Throughout BMW’s history, the company has collaborated with Italian designers and coachbuilders whenever it needed a competitive edge in racing or an extra dose of style. In 1940, BMW won the Mille Miglia with a 328 Coupe bodied by Touring of Milan, which also created a companion roadster for that car. The postwar Isetta was built under license from Iso, and the 700 that revived BMW’s fortunes was designed by Giovanni Michelotti, a native of Turin. In 1961, Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the 3200 CS while employed at Bertone, and his own Italdesign firm was later responsible for 1977’s M1 supercar.
BMW has called upon nearly all the heavy hitters in Italian design over the years, but one legendary name has long been absent from the list: Zagato.
Since 1919, the Milanese coachbuilder has been combining aesthetics with technology to create some of the most beautiful automobiles the world has ever known. Company founder Ugo Zagato got his start in the airplane industry, and he used aeronautical construction techniques and advanced aerodynamics to make race cars like the 1929 Alfa-Romeo 6C 1750 GS as light and sleek as possible.
In 1960, a young designer named Ercole Spada became Zagato’s design chief, and he immediately took the firm’s characteristic technic to a new level of aesthetic distinction. For his first act at Zagato, the 23-year-old Spada created the mind-blowingly beautiful Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, which he followed with a series of similarly stunning cars for Lancia, Alfa and Lamborghini.
Spada left Zagato in 1970, but the company survived both his departure and the onset of unit-body construction—the death of many a custom coachbuilder—to continue turning out stunning automobiles for a variety of marques, though never BMW. (In an interesting footnote, Spada joined BMW’s design department in 1976, and he so thoroughly modernized the 7 and 5 Series for the E32 and E34 generations that they required only subtle updates when they were finally replaced.)
Now, in 2012, Zagato can finally be added to the list of coachbuilders who’ve brought Italian flair to a BMW automobile. Making its debut at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, the BMW Zagato Coupe is more than mere design exercise. It’s a street-legal, road-ready car that awaits only a board member’s signature before it becomes a production reality.
A true collaboration