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Published: May 31, 2012 | 7:23 am
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Villa D’Este is about as far from the corner of the Carniverse that I occupy as the Allegro owners club. Actually, that’s not strictly true because an obtuse nook within my sense of humour finds celebrating BL’s spudder much easier to comprehend than preening myself in the land of the beautiful with a load of static show cars. And a lake.

Not one of Zagato's finest, says Harris
Not one of Zagato’s finest, says Harris

One of the major players at this event is the Centro Stile Zagato, the famous Milanese styling house that made a DB4 so beautiful some people would climb over a 250 GTO just to get a photograph of it. But its recent efforts have been hit-and-miss to say the least, capped by a new BMW design study for the 2012 event simply called the Zagato Coupe.

This car unintentionally reminds us just how good the original Z3 M Coupe still looks. Yes, design and styling are the preserve of individual opinion, so I am speaking for the majority of just one male Englishman when I say that I think it looks like a Marcos TSO dry-humping a wincing BMW Z4. For the avoidance of doubt that’s not a good thing.

The clever people in the marketing department will have to explain why BMW needed to build this car, or what it achieves for the brand in the post-Bangle recovery era. I have no idea.

Aston V12 gets by the numbers Zagato look
Aston V12 gets by the numbers Zagato look

Zagato is a complete enigma to me; the ultimate purveyor of styling snake oil. It would be gratifying to list the hits and misses in equal quantities, but I think its recent work has been mostly dreadful. It has taken singularly handsome, well-proportioned cars and, to these eyes, left them less attractive than before. Step forward Aston DB7, V12 Vantage and now BMW Coupe. All subjected to the standard Zag-mod procedure. Double-bubble, extra glass, massive gob then, WHACK!, a good slap with the gurning bat.

The trouble with attempting to deconstruct the hits and misses is the exposure to one’s own weird tastes and predilections – and the further you investigate your own responses to Zagato styling, the more you begin to see method in the madness.

Last week I saw an 80s Aston V8 Zagato at Hexagon Classics – I have always loved that car. I have no idea why, I cannot explain why its awkwardness appeals to me – perhaps as a child of the 80s it’s the concentration of that decade’s design language that does it. Alfa SZ? I love them. I’m not interested that it splits opinion or that its finished form appears to have been defined by a desire to scare infant pedestrians – I just love the thing. Why do I crave and SZ and think the DB7 Zagato is the Leslie Ash of auto facial alteration? If I could answer that, I’d be running my own Le Mans team with my small change.

Old school Zagato tie-ups much more like it
Old school Zagato tie-ups much more like it

Equally, a helpful Twitter user has just reminded me of the Lancia Hyena, a truly stunning use of Integrale mechanicals.

But when in-house design studios are making more beautiful cars than the supposed specialists, you have to worry for the future of places like Zagato and Pininfarina. There are direct parallels with the tuning industry: Brabus had a place in the world when the most powerful AMG offered 370hp. Now Mercedes’ own creations are so potent people needn’t seek outside assistance. The in-house skills appear to be rendering those of the specialist contractor unnecessary. I suppose one way of looking at the issue would be compiling a list of brands PHers think would benefit from an injection of Italian sophistication.

It’s just on recent form, there doesn’t seem to be much to gain beyond a space on a patio by a lake in Italy.


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