In the early days of car building, when some of the high volume manufacturing techniques weren’t as standard as they are today, the process of acquiring a new vehicle was often much more involved. In the cases of higher-end cars, a rolling chassis provided the foundation for different coachbuilding options. One option was for a customer to approach a car making brand, who would deliver only the rolling chassis, including the drivetrain, suspension, steering and cooling system. Then the customer approached a coachbuilder, requesting a personal body design to be fitted on the rolling chassis. Sometimes a coachbuilder ordered or got assigned a series of chassis, on which he designed and manufactured their new coachwork to their own design. Sometimes the customer delivered a complete factory-bodied car to the coachbuilder with the request to change the entire coachwork or modify certain elements.
After World War II, automotive mass production was in full swing, ending the era of separate manufacturing of chassis and tailored coachworks. Many coachbuilders went bankrupt, were bought by manufacturers, or changed their core business to design houses or other activities. Meanwhile many car manufacturers established in-house design departments themselves, ultimately developing their own design and styling DNA - which were often based in earlier designs by the coachbuilders.
In earlier cars, coach building allowed for wildly different looks, with the chassis being totally separate from the body. In the sixties, when unit-body and spaceframe construction became prevalent, it became significantly more difficult to fit newly designed bodies on a donor chassis. Design intent became more and more limited due to the predefined shapes of given body structures. The chassis no longer acted simply as a flat undercarriage as it now also comprised the stressed roofline constructions and other stressed body panels. This forced design houses and coachbuilders to limit their scope of work primarily to the outer body panels, having to leave the basic car structure and proportions untouched.
Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera was an automobile coachbuilder established in 1926. It was founded by Felice Bianchi Anderloni, who had previously worked for Isotta-Fraschini as a test driver, as well as the Italian operations of Peugeot. The company was built as off of what was once Carrozzeria Falco by Anderloni and Gaetano Ponzoni. They adopted the name Touring shortly after.
The company started to produce custom built automotive bodywork with two core mantras form the very beginning: sporting elegance and lightness. Early customers were car makers Isotta Fraschini and Alfa Romeo. The ‘Superleggera’ (Super lightweight) construction system - patented in 1936 - consists of a structure made up of thin steel tubes that forms the body’s shape, then hand-hammered alloy panels are attached to cover the framework, adding extra strength.
Touring Superleggera also gradually researched the streamlining process. The marriage between this, and their Superleggera construction system using aluminium body panels over a light but rigid tubular steel frame, resulted in some extremely elegant masterpieces such as the 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900 Touring spider, which today have become icons of automotive design and body construction.
The ‘Superleggera’ patented technique allowed Touring to build unique masterpieces and limited series models with impeccable craftsmanship. The Alfa Romeo Disco Volante is an example of a very limited run masterpiece. They also produced several larger, but still limited, runs of cars using the technique. Examples include a pretty substantial list of well known beauties: The Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint, Lancia Flaminia Coupé, Aston Martin DB5, Lamborghini 350 and 400 GT, and the Maserati 3500 and 5000 GT.
Perhaps the most significant part of Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera’s history is the design and construction of some of the most important early Ferraris - the 166 and 212 in Coupé, Spider and Barchetta form. They also designed and built the BMW 328 coupé, which has been called one of the 25 most important cars ever.
When compared to other design / build houses, you can see their definitive strengths. Touring was as masterful as any at building highly elegant high performance GTs.