Jensen heritage for the next generation
Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The story of Vignale and his relationship with Jensen is understood well enough today. But, who was Alfredo Vignale, and what were the true circumstances of his death. Museum curator, Ulric Woodhams, has researched the life, and untimely death of Vignale.

The true circumstances of his death are completely at odds with what is generally written. Using mostly previously unpublished material, the Museum looks at the life and untimely death of carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Early Life

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale

Born in Turin, Italy, on 15th June 1913, Alfredo Giorgio Giovanni Vignale was the fourth of seven children.

His father, Franceso, was a painter and decorator and moved to Turin with his wife, Maria, in an effort to find work.

With the onset of the First World War, Franceso Vignale was conscripted into the army and fought on the Austro-Hungarian front.

After hostilities ended, he returned to Turin and attempted once again to find work within his trade, as a painter and decorator.

Alfredo Vignale | Ludovico Antonio Muratori.

Scuola Elemantare Ludovico Antonio Muratori. Vignale was educated here until he left aged 11.

Turin had become an important city in the manufacture of automobiles.

In the immediate aftermath to the First World War, there were many vacancies for workers within that field.

Franceso Vignale offered his services as an automobile painter and quickly found employment.

Although not qualified in that area, Franceso Vignale took to his new job and was noted for his painting abilities.

With his father in stable employment, the young Alfredo Vignale completed his education at the Ludovico Antonio Muratori.

Alfredo Vignale couldn’t wait to leave school and get into work. His elder brothers had already followed their father into the world of automobile painting. Alfredo Vignale would go down a different path, that of the trade of panel-beater.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Starting His Career

In 1924 at the age of just 11, Alfredo Vignale left school and found work as an apprentice panel-beater. The firm of Ferrero & Morandi were situated close to the Vignale family home, and accepted the young Vignale on apprenticeship. Today 11 looks like a ridiculously young age to leave school, but in the 1920s, it wasn’t in any way unusual.

Having settled into his new employment and showed himself as a promising apprentice, Alfredo Vignale undertook evening classes to improve his education. The three year course would provide him with a good basic technical knowledge.

Inside Farina’s factory. Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina with Enzo Ferrari to the viewers right.

By 1930, the 17 year old Alfredo Vignale had become a very proficient panel-beater, and his expertise would not go unnoticed. Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina had broken away from his brother Giovanni Farina and set up a separate company.

Since Ferrero & Morandi undertook sub-contract work for him, on one occasion, the young Alfredo Vignale decided to take a look around their factory.

Impressed by the skills of Alfredo Vignale and another fellow panel beater (and good friend of Vignale) Giaco ‘Mo’ Griffa, Farina discreetly asked them if they would like to work for him.

This was an exciting opening for the two young men, and not one they were about to turn down. They handed in their notice at Ferrero & Morandi and started work at Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina’s factory.

In 1935, Vignale had to complete his military service, and found himself assigned to the Medical Corps at the Military Hospital, Rome. Here, Vignale would remain for the 18 months of his military duty.

How he ended up at the Military Hospital, Rome isn’t known. But for Vignale it was undoubtedly a lucky move, since many of his compatriots found themselves on a boat to Africa. They had to undertake their military service in some what unfavourable conditions.

At the end of Vignale’s 18 months service, he returned to Turin hoping that his job at Pinin Farina was still open. In classic Italian style, on his return, Vignale was contacted by Giovanni Farina and offered a more lucrative position at his factory, an opening was available for Vignale’s friend Griffa as well.

The offer was taken up, and the two young men moved factories once more. For Alfredo Vignale there was an additional advantage to this move, since his father and brother also worked for Giovanni Farina at this time, albeit they were in the painting area and he in the panel-beating shop.

Having Settled down quickly as a panel-beater with Giovanni Farina, Alfredo Vignale was surprised to learn that, not long after, he was being offered a promotion. Just before Vignale reached his 25th birthday, he was offered the position of foreman within the panel-beating department.

When Italy was brought into the Second World War, Alfredo Vignale remained working at the Farina factory. In the immediate aftermath, Vignale recognised an opportunity to gain independent work and possibly to start up his own business.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Going It Alone

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale

Initially, Alfredo Vignale manufactured small panel-beaten metal objects, such as bicycle mudguards in his spare time.

