Exploring the ruins of Vignale

A turinese road-trip

4

Vignale – or vi-nia-lé as they say – was once a synonym of bella carrozzeria. Now it’s nothing more than a badge that means some extra trim has been slapped on an otherwise rather bland Ford – as was Ghia in the 80’s. Our tour of Turin, the birthplace of the now bygone coachbuilder, onboard one of the new « Vignale » cars, is going to reveal nothing ever really happens out of sheer coincidence.

#1 Via Vignale, Turin

We had to start it somewhere, so we started there. The Via Vignale stretches alongside the very calm south bank of the Po River. Nothing ever happens there and the only human being we met was an old man walking a limping dog. To be honest, this street probably has very little to do with the actual story of Vignale. But, as is the case for many other carrozzerias, Turin is the home of the gone company, hence its logo : a V surrounding the silhouette of the Mole Antonelliana, one of Turin’s most remarkable landmarks.

#2 29/31 via Cigliano, Turin

Carrozzeria Vignale & C was actually first established on the other side of the Po, by Alfredo Vignale – a former employee of Ferrari and Pininfarina – in 1946. Michelotti drew some splendid bodywork for the company, that would be seen on the highly successful Cisitalia, Ferrari and Maserati race cars.
Nothing is left from Vignale’s first 1 000 square meter workshop but a balcony. It was demolished down to the ground a few years ago, and a residential condominium has taken over since. Crossing the street, an old-fashioned bakery could have seen the beginnings of the Carrozzeria. Close your eyes, and it’s easy to imagine a gleaming racecar parked alongside the usual array of Fiat Pandas and Lancia Ypsilons.

#3 177 Strada del Portone, Grugliasco

In the early 60’s, Vignale is at its peak. Not only did the company count the likes of Fiat, Triumph or Tatra amongst its clients, but it had also started building its own cars, using Fiat underpinnings. The growing activity meant building a new factory in Grugliasco, on the outskirts of Turin. All around, there are nothing but isolated farms to be seen, but at the end of the road lies Fiat’s huge Mirafiori factory. A wise choice for a location.

Nowadays, the buildings house a print shop that appears to be running at an idle speed. Beside the factory walls, there is no sign of Vignale to be seen in this rather depressing place.

#4 Via Agostino da Montefeltro, Turin

Unfortunately, Vignale’s Evelines and Samenthas sold poorly and the company soon collapsed. In 1969, De Tomaso bought Vignale. The Argentinian entrepreneur already owned two legendary Italian coachbuilders, Ghia and Osi. Just at the same time, Alfredo Vignale died in a car crash. Let’s call this a coincidence…

Ghia and Osi’s factories literally faced one another in this dead-end street, caught in a triangle of railway tracks that cross Turin. Once again, the area is a brownfield nowadays. Ghia’s plant is overgrown by trees. At Osi’s, a broken window gives us a glimpse into the remains of a lobby and what looks like an abandoned design department. The gate is open, but when an obviously intoxicated bloke appeared from out of nowhere, we decided it was a safer bet to turn around.

#5 18 Via Battista Pininfarina, Lesna

In 1973, Ford bought Ghia from De Tomaso, and the carrozzeria became its exotic Italian styling house. Nevermind the fact none of the cars designed here ever went on to be actual Fords, the badge was enough to give a Latin touch to the more upmarket version of the Fiesta, Taunus and Granada. Round about that time, Vignale went dormant and remained so until the it’s recent resurection. The brand now seems to be all set to take over Ghia’s role.

Don’t be fooled by this picture: That building has nothing to do with our story, and certainly isn’t DeTomaso’s former headquarter’s. They were in Modena, some 300 km away from Turin (quite a long way just to get a snap). This building is in fact Pininfarina’s historical factory, recently bought by some bloke foolish enough to revive the DeTomaso name. So far, the brave endeavour hasn’t been much of a success – which comes as no surprise.

#6 119 Via Nicola Fabrizi, Turin

A Vignale driving school ? Why not ? Maybe a tribute, or did someone have the same idea as Ford and decide to revive a long gone but nice sounding name for marketin purposes? This is actualy one of the rare acknowledgements of Vignale in its hometown of Turin. Memories are fading, as is also the case for Ghia, Osi and other famous Italian names of the past. Sic transit gloria mundi.