Monday, October 20, 2014

Design Classic: Cisitalia 202

The Cisitalia 202 coupé is generally acknowledged as one of the automobile design greats.  In part, this was because it was one of only eight vehicles honored in a 1951 exhibit at New York's prestigious Museum of Modern Art.  A PDF file of MoMA's press release for the exhibit is here.   Current MoMA collection Web site items regarding the Cisitalia are here and here.

As for the Cisitalia firm, its Wikipedia entry is here and a Web site devoted to it can be found here.

The Cisitalia 202 was designed in 1946 by Battista "Pinin" Farina, head of the Pininfarina coachbuilding firm.  Many observers think that the Cisitalia was his most significant design, because it set the scene for the torrent of outstanding Italian designs in the late 1940s and through the 1950s.  Let's take a look.


These color images are of a well-preserved or restored Cisitalia 202.  They might be copyrighted, but since they appear on a number of Web sites without attribution, I can only offer a general acknowledgement to the copyright holder, if there is one.

Here are two photos probably taken around the time this car was built.

The main functional defect of the design seems to be the lack of a trunk lid.  Perhaps that's because the car had a very small area available for storage.  At the rear, there is what appears to be an access panel for a spare tire.

The car's proportions are driven by the engineering package.  The hood is fairly long, but that doesn't matter because the car is pretty small.  The steering wheel is placed at about the midpoint of the length of the car, so the driver's head is a short ways aft of center.  The overall concept features an integral, "envelope" body.  However, it is not a bland blob because the front and rear fenders are still somewhat distinct, adding interest.  Allowing the rear fender its own shape relieves what might otherwise have been a slab-sided look such as can be seen on contemporaneous designs such as the 1947 Kaiser.  The 1947 Studebaker also retained a distinct rear fender for the same reason.

The basic body design of this 1948 Oldsmobile 98 was probably nearly set around the time the Cisitalia 202 first appeared in 1947 (trim details were finalized a little later).  This means that its appearance was not influenced by the Cisitalia.  It too has clean looks and a distinct rear fender behind a flow-through front fender.  So Farina's Cisitalia was actually in line with the styling zeitgeist of the postwar 1940s.

Besides its good proportions and carefully stated details, Farina did make one bold move: he dropped the hood to near fender-level, a featured picked up by many later designs.  Here too there was precedent in certain prewar racing cars.  So while Farina was not innovative on the Cisitalia, it was his outstanding design ability that allowed him to pull the various features into one place in an extremely tasteful manner.

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