know. The rise to prominence of the firm which bore the family name can be traced back to 1952, when Nuccio obtained a pair of MG TD chassis and had his chief stylist Scaglione design a stylish pair of convertible and coupe bodies for them. The cars were displayed at the Turin motor show and Chicago car dealer Stan Arnolt took a liking to them, requesting that Bertone supply 200 of them.
The logistics were nightmarish, with chassis shipped from Abingdon to Turin and then on to the USA but 100 of the Arnolt-MGs were produced before MG pulled the plug on chassis supply. Undeterred, Arnolt had Bertone and Scaglione design a new body for the Bristol chassis and the famous Arnolt-Bristol was born. These two cars put Bertone on the map among the Torinese carrozzeria, but it was Alfa Romeo which provided the next stepping stone. It was a curious story, the sort of thing which could only really have happened in Italy and was a near scandal.
Alfa had raised the finance for a new sports coupe by selling company securities qualifying holders for a lottery, with the winners receiving the first cars. The buyers had duly stumped up the finds but when Alfa hadn't come up with the goods after 18 months, legal action was in the air and it turned to Bertone to deliver a suitable car as quickly as possible. The result was the Giulietta Sprint, which appeared at the 1954 Turin show and Bertone immediately had hundreds of orders for the car. The demand for the Sprint fuelled Bertone's early growth, with the firm expanding on the back of it and over the course of 11 years, some 40,000 examples were produced, with the workforce peaking at 2500.
By the early 1960s, Bertone was up there with the other Italian styling houses and always had a concept car or prototype at the major motor shows. The mass-production work was also booming, with 31,000 cars produced in 1961 alone. Landmark designs during the period included the flamboyantly styled Alfa Romeo BAT (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica), the Ferrari 250 GT SWB, Iso Grifo, Fiat 850 Spider, Lamborghini Miura, Marzal amd Countach plus Fiat X1/9. The roll-call of famous designers on the Bertone payroll included many of the greats: Scaglione, Giugiaro and Gandini all worked there. The high point of the Sixties for Bertone was the Miura which was followed by more designs for Lamborghini including the Marzal and Espada, while it also styled the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Fiat Dino coupe. Bertone then entered the '70s with a jolt when it unveiled the Stratos Zero concept built on a Fulvia base which of course went on to become the Lancia Stratos.
Other more mainstream designs included the Alfa Romeo Alfetta and Fiat Ritmo/Strada, while the wacky two-door Volvo 262C (right) was something else entirely - but is credited with showcasing Bertone's in-house production engineering skills which won it new business. Alongside the show cars though, the firm was quietly manufacturing cars for other makers - notably Fiat which entrusted it with the production of the X1/9 and the Ritmo/ Strada convertible. From 1980 both of these Bertone-made models were also sold under the Bertone brand, making it a car manufacturer in its own right. In 1982 Bertone styled the BX for Citroen - based heavily on its Tundra concept originally offered to Volvo - and then gained the contract to produce the Astra convertible for General Motors.
The partnership was a success and saw the firm gain the production work for the second generation Astra droptop as well as the coupe. The decade was finished off with the Citroen XM. By the late '80s it was producing Astra convertibles for General Motors as well as Punto cabriolets for Fiat and entered the '90s with confidence. Among mass-market designs were the Citroen ZX and Xantia, while the Diablo and ill-fated Cizeta-Moroder V16T represented Bertone in the supercar league. It all started to slide after the passing of Nuccio, although initially things looked buoyant.
With ex-Fiat executive Bruno Cena parachuted in to run the factory, the firm turned out nearly 35,000 Astras in 2002, but profitability was slender and new contracts weren't materialising as new technology made it easier for car makers to build their niche models in-house. One notable example of this was General Motors which in 2005 ended the proftable Astra contract after deciding to take production in-house for the new model. With the operation a shadow of itself, it was Fiat which eventually purchased the Grugliasco plant and now uses it to construct Maserati Quattroportes.
This left the styling side of the business all that was left carrying the Bertone name but it was in dire circumstances with an almost total lack of clients. Show cars like the Alfa Pandion and the Bertone Nuccio which celebrated the firm's 100th anniversary did the motor show rounds but the future was bleak. One of the firm's last designs would be the undeniably elegant B99 concept reworking of a Jaguar XJ (pictured opposite), unveiled in 2011 but Jaguar of course was busy reinventing itself in rather edgier, modern style and wasn't interested.
As for the impressive back catalogue, Nuccio's widow Lilli purchased 84 of the famous show cars from the receivers, with six of them auctioned off back in 2013 - the Lamborghini Marzal, Chevrolet Testudo, and Lancia Stratos HF Zero. A sad end for the name which had produced some of the world's most striking show cars and nurtured many of the other landmark stylists.List of All Models of Bertone (9)