As this business took off, Alfredo Vignale found he did not have enough spare time to make them.

Piero Dusio | Jensen Museum

Piero Dusio

Gugliemo, one of Alfredo’s brothers, had experience of both panel-beating and painting, he agreed to help.

In 1946 another opportunity came Vignale’s way.

Piero Dusio, the owner of Cistalia, contacted Farina, asking for quotes to assist with the manufacture of car body prototypes.

Vignale as foreman of the panel-beating department at Farina, discussed with Dusio what was required.

The outcome was Vignale surreptitiously taking on the contract independently, with the help of Giovanni Farina’s son, Attilio. This taste of independently made money led the entrepreneurial Vignale to leave his position at Farina, and set up his own business.

The first Cistalia prototype was completed by Vignale in late 1946, and delivered to the Cistalia factory. Piero Dusio was waiting to see the car, and was very pleased with Vignale’s work. A cheque was immediately written out by Dusio and handed to Vignale.

Three further Cistalia prototypes would be made by Vignale for Dusio, and payment for these undoubtedly helped to start the fledgling Carrozzeria Vignale.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The 1946 Vignale-bodied Cisitalia Fastback. The job was taken on as a so-called foreigner by Vignale, and would lead him to setting up his own business.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Another Cistalia Fastback bodied by Vignale in 1947. In all, four Cistalia prototypes would be made by Vignale.

Alfredo Vignale, together with two of his brothers, Gugliemo and Guiseppe [known to everyone as Joseph], took premises in a part of a saw-mill owned by Angelo Balma. He was happy to rent the brothers a part of his mill, and consequently the three Vignales (operating under the company name, VIFRA, or Vignale Fratelli (Vignale Brothers) started making mudguards and saucepans for various customers. This was mundane work, but brought in day to day money for the small business.

Meanwhile Alfredo Vignale went off looking for larger and more interesting contracts, such as the Cistalia prototypes he had been so lucky to be have been involved with. However, at this stage in his career, Alfredo Vignale couldn’t rely on such wonderfully unique jobs. Those had happened through his employment at Farina.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Gugliemo Vignale with his brother Alfredo to the right.

The first  important contract for the Vignale Fratelli, was to make ice boxes. Alfredo Vignale’s next port of call was to the doors of his old bosses, both Giovanni Farina and Battista Pinin Farina, offering to make any components they might require.

Vignale’s bare-faced cheek paid off, with both Farinas separately giving him contracts.

With a steady flow of contracts coming in, more space was soon required. So, Vignale asked Balma if he would be willing to rent him additional space.

The astute Balma had taken note of the work coming into the Vignale brothers, and, seeing Alfredo Vignale as an ascending star, agreed to give them additional space, if he was brought into the business.

An offer of the much required space along with Balma’s input to the business, fitted in with Vignale’s own needs. A mutually agreeable deal was concluded, and with Balma on board, Alfredo Vignale set up a new company.

 

Alfredo Vignale | The Carrozzeria

On 28th October 1948, in Via Cigliano 29/31, Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale & C. was incorporated. The limited liability company had Alfredo Vignale as managing director, his two brothers, Gugliemo and Guiseppe [Joseph], along with Angelo Balma as directors.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale’s first proper works at Via Cigliano.

Balma had a Fiat 509, which had been converted as a truck, so he was put in charge of transport and purchasing. Giuseppe [ Joseph], had previously been working for Farina as a warehouseman. He would work within the office.

A new logo was created for the company, with a bold white capital ‘V’ for Vignale, and inside a silhouette of the Mole Antonelliana. This famous old monument of Turin was much admired by Alfredo Vignale. Later a crown would be added, after the company had sold completed car bodies to several royal households, but that was still some time off.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale’s original logo and car badge from the 1950s. The simple but fine quality badge had a large curved ‘V’ holding the Mole Antonelliana.

The Mole Antonelliana in Turin.

The imposing Mole Antonelliana in Turin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cars were in short supply in the immediate post-war years, and Alfredo Vignale was doing his best to find something inexpensive, which he could re-body and use for promotion purposes. A local Moto Guzzi dealership had an old Fiat ‘Topolino’, which had been considered a write off and discarded to the back of their premises.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

A 1946 Fiat 500 Topolino. This was exactly the same model that Vignale re-bodied into a sports coupe.

