From The Vault | 1947 Cisitalia 202 Coupe by Pinin Farina

Each week of November, “From The Vault” will highlight a signature vehicle in the acclaimed collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum. Having undergone a 13-month renovation, the museum will re-open to the public December 7, 2015. Leslie Kendall, curator of this series, is the museum’s chief curator.

Cisitalia (pronounced chee-see-tah-lee-uh) is likely one of the most important and influential automobile manufacturers that most people have never heard of.  Founded by wealthy Italian industrialist Piero Dusio, the name was a partial acronym that stood for Consorzio Industriale Sportiva Italia. It was one of dozens of small Italian firms established after World War II that built small specialty sports cars using inexpensive Fiat components. Yet while much of the Cisitalia’s mechanical specifications were shared with the products from the other boutique Italian manufacturers, it was the unmistakable beauty of the coachwork that would set it apart from everything that had come before and secure its place in automotive history.

Never having manufactured automobiles prior to World War II, upstart Cisitalia was not bound by tradition or compelled to produce a warmed over version of a prewar model.  This gave them the freedom to engineer cars that could be entirely new and modern, both inside and out.  One of the firm’s most obvious departures from prevailing practice was the lightweight, hand welded tube frame structure they supplied to coachbuilders. It was expensive to produce yet low slung and strong, characteristics that made it ideally suited to the emerging Italian style of coachwork.  Both well known and obscure firms created bodies for the new marque, but it was Pinin Farina that drew the definitive design that would come to be so widely acclaimed.

Also: From The Vault | 1929 DuPont Model G Speedster

Considered revolutionary because of its taut lines and low silhouette, the Pinin Farina-bodied Cisitalia was the first series-produced automobile with the hood lower than the fenders. The fastback design was aerodynamically efficient and the grille opening was only as large as it needed to be to admit the required amount of air to cool the engine. The sleek, virtually unadorned shape was seen as a counterpoint to the fussy styles then favored by many prominent French, British, and German coachbuilders, most of which were not in keeping with the spirit of austerity in postwar Europe. The motoring world needed elegant simplicity and that is what a Cisitalia by Pinin Farina offered. 

The Cisitalia 202 Coupe in the Petersen Automotive Museum was owned by only a small number of enthusiasts before being acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Petersen in 2002.  Having purchased a Cisitalia when they were new, Mr. Petersen immediately recognized the car’s importance and commissioned a restoration that returned it to its original brilliance. The car made its post-restoration debut at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it was awarded the top prize in its class, the first of many accolades it would ultimately receive and a testament to its enduring grace and beauty.

Article originally appeared in The Finish LineAll images courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.