Once-upon-a-time there were carrozzieres. The highly skilled craftsmen, metalworkers and upholsters from these coachbuilders in Turin were responsible for visualising and sculpting the metal that clothed the motorcar. Depending on their size and expertise, they helped larger carmakers designs concepts, and some created exclusive one-off cars for aficionados of the motorcar.
One such carrozziere was Vignale set up in 1948 by Alfredo Vignale in Turin to collaborate mainly with local Italian carmakers Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati and Ferrari.
Vignale was inspired by new fabrication techniques from the aviation industry, and by the lightweight and aerodynamic racing cars that were winning races at Mille Miglia and other circuits.
He utilised lightweight aluminium to be able to sculpt free-flowing panels with rolled edges, hand stamped louvres and contours shaped using molten alloys sanded for hours to create the perfect finish.
His small team of highly skilled craftsmen collaborated with carmakers to create low-volume variants of their main production cars like the Fiat Gamine, Samantha and Eveline. They also worked on unique vehicles such as the Ferrari 212 and 250 and Fiat Maserati 3500.
Ford purchased Vignale in 1973, but has only now decided to reincarnate the marque. The first production model to benefit from the Vignale treatment is the Mondeo, to be joined later this year by the latest S-Max.
The exterior benefits from a high-quality metallic paint finishes, special chrome trim, and 18-inch alloys. The cabin offers a peaceful sanctuary thanks to upgraded sound insulation and active noise cancellation. Emphasis here is on the detail – so that all our touch points, and whatever the driver’s eye can catch, is encased in luxurious soft Windsor leather all with hexagonal quilting and ‘tuxedo’ stitching.
The Vignale cars will sit at the pinnacle of the brand. The design team is also creating a range of accessories to complement the cars.
We caught up with Chris Bird, Ford of Europe director of design, in Rome at one of the new Ford Stores.
DT. You have had Vignale in your archives for some years, ever since you purchased Ghia in 1973. Why reincarnate it now?
CB. When we started looking at creating a more premium line we realised that we needed to take a strategy that was really unique. The decision came from us in design. The Vignale team were a small group of highly skilled craftsmen, experimenting with new technology and materials and their execution. There has always been a connection with Italy and the US – the history of Ford and Ghia, for instance, goes back a long way. So we said why don’t we look at the Italian aspect of it – try a contemporary interpretation of what is actually quite a traditional industry.
DT. How do you intend to re-imagine the Vignale marque for the present day and for Ford?
CB. We are deeply interested in what is going on particularly with the Italian fashion and furniture brands. The fact that they are dealing with this idea of how you take traditional craftsmanship, or Italian values, but move out of the area of classic and into the contemporary and modern. It is summed up by the buzz at events like Milan’s Salone del Mobile where a lot of the forward thinking design is connected to Italian craft values.
DT. How did you work with Vignale to achieve this?
CB. We don’t have the funds or expertise of Mercedes or BMW for the fine execution and detailing, so here we are not doing something generic that has been seen and done before. Vignale gave us a chance to come up with an execution that is Italian, and to utilise the expertise here.
DT. So far you have incorporated the Vignale concept into your production models starting with the Mondeo and S-Max….
CB. The S-Max concept, in particular, shows the direction we’re going for the time being especially with the unique colour and trim options. We’re looking at taking the whole quilting idea and expressing it in new ways and applying it to new areas such as on the arm rest. We’re looking at different quilting pattern opportunities that are more contemporary. There is a lot more to come.
DT. Are you saying you have plans for a stand-alone Vignale sub-brand?
CB. The S-Max (success) will hopefully drive the size and the seriousness of where Vignale is going. At the moment we don’t have this in our plans but I’m hoping the great work that design does on future Vignales will lead to making this happen.