Vignale had heard about the old car and asked if they might be willing to dispose of it.

As far as the dealership owner was concerned, the old Fiat had no value, and were happy enough to let Vignale have it if he arranged to have it removed.

Once back at Via Cigliano, the Vignale brothers, along with Balma, gathered around to look at the company’s new acquisition.

The body was in a particularly poor state, but this didn’t matter since the it would be coming off to make way for a new coachwork in any case.

Work on the car quickly started, and the Fiat was built up as a sports coupé. With coachwork finished, the car was sprayed in bright red with an ivory coloured roof and leather interior.

The completed Vignale Fiat looked quite magnificent and was a fitting vehicle to represent Carrozzeria Vignale.

Balma was to use the new car when he visited customers, and to make sure they noticed the car so they could see what Carrozzeria Vignale was capable of making.

After having won the attentions of firms such as Pininfarina, Alfredo Vignale had the car deposited with a prestigious car showrooms in the Via Saluzzo. Here the first Vignale-bodied car would be seen by wealthy customers and hopefully would generate orders.

The bright red car certainly caused some attention, even a couple of motoring journalists had seen the car and written positively about it. One of the journalists was working for the British car magazine Autocar.

A very positive article was published, however, somehow there had been a mix up, and the journalist had attributed the car to the famous Italian coach builders, Pininfarina.

This simple mistake played directly into Vignale’s hands, since the association with one of Italy’s leading carrozzeria, led to far more interest being paid, than if the name Vignale had been mentioned.

The misunderstanding was corrected in a later issue of Autocar. But, the mistake  had assured Vignale of future attention as a ‘serious’ carrozzeria –  and one to keep an eye on.

Vignale’s humble Fiat conversion – the first car with Vignale bodywork – didn’t hang around in the showroom for long. The car was immediately purchased by a car dealer from Venice.

Shortly after the sale of the Fiat, Vignale received a telephone call. It was the car dealer from Venice. The dealer liked the car so much, that he asked Vignale to make another half dozen for him.

This was the start of what would become a long association between Vignale and Fiat cars. Some years later Fiat agencies, and even Fiat themselves would be placing orders with him.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Enter Michelotti

Working for Farina, a young designer, Giovanni Michelotti, had ambitions to set up on his own as a free-lance designer. In fact, motoring journalist, Bob Mottar wrote in 1955, that Vignale had been instrumental in pushing Michelotti to leave Farina, and establish himself as a free-lance industrial designer. In particular, for him to concentrate on automobile coachwork. This wasn’t by coincidence. The two men had befriended each other when Vignale was working at Farina.

Just before Michelotti left Farina, he visited his old friend Vignale. This initial meeting went well, with Alfredo Vignale promising Michelotti he would provide him with work.

Shortly after the meeting,  Michelotti left Farina, and started out on his own. Vignale kept to his promise, giving Michelotti more than enough work to get him started on his own.

There was an excellent relationship between Vignale and Michelotti, which meant that for many years, Michelotti worked almost exclusively for Vignale. That said, Vignale had made it clear to Michelotti that he should never turn down work from competing coach-builders.

Michelotti took heed of Vignale’s advise, but never accepted a car designing job without first getting Vignale’s approval. Outside of Vignale’s ongoing work, Michelotti – with Vignale’s approval – undertook work for Standard-Triumph, designing the iconic Triumph Spitfire in 1957, and having a hand in most of the Triumph models of that era. He also worked on a couple of design projects for BMW.

 

Giovanni Micholetti | Jensen Museum

Alfredo Vignale and Giovanni Michelotti

The first thing Michelotti had to get used to with Vignale, was the unique way he worked. Unlike the other Italian coach-builders, the bodies of Vignale were sculptured direct to their framework.

This eliminated a step that Vignale referred to as “so much waste motion”. The waste motion, was the building of wooden forms over which most limited production bodies are built.

Vignale’s method of deleting that process required considerable more skill in the forming and shaping of individual body panels. It is undoubtedly true to say that a Vignale body is never identical on both sides, but as Vignale always said, “who sees both sides of a car at the same time.”

This method of working would impact on the designer as well. Michelotti and Vignale would discuss a potential design. Michelotti would then retreat to his studio, where he would make a water-colour painting of the car.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Michelotti working in his small studio. Photograph taken 1955.

