The Legacy of Gianni Agnelli: Fiat Chairman and Fashion Icon
It's a well-known fact that car enthusiasts and history buffs alike are often familiar with Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli, the iconic former chairman of Fiat. Agnelli was a titan of industry and an emblematic figure in Italy's economic boom, wielding considerable influence over the nation’s GDP. For those with a deeper curiosity about this magnate, it's apparent that Gianni Agnelli was a paragon of sartorial elegance, standing out even amidst the illustrious fashion milieu of Italy. His distinct approach to personal style set trends that resonated with stylish men globally.
Gianni Agnelli's Signature Style and Influence on Fashion
Agnelli was the trendsetter who famously wore his luxury timepiece over his shirt cuff – an innovative style sparked by necessity as his watch wouldn’t fit under the tight cuff. This signature look became an integral part of his fashion identity.
Renowned fashion visionary Valentino Garavani revealed a little-known industry secret, stating, "We all, myself included, attempted to mimic his unique manner by draping our watches over the cuff of our shirts." Gianni Agnelli was the original maestro of Italian sprezzatura, an art form that embodies casual refinement. His fashion trademark included effortlessly rolled jacket sleeves, ties knotted with a deliberate nonchalance, and the bold fashion statement of pairing sturdy hiking boots with immaculate designer suits. Beyond his sartorial choices, Agnelli's sophisticated palate was evident in his passion for the world of luxury automobiles, a realm where he was both a driver and a collector of exquisite cars and yachts, each radiating elegance as naturally as his own fashion flair.
A Passion for Luxury: Agnelli’s Exquisite Car Collection
Agnelli, a distinguished figure in the automobile industry's upper echelons, had an affinity for cars that were not just potent and exclusive, but also bore the illustrious "Made in Italy" signature. Among the prized possessions in his personal collection was the sleek and opulent Ferrari 360 Speedway convertible. Additionally, he owned the innovative Ferrari 365 P with its central driving position—a practical choice when one desires the company of not just one, but two passengers in their performance car. Another gem was the custom-made Lancia Delta Integrale Spider—a convertible rally car tailored for his day-to-day travels. His affection wasn't limited to these bespoke pieces; it also embraced the products of the very enterprise he steered. This led to the inclusion of the Fiat 130 Maremma shooting brake in his personal fleet, a model that never saw mass production. Also, the Fiat 125 sedan, which he famously raced through Turin's streets on his daily commute to the Fiat factory, often with his chauffeur occupying the back seat—a true testament to his devotion to the driving experience.
Agnelli’s Prized Possessions: Customized Cars and Unique Models
Yet another extraordinary highlight within Gianni Agnelli’s extensive collection of vehicles was akin to his bespoke tailoring – the Ferrari 375 America. This vehicle was meticulously customized to fit the preferences of Italy’s de facto sovereign, with the legendary Pininfarina attending to every detail. The Ferrari America series represented the pinnacle of exclusivity in grand touring automobiles, and the 375 America was no exception. Each model in this series boasted an immense V12 engine, renowned during its era for its formidable power. In line with the opulence associated with these models, the majority of the Ferrari Americas were personalized to meet the intricate and high-end demands of their discerning owners.
The Ferrari 375 America: A Symbol of Post-War Luxury
The Ferrari 375 America, a direct descendant of the 342 America, made its grand entrance at the Paris Motor Show in 1953. The unveiling showcased the first model, which bore the signature design of Battista “Pinin” Farina, the founder of the prestigious coachbuilding firm. Nestled under its expansive and stately bonnet, the 375 America housed a freshly minted 4.5-litre V12 engine, the brainchild of the illustrious Aurelio Lampredi. This powerhouse was capable of delivering a robust 296 horsepower, propelling the 1,150 kg grand tourer from a standstill to 100 km/h in just under seven seconds, ultimately achieving a maximum speed of 257 km/h.
With its hefty price tag and sumptuous opulence, the 375 America was produced in an extremely limited batch of just 12 units, reflecting its ultra-exclusivity. True to form, the Ferrari America models were never known for their quantity, but rather their unmatched quality and luxury. Among these rare jewels, chassis number 0355 – the very last of the 375 Americas to be produced – found its way into the legendary Gianni Agnelli's esteemed collection.
