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Bertone: 100 years of car design (photos)

From June through October 2012, the National Car Museum in Turin hosted an exhibition featuring iconic Italian auto designer Bertone. SmartPlanet editor Andrew Nusca dropped by to check it out.
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By Andrew Nusca, Former editor on
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Italian automobile, transport and industrial design house Bertone was founded in 1912 as a carriage construction and repair shop but is now responsible for some of the most cutting-edge car designs seen over the last century. This exhibition, held at the National Car Museum in Turin, Italy, showcased the company's history, from coaches built by hand to legendary models designed for Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Lancia and Fiat.

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The 1995 Bertone Kayak was designed to embody the spirit of larger Lancia coupes and "reinterpret the past in a modern way." 

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The 1973 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 was a four-seater with a mid-engine design (8-cylinder V, 2926 cc, 255 horsepower at 7,700 rpm). Bertone gave its interior a "bright and cheerful" look and gave its exterior many of its signature features, such as a "diving" side panel, the B pillar rear air intakes and a vertical rear window.

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Certainly the oddest vehicle included in the exhibition, the 1994 Bertone Z.E.R. -- "Zero Emission Record" -- was powered by 36 lead-acid batteries and intended to "test the extreme limits of an electric vehicle." It would go on to set the world speed record for EVs weighing less than 1,000 lbs. at the Nardo high-speed test track in Lecce with a speed of 300 kmh.

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The 2004 Aston Martin Jet 2 is a sophisticated car by any measure -- it helps that James Bond helped make the marque famous -- but there's more than meets the eye. What first appears to be a run-of-the-mill Aston Martin Vanquish V12 is actually a custom-built car in homage to the original Jet, designed by Nuccio Bertone himself for Aston Martin (it was based on the DB4 GT) in 1961.

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Another shot of the 2004 Aston Martin Jet 2.

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The 2003 BMW Birusa is a concept car that explored how a classic car type -- in this case, the "GT" format, with a front engine, rear wheel drive and two seats -- could look in the future. This model borrows its chassis and engineering from BMW's Z8, including a 400-horsepower V8 engine and 6-speed manual gearbox, but attempts to take BMW's signature look in a new direction.

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The 2007 Fiat Barchetta is a concept car built on the company's Panda platform, and as such borrows its floorplan and mechanics from the 100-horsepower car. This model was designed to pay homage to the 1947 coach-built Fiat 500 Barchetta, which was designed by Nuccio Bertone and built for his personal use. This 95th anniversary model celebrates a more than 80-year collaboration between the companies.

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It may look like a sailboat in some ways, but the 1969 Bertone Runabout is all car. It was first presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1969 and indeed takes inspiration from more seaworthy vessels. The engine inside this wedge is from the Fiat 128. The model was used as the basis for future development of the Lancia Stratos rally car and the Fiat X119.

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Bertone didn't just design for Italian brands. Here's a 2010 Jaguar B99 -- "B" for Bertone, 99 for the company's age at that time -- built for the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. Like the BMW Birusa included earlier in this slideshow, Bertone sought to take Jaguar's classic look and bring it into the future. What we get here is a four-door sedan with a hybrid powertrain, as well as the fifth Jaguar designed by Bertone during its long history.

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What can be said about this bright green 1969 Fiat Dino Coupe? For starters, it's a 2+2 sports sedan with "aggressive elegance," Bertone says, and a 6-cylinder engine (1987 cc, 160 horsepower at 7,500 rpm) that can top out at 200 kmh. In other words, this is what "granturismo" is all about.

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The Bertone exhibition is an astounding collection of some of the greatest sports cars ever made. It's hard to believe they're all in the same room together.

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The 1985 Lamborghini Countach is the product of a long design process that started in 1971, when the mid-engine model was first presented at the Geneva Motor Show. Here, Bertone got aggressive, eliminating parts and making sure that everything you see has "a functional choice." The result: "the ultimate sports car" that continues to define Lamborghini today.

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This is the rear of the 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal, a prototype created for the 1967 Expo Montreal in Canada. It was Alfa Romeo's big splash into a profitable overseas market. The car was intended to satisfy "the maximum aspiration reached by man when it comes to creating cars." For Bertone, that means classy, futuristic and consistent with styling during that period.