After acceptance by Vignale, Michelotti would return again to his studio and make a full-scale, technically-perfect drawing which Vignale’s body-men would use to build the car body.

As former Jensen Motors engineer, Mike Jones, mentioned after spending a month at the Vignale factory, “they work with basic 3D drawings. The drawings are quite magnificent , but there is very little in the way of measurements, which anyone can draw upon to make sure the body is correct. But somehow it works.”

Vignale had one other small and unique way of working. Every small, or large, batch of cars he was building coachwork for, would have a small aluminium plaquette screwed in place. This was Carrozzeria Vignale’s assembly number. It was a number unique to Vignale, and didn’t relate in any way to the chassis number of the car, from which ever factory the chassis had originated from. It didn’t matter if the car was a Fiat, Ferrari, or Jensen – it had the Vignale assembly plaquette.

Outside of client contracts, Vignale continued to build up his own ‘specials’. Having had interest in his first Vignale-bodied Fiat, Vignale used designs by Michelotti to create a cabriolet on a Fiat 1100B chassis. The completed car was entered into the 1947 Turin Concours D’Elegance held in the park of the Royal Palace. Carrozzeria Vignale won second prize, quite an achievement for a still largely unknown carrozzeria.

The following year, Vignale entered another body design, based on a Fiat 1500 chassis, at the Florence Concours D’Elegance and in autumn of 1948 put four cars on show at the Turin Car Show.

Two of these were bodies on Fiat 1500 chassis, the other two were based on Lancia Aprilias. The designs created a lot of interest and led to orders for Carrozzeria Vignale. Luckily, by this time, both Fiat and Lancia were willing to provide chassis’ direct to Vignale.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Going International

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale very much looking the businessman.

By 1950, Carrozzeria Vignale were exhibiting outside of Italian borders for the first time, exhibiting at the International Car Show in Geneva.

This coincided with another major step in Vignale’s career. Ferrari, having used Carrozzeria Touring for some time, approached Vignale.

Enzo Ferrari’s meeting with Vignale led to a steady stream of Vignale-bodied Ferraris, based on designs by Michelotti. The first being built on the 166mm and 166 Inter.

Carrozzeria Vignale bodied a Maserati for the first time in 1951. During the coming years, the name Carrozzeria Vignale would be consistently linked with both Ferrari and Maserati and the world of racing.

Briggs Cunningham visited the Vignale works just before the 1952 Le Mans race. The New York Ferrari dealer, Luigi Chinietti, had suggested that Cunningham should make the visit to discuss the building of cars for them.

Joseph Vignale remembered the impromptu visit, “Briggs was dressed somewhat informally at the time of his visit. The works concierge  came running up to Alfredo announcing the arrival of a cowboy !”

The visit was a success, and Cunningham placed an order for 23 bodied to be fitted to the cars he was building in West Palm Beach, Florida. Vignale’s design was considered outstanding, and led to one of the cars being featured as “a work of art” at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1953.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale-bodied Ferrari 166 Inter dating from 1951. One of the first styling jobs for Ferrari.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The Vignale-bodied Chrysler Cunningham V8 of 1952.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

A 1953 Vignale-bodied Ferrari 212 Inter.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

A 1954 Vignale-bodied Fiat V8.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The traditional art of panel-beating was key to Vignale’s success. He had some of the most skilled panel-beaters in Italy working for him, and even out-sourced panel-beating work to those that preferred to remain self-employed.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

One of Vignale’s senior trimmers. All trim work was undertaken within the factory.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Female machinists in the trim-shop. The machining side of trimming was nearly always done by female workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up to 1954, Vignale had continued to hand-craft beautiful bodies. 1954 was a turning point for the boss of Carrozzeria Vignale. A small four-seater coupé body was built up on a Fiat 1100/103 chassis.

Alfredo Vignale | Fiat

This 1955 colour advert by Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale shows the Company’s Fiat Coupe named, ‘Desiree’. The car was based on the standard Fiat 1100. This was one of a number of small series coachwork cars that Vignale offered for sale.

In itself, this was not in anyway outstanding, however, Vignale had decided to make a small series of the same body type based on this Fiat chassis. This would lead to further series production later on, including a new car for a small British car company, Jensen Motors.