Gianni Agnelli’s Custom Vision for the Ferrari 375 America
When Agnelli placed his order for the Ferrari 375 America in 1954, Italy was basking in the glow of post-war rejuvenation and an economic surge, an era when custom-built cars from designer workshops, tailored to the whims of the wealthy, were the trend du jour. Meanwhile, Ferrari was in its infancy regarding the production of cars designed for the public highways rather than the race track, eager to satisfy the elite with these bespoke luxury vehicles.
At this juncture, Agnelli’s ties to Ferrari were limited to being a customer who had acquired a pair of their automobiles – a 166 Mille Miglia and a 212 Inter Coupé. It was undoubtedly his experiences with these exceptional vehicles that influenced the Fiat president to commission a third, even more extraordinary model from the acclaimed automaker.
The initial design of the 375 America was envisioned to follow the 250 model’s design ethos – an oval grille, rounded headlights, understated lines, and full-bodied fenders. However, Agnelli envisioned something radically different, a vehicle that at first sight wouldn’t be immediately identified as a Ferrari, diverging from the marque's established design conventions. He granted the design team at Ferrari and Pininfarina complete artistic license, providing them a blank canvas and a single directive – to create something truly extraordinary. The fledgling partnership between Ferrari and Pininfarina was eager to dazzle, devoting immense effort to conceive and perfect this bespoke creation. And indeed, the final model in the 375 series was nothing short of breathtaking, a clear testament to their ambition to craft a vehicle meant to astound.
The Artistry Behind Agnelli’s Bespoke Ferrari 375 America
This one-of-a-kind vehicle was not fitted with the conventional 4.5-litre V12 engine; instead, it boasted a larger 4.9-litre Lampredi V12 with a manual transmission. Dubbed the 'Agnelli 375', this masterpiece was the first of its kind to grace the roads with such a formidable engine, flanked by three Weber carburetors for enhanced performance. Accommodating its unique drum brakes, the car sported bespoke 16-inch wheels, featuring an intricate pattern of spokes, meticulously handcrafted by Borrani of Milan. Adding to its exclusivity, several suspension parts were adorned with chrome finishing – a fitting touch for a vehicle destined for Gianni Agnelli.
Agnelli's vision for his Ferrari 375 America was detailed and precise: it demanded a coat of Verde Scuro dark green, complemented by a two-tone, non-opening transparent roof. The lavish interior echoed the exterior's sophistication, with seats, door panels, and center console all wrapped in rich Bordeaux leather. The matching carpet floor provided continuity to the luxurious feel. The dashboard, an artificial wood with a reddish tint, mimicked the natural appeal of real wood.
For the president of Fiat, it was essential that the car feature a descending rear window and a gearshift crafted from authentic wood, tailored to his preference. Yet, one of his most notable and distinctive requests was the inclusion of an eight-day clock by the esteemed British manufacturer Jaeger, known for their high-quality automotive instruments. This clock was not just a regular timepiece; its seconds and minute hands moved in a reverse direction, defying convention and mirroring Agnelli's penchant for the unique.
The Turin Showpiece: Gianni Agnelli’s Ferrari 375 America Legacy
The final result of the collaboration between Ferrari and Pininfarina was presented in April 1955 at the Turin Motor Show before being handed over to its new owner. True, Gianni Agnelli only drove his custom-made Ferrari 375 America for a short time, selling this unique car in 1959.
Of course, he could have held on to it for another decade – until 1969. That’s when Fiat took a controlling stake in Ferrari, so maybe he would have decided to keep the 375 America. However, by selling what was perhaps the best and definitely one of the most exclusive grand tourers Ferrari ever made, he gave many people the opportunity to experience what it means to drive like Gianni Agnelli.
Of course, by the time the car got into the hands of restorers in 1990 after years of moving from one garage to another, it had already suffered significant cosmetic damage. After being brought back to life. The Pininfarina masterpiece won the Ferrari Grand Touring competition at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2003 with a perfect score, something that only five other Ferraris have ever done. This achievement is not at all surprising – after all, this car was built to amaze Italian industrial giant Gianni Agnelli, so even the passing decades couldn’t take away what made the 12th 375 America so special – the impeccable craftsmanship of the people who created it, the incredible attention to detail, and the unique design that broke from Ferrari traditions.
Ferrari 375 America in: "Boy on a Dolphin" (1957)