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The Fiat 850 Spider America first debuted at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show and was popular enough to allow for 140,000 to be built. It was key in giving the Fiat brand a strong image in North America. This car, the 1968 Sport Spider, was one of several different versions of the original model. Others included the Berlinetta (with a hard vinyl top), a convertible and a Racer Team edition with a metal roof.

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You know you've done something right when you can shock the public, and that's what Bertone did here with the 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo. It first appeared at the Paris Motor Show of that year and made quite an impression: wedge shape, headlight design, "elytron" doors that resembled the wings of a beetle (hence "carabo") and a height of just 99 centimeters. Under the hood are the mechanics of the Alfa Romeo 33/2 Stradale: 1995 cc V8 engine making 230 horsepower, a tubular frame chassis and a 260 kmh top speed.

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This is how most people see Lamborghinis, from behind. The 1966 Miura was certainly no slouch in this regard, making "all the other sports cars look 10 years older," a journalist wrote when it first appeared at the Geneva Motor Show of that year. The model has a steel box frame chassis with a transversally-mounted 12-cylinder engine making 350 horsepower at 7,000 rpm that pushed the car to 290 kmh. Bertone says this model became a status symbol for its sensual look, and as such, the vehicle you're looking at in the photo is Nuccio Bertone's personal one.

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Here's the 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Testudo, which first appeared at the Geneva Motor Show with Nuccio Bertone himself behind the wheel. It was designed in only two months and took the Bowtie Brand into the future with a transparent one-piece windscreen and forward-tilting roof. Since the engine is rear-mounted, the wraparound rear window hinges upward to allow access. Oh, and the headlights are fully retractable -- not bad for 1963.

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Meet the 1971 Lancia Straos HF Stradale, a rally "legend" that would go on to win four world titles. The vehicle you're looking at here is a two-seater Berlinetta version with a compact frame (3.6 meters long, 2.1 meter wheelbase) and a Ferrari Dino 2.4 liter 6-cylinder engine making 192 horsepower.

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This is the 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia GTC, based on Alfa's Giulia Sprint GT but modifying it to include a retractable roof. This model never made it to production but inspired one of the same name that was introduced in 1965 at the Geneva Motor Show. Alfa would end up building one thousand of them.

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This was perhaps the most impressive vehicle at the exhibit, and for good reason: it's the 2012 Bertone Nuccio, designed (like this exhibition) to celebrate the design house's centennial. It's a tribute to the company's owner and intends to codify the company's sports heritage DNA in a new model. As such, it's got a 4.3-liter, 8-cylinder engine making 480 horsepower under the hood and a "monovolume architectural layout" referencing the 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo, 1970 Lancia Stratos 0 and the 197a Lamborghini Countach, all of which were featured earlier in this slideshow.

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And here's the back of the 2012 Bertone Nuccio.

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What you're looking at here is another portion of the exhibit featuring the auto designers themselves, as well as examples of their work. Turin takes great pride in being Italy's car capital, and as such many auto designers have made their name here. Included in this hall were pictures, examples and audio recordings of designers Chris Bangle, Aldo Brovarone, Walter De Silva, Leonardo Fioravanti, Marcello Gandini, Fabrizio Giugiaro, Flavio Manzoni, Paolo Pininfarina, Mike Robinson, Tom Tjaarda and Andrea Zagato.

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Here's Fabrizio Giugiaro's area of the hall. The son of designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, he's responsible for the design of the 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo, among others.

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The exhibition wrapped up with a quick overview of Bertone's designs over the last 100 years. Here's a look at the newer side of the lineup.

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The exhibition wrapped up with a quick overview of Bertone's designs over the last 100 years. Here's a look at the older side of the lineup.

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The very last part of the exhibition showed Bertone's Carozza Carriage, the vehicle that set the design house in motion. It was built by Giovanni Bertone, Nuccio's woodworker father, sometime after he opened his "wheelwright" shop on Via Villarbasse in Turin, Italy. The elder Bertone was friends with Vincenzo Lancia, thus setting in motion one of the longest collaborations in the auto industry. 

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