It had been an incredible journey. Alfredo Vignale and his small carrozzeria, had become one of the top four coach builders by 1954, just seven years from the foundation of the company.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Crowning Glory

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale added a golden crown to his logo after 1955. This enamel Vignale car badge dates from the 1960s, and highlights the art of enamelling over machine turned metal. A technique made famous by Faberge.

A special order came to Vignale during 1954. Princess Liliane de Réthy, wife of the former King Leopold of Belgium, wanted a Vignale body on her Ferrari 250 GT.

Vignale crafted a beautiful black and ivory coupé body, designed (of course) by Michelotti, onto her 250GT. The princess came over to the small Vignale workshop in person to see work in progress.

The completed car was dispatched to Belgium in December 1954. The Vignale-bodied Ferrari was much admired, especially by King Baudouin, who immediately sent an Aston Martin DB 2/4 chassis to Vignale, wanting a two door coupé designed by Michelotti.

It was after these two orders that Vignale – in a moment of ‘understated’ arrogance –  decided to incorporate a crown on top of his logo.

This act of ‘understated ‘ arrogance might give the impression of a businessman with an over-inflated ego, hiding away in his opulent office. This was not the character of Alfredo Vignale.

Motoring journalist, Bob Mottar, visited Vignale’s workshops in 1955, and this is how he found Vignale,

“Most successful businessmen have a tendency to retreat to oak-panelled, air-conditioned offices, the doors of which are labelled ‘President’. Such has not been the case with Alfredo Vignale. Enter the Vignale works, seek out the tie-less, shirt sleeved man expanding twice the number of foot/pounds of energy as any of the others, and you’ve found Afredo Vignale. The extent of his supervisory work there is boundless.”

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Vignale on the shop floor.

Of course, Mottar was quite correct in his summing up of Alfredo Vignale. However, Vignale was intelligent enough to know occasionally in business, a suit and tie can be a useful tool as well.

Discussing Alfredo Vignale with his brothers, and various workers, Mottar built up a picture of Vignale, he continues,

“His [Vignale] knowledge of what can be done on the order of bending, forming and joining metal into precisely desired shapes is exemplary. But overseeing and supervising the metal structure of a Vignale hand-built car, is but one of his jobs: In Italy, the coach-builder takes a naked chassis and engine and, when he’s finished with it, all the adornments inside and out are his baby.

This means lights, upholstery, instrument panel and instruments, grill, paint etc. in addition to the actual body which he’s made for it. At Vignale & Company, Alfredo has delegated himself a committee of one [Alfredo] to see that everything that goes into a Vignale body is right.”

One unusual fact came out of an  interview between Mottar and one of Alfredo Vignale’s brothers, Joseph, “Most of us harbour a sub-conscious desire for our “own” car: a body which is, if not completely, at least in part, one of our designs, concealing the mechanical components of our choice. Not so Alfredo Vignale ! Alfredo’s passion for autos begins and ends with his coachwork. He doesn’t even own a car himself.”

During the early 1950s, Vignale had bodied a fair number of Ferrari cars, and there had been a good relationship between Alfredo Vignale and Enzo Ferrari.

In fact, Ferrari had made it clear to those that asked, that his preferred carrozzeria, was Vignale. However, at some-point in the middle 1950s this would end.

It remains unrecorded as to what exactly happened, but only a couple of Ferrari cars were bodied by Vignale after that time, and these were for private clients. It would seem that the friendly relationship between Vignale and Ferrari had finished – that said, Ferrari could be awkward, and was used to getting his own way. Vignale wasn’t the first to fall out with him, and certainly wasn’t the last.

As the 1950s came to a close, Carrozzeria Vignale, was at bursting point. Put simply, the Company couldn’t cope with the work they had, within the workshop they had. Motoring journalist, Bob Mottar, gives us this impression of the Company from his 1955 visit,

“Alfredo Vignale & Company now numbers 87 employees, and though its current shop is larger than anything Alfredo might have dreamed of when he started, the shops capacity is strained to the point that some of the finishing operations on Vignale-bodied cars are done on the street in front of it, for lack of space inside.”

It was clear that even in 1955 Carrozzeria Vignale needed to move to a much larger factory, this eventually happened in 1961.

