Molto Bella Macchina! Italian Automotive Renaissance to be Featured by Museum

Apr 8, 2016

*See some of the featured cars by clicking the galley below

Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts will play host this May to Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance 1945-1975. The gathering of rare and stunning Italian-designed automobiles and motorcycles in the museum setting will be on exhibit from May 27 to Oct. 9.

The exhibition celebrates the streamlined elegance, novel and powerful engineering, and seductive allure characterizing Italian coachbuilt cars, concept cars, and motorcycles produced during the post-World War II economic revival.

Guest curator Ken Gross has chosen 19 automobiles and 3 motorcycles for the exhibit.

“While providing a reminder of the role aesthetics can play in our daily lives, the exhibition also shows design excellence as a force that can transform a nation, in this case one that had recently been humbled by war, but which never lost its love for artistic expression in all aspects of life,” said Mark Scala, Frist Center chief curator. “Tied to an age in which graceful aerodynamics provided an optimistic language of the future, these vehicles are quite simply astonishing on both a visual and technical level.”

Highlights include the ultra-rare trio of mid-1950s Alfa Romeo Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnicas, known as BATs, whose curvaceous fins and tapered tails suggest the curving wings and bullet-like bodies of bats in flight. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO is considered by design critic and exhibition catalogue contributor Robert Cumberford to be “the most desirable of all sports cars ever made.” The game-changing Lamborghini Miura, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a technical tour de force and as Ken Gross writes in the exhibition catalogue, “resembles a stiletto on cast magnesium wheels.”

Lesser-known vehicles in the exhibition will offer surprises for even the most knowledgeable car aficionados. The drastically slender 1970 Lancia Stratos’ mere 33-inch-tall wedge-shaped body has doors that open vertically rather than swinging outward. The futuristic, arrow-shaped 1955 Ghia Gilda, named for Rita Hayworth’s slinky character in the film Gilda, has an elongated hood, snug cockpit, pointy rear fenders and jet-like engine whine that evoke advanced aircraft design.

Motorcycles on display include the 1957 Moto Guzzi V-8 Otto, a bike revered for its exceptional speed and radical dustbin fairing concealing its 8-cylinder engine; a 1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport, widely considered “the Ferrari of motorcycles” for its race-bred handling, brash aesthetics and thrilling exhaust music; and the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport that, as Gross said, “catapulted the status of the small Bolognese firm from interesting to legendary.”

In Italy’s wartime economy, there was little demand for luxury vehicles, but when hostilities ceased, the country’s prewar passion for road and track racing rebounded with tremendous energy. 

“Wartime work in aeronautics,” Gross said, “helped Italian engineers and designers develop familiarity with aerodynamics, lightweight construction, exotic metals, and technologies such as multicamshaft high-revving engines and power-enhancing superchargers.”