Alfredo Vignale | Expansion

By the beginning of the 1960s, Carrozzeria Vignale, expanded the business into more mechanised mass production, this would allow them to take on larger production runs of vehicles, as well as continuing with pre-production prototypes, one off design exercises and customer specials.

To this end, Carrozzeria Vignale moved to a new factory complex in Grugliasco, just outside Torino in 1961.  This new factory complex had no less than 40,000 square metres of floor space.

In comparison, Vignale had previously been working in an area of 12,000 square metres at Via Cigliano. This type of large scale expansion wasn’t without financial risk, but for the time being there was more than enough work coming in to keep any creditors at bay.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The factory gates at Grugliasco, with the imposing Vignale sign standing high over the roof.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale, Giovanni Balma, and Vignale’s brother, Giuseppe [Joseph]. The three men look out over their new premises at Grugliasco.

Alfredo Vignale sits to the centre in the new boardroom of Carrozzeria Vignale, Grugliasco’s factory. His brother, Guiseppe [Joseph] sits to the right, and Giovanni Balma, the son of Angelo Balma stands to the left

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

An aerial view of the large Grugliasco factory complex.

One of the first prototypes built up at the Grugliasco factory was the so-called ‘1000 Record Sperimentale’, based on a Fiat 600D. The prototype was loosely based on a rendering by Vignale back in 1957. Unlike most previous designs, which were drawn by Michelotti, this new design was produced in house, by Alfredo Zanellato, a designer working solely for Vignale.

At the time (1962) journalists believed that Vignale and Michelotti may have had a falling out, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case. Michelotti had a design career outside of Vignale work (as the two men had agreed back in the 1950s).

With Vignale’s expansion program, and expectations of huge numbers of prototype and small-run vehicles, it was a natural progression, that Vignale would want to have a design team in-house. With Zanellato, and a year later, Vario, both on salaries at Carrozzeria Vignale, it was obvious they would be undertaking most design work.

How, and if, Vignale had approached the subject of an in-house design team with Michelotti beforehand, isn’t known. However, based on the fact, that from the point the two men started working together, Vignale was quite explicit that Michelotti should take on work other than  that of Vignale, it seems probable the two men had discussed the matter.

The ‘1000 Record Sperimentale’ at the November 1962 Turin Motor Show.

The ‘1000 Record Sperimentale’ was important to Vignale’s ethos of striving to be at the cutting-edge of automobile design – if not beyond. Vignale discussed his views with an Italian automobile journalist in 1962,

“I am trying to pursue an increasing simplification of lines, and an accurate study of aerodynamics problems. If we take my latest car, the ‘1000 Record Sperimentale’, it is designed to obtain speed records, but also presents a fruitful experience for future designing. Style is bound to the tastes of the public. This is why today, tastes have turned to cars with simple lines, characterised by graceful horizontal streamlines, and with less chrome strips.”

Asked about the future of Carrozzeria Vignale, he had this to say,

“Our future production intents are directed to a production of some one thousand cars a year, though continuing to carry on prototype research and development work to further improve production cars, which have already met with great success by the public.”

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale’s office at the new Grugliasco factory, was certainly more opulent than his previous one. That said, he still preferred to be on the factory floor, rather than in his office.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Nothing much had changed since the start of the business. Vignale, with tie off and shirt sleeves rolled up, spent as much time as he could on the factory floor. It is what he knew, and where he felt most happy, according to his brother Joseph. But, at Grugliasco he was eventually going to find himself more desk-bound.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Chassis lined up for the fitting of coach-work at the Grugliasco factory.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The huge factory floor at Grugliasco.

Having settled into their new factory, production runs of cars started, the last Lancia Appias, and the Flavia. Maserati gave over the 3500 GTV and the Sebring, and a few years later they would win the contract to build the new Jensen Interceptor and Jensen FF.

The Jensen job was somewhat of a strange one for Vignale. Although he had produced drawings, along with Ghia and Touring for the new Jensen, his design wasn’t picked. They picked the design by Touring. However, Touring were in no position to build cars for Jensen.

When Jensen Motors’ chief engineer, Kevin Beattie, arrived at the Vignale factory, with drawings clearly with Touring’s stamp removed, Vignale must have smirked. He knew exactly where the designs came from.

Vignale said nothing, but graciously announced he would be more than happy to build the new Jensen according to the designs submitted. The relationship between Jensen and Vignale started well, with Vignale even working with Beattie to create a subtle, but different look for the four-wheel-drive Jensen FF.

Vignale’s original design concept for the Jensen FF. The chrome finisher for the bonnet was at Vignale’s suggestion. It was the same as used on the Maserati Sebring, which they were building. Slight changes were made before building the actual cars. In particular, the frontal treatment, which was straightened out.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Panel-formers at Vignale, for the  Jensen Interceptor front and back end. Note the large drawing boards running down the side. This is where the scale drawings were placed.

 

A typical Vignale 3D style drawing of the Jensen Interceptor.

 

Grugliasco factory, summer 1966. Work on the Jensen contract has begun in earnest. The prototype Interceptor (to the upper right of the photo) is finished, and ready for road testing.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

One of the first Jensen Interceptors at the Grugliasco factory. The running gear is not in this car, which means it is sitting higher than it would normally.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Alfredo Vignale and Kevin Beattie pose for a ceremonial farewell hand-shake across the first Interceptor. Mike Jones took the photograph.

The expansion of Carrozzeria Vignale led to a much increased work-force. Even the design team increased. Where previously the team had been a team of one – Michelotti. Now, Alfredo Zanellato had joined Vignale in 1962 at the age of twenty, and Virginio Vario had joined Vignale from Pininfarina in 1963.

Vignale’s role at the Grugliasco factory had inevitably changed, with more of his time taken up managing the company.  It must have seemed – to those that had known Vignale from the start – that the smiling free-spirit, which had been Alfredo Vignale, was gone. He was now running a huge machine, and all the cogs needed to be turning – without interruption.

To help with the management side,  Giovanni Balma, the son of Angelo Balma, also joined the company at the beginning of the 1960s. Incredibly, Carrozzeria Vignale continued to out-source work to small independents in the area. To that end not much had changed.

During 1966 the Vignale factory built up two prototype Jensens, an Interceptor and FF. The limited time-scales Vignale were given to finish the two cars was jaw-dropping – and time constraints were in place, as Jensen Motors wanted the cars in time for the London Motor Show.

While work was progressing, Vignale asked Jensen if he could purchase a motorised chassis from them. Built as a left-hand-drive, and with a slightly shorter wheel-base. Jensen agreed, and sent the special chassis out for him.

Vignale’s design for the new Jensen hadn’t been picked by Jensen Motors, but he still wanted to create that car.   It was obvious that in as much as the smiling free spirit, had in some ways disappeared, Vignale’s absolute obsession with coachwork hadn’t. The Nova project (as this Jensen special was named) wasn’t about money, it was about fulfilling his own desire to see the car a reality.

As well as completing the prototypes on time for Jensen, Vignale also found the time to finish his Vignale-Jensen special Nova. Suitably pleased with the finished car, Vignale made sure it caught the eye of the motoring press, and found placement on the Vignale stand at the main Italian, and Geneva motor shows. With the Nova finished, the Jensen contract carried on into 1967.

Jensen Nova | Jensen Museum

Vignale’s Jensen Nova. Freshly finished in green paint, and on the Vignale stand at the Geneva Motor Show of 1967.

 

Jensen Nova

Directly after the Geneva Motor Show, Vignale had the Nova completely stripped, the body tweaked, painted in cream, and re-trimmed in red leather. It was the old car makers trick of making it look as though there was more than one car. Once finished, the re-created Nova was on the Vignale stand at the 1967 Turin Motor Show.

Vignale’s Jensen contract – as relatively small as it was within the portfolio of work rolling out of the factory – hadn’t gone unnoticed. The son of an old ‘friend’ liked the Jensen Interceptor, and was on the phone to Vignale to find out more.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Enter Carlo Dusio

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

Carlo Dusio

Carlo Dusio had known Vignale through his father Piero Dusio. Back in 1946, when Vignale was still working for Farina, he had built up the coachwork of no less than four prototypes on Cistialia chassis.

Now twenty years later, Piero’s son, Carlo, was on the phone to Vignale.

When Dusio first saw the new Jensen Interceptor, he fell in love with the design. Dusio, via Alfredo Vignale, contacted Jensen Motors asking them if they would be prepared to enter into an agreement to provide him with motorised chassis.

These would then be bodied by Vignale as Interceptors, and the finished cars sold through his distribution company, Sincar.

Owen, the managing director of Jensen Motors, agreed, and a formal Agreement between Sincar and Jensen Motors was drawn up in early 1967.

An initial run of fifty motorised chassis to be supplied to Vignale for Sincar was agreed (although only about thirty chassis were supplied in the end). However, the Jensen-Sincar Agreement wasn’t without issue.

Complaints concerning overheating had been brought up after the first few Sincar Interceptors had been sold, along with a variety of other complaints.

As a direct result of the complaints that had been brought to Jensen Motors attention, both by Dusio, and the dealer network, they sent one of their engineers, Mike Jones, to Vignale. Jones’ remit was to overcome any complaints relating to the engine and motorised chassis. Jones spent a month at the Vignale factory.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

A Sincar Interceptor on display at a motor show event in 1967.

According to Mike Jones, it seemed as though Dusio ran the financial side of Vignale, and that he probably shared financial ownership of the factory with Alfredo Vignale. However, this is unlikely.

Undoubtedly Dusio was spending much of his time at the Vignale factory during the Sincar Interceptor period, but it is most probable that his financial investment with Vignale was confined simply to the manufacture of Sincar Interceptors.

Towards the end of 1967, and with Jensen Motors holding back the remaining motorised chassis, Dusio mounted a legal case against Jensen Motors. The case continued into January 1968, by which time Carl Duerr had superseded Brian Owen as managing director.

Duerr’s first job as managing director, was to end the whole torrid Jensen-Sincar case. This included flying out to Turin and entering into direct discussions with Dusio.

Eventually, Duerr agreed to make a cash payment to Dusio, on the understanding he [Dusio] would retract the case, and that it would be agreed by all parties that it was an end to the Jensen-Sincar Agreement. Although still feeling aggrieved, Dusio accepted Duerr’s offer, and retracted the case.

The Jensen – Sincar Agreement was at an end, and with it, the end of Jensen Motors’ relationship with Vignale.

 

Alfredo Vignale | The demise of Carrozzeria Vignale

In parallel with Jensen Motors over in Great Britain, it probably looked to many outsiders, as though Carrozzeria Vignale was a stable and successful company. However, Vignale had quickly expanded into a large-scale operation, and many of the large contracts were coming to an end.

Financially burdened, the demise of Carrozzeria Vignale was only a matter of time. In 1969, Alfredo Vignale had no alternative but to sell up. Jensen Motors would last just seven years longer.

De Tomaso acquired the Vignale company and used the Grugliasco factory to accommodate Ghia’s production of the Pantera.

Just three days after the sale of the company was sealed, a tired and broken Alfredo Vignale was killed in a car crash.

The circumstances of Vignale’s death have largely been turned from fact into fiction, with most biographies stating Vignale was killed in a car accident whilst driving his Maserati. Many implying he purposely drove his Maserati over a cliff edge.

The reality was more mundane, Vignale was driving a Vignale-bodied Fiat 1500  close to his home, where; probably by falling asleep at the wheel;  he drove off the road into a lamp post and was killed.

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

A local newspaper reports the car accident leading to Vignale’s death.

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

The Vignale-bodied Fiat 1500 which Vignale was driving at the time of his death.

After a police investigation, the accident was put down to Vignale suffering from  acute exhaustion caused by work-related stress. It was indeed a sad end to one of Italy’s great Carrozzeria.

There was one bitter irony to Vignale’s death, something mentioned to motoring journalist, Bob Mottar, by Alfredo’s brother, Joseph, back in 1955, “my brother doesn’t like driving, and is happier to take a tram.”

 

Alfredo Vignale | Life & Times

FEATURES OF RELATED INTEREST: Recollections Of The Sincar Operation |  Vignale’s Jensen Nova

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Alberto Fornai, motoring journalist |Mike Jones, former Chief Engineer, Jensen Motors | La Stampa, Torino | Bob Mottar, motoring journalist | Clelia d’Onofrio, motoring journalist | Nino Santarini, historian.

COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | Mike Jones | Bob Mottar | Nino Santarini.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: If you have any additional information about this feature, please contact us at archive@jensenmuseum.org or telephone on: +1694-781354

 

 

 

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