Voxson | A Tumultuous History
Many Jensen owners of today, own and drive a car with a Voxson Stereo 8 in place. Few will know much of the tumultuous history of this famous Italian electronics company, and its connection with the infamous P2 Lodge.
One thing’s for sure, no Jensen owner will look at their Voxson Stereo in the same way again. The Museum looks back at the tumultuous & incredulous history of the Italian electronics company, Voxson.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | Humble beginnings
The Voxson brand was created in 1952 by the Italian engineer, Arnaldo Piccinini. The main Company called F.A.R.E.T (Fabbrica Apparecchi Radio E Television). F.A.R.E.T were involved in the consumer electronics sector, in particular television and radio equipment.
Piccinini was born in 1915, and graduated as an engineer in 1938. With the outbreak of war, Piccinini joined the Italian airforce as an engineer. After the war had ended in 1945, his engineering background was put to good use. Piccinini helped to reactivate the hydroelectric power plants, that supplied energy to Rome. By 1946 he had become interested in the fledgling electronics sector, leading to him setting up F.A.R.E.T and the Voxson brand.
From the beginning of the 1960s and through to the end of the seventies , F.A.R.E.T – Voxson ranked among the leading companies at national and European level in the sector.
The Company’s registered office was located in Via Crescenzio in the Prati district of Rome, while its manufacturing took place in a large shed located in Via di Tor Cervara. The Voxson branded radios were an immediate success, starting from 1954 with the Dingy and Starlet tube radios.
In 1957 the Zephyr model was launched, the first transistor radio of Italian production. Although the initial products of the Company were manufactured in the rather standardised colours of the time – such as cream- all of that was about to change.
F.A.R.E.T – Voxson were one of the first radio companies to bring in various colourways. The Voxson Zephyr was available in a variety of colours including blue and orange. Multi-colourway products quickly became a Voxson signature.
The Company also produced the first television with a short 110-degree picture tube . This was pioneering technology for the time, but came with a hefty price tag.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | The sixties
Having become a public limited company in 1958, Piccinini was the majority shareholder, while a substantial part of the minority package was held by the family of the Christian Democrat politician Giulio Pastore.
Another new transistor radio – The Magic – was launched by F.A.R.E.T under the Voxson brand at the 1960 Milan Fair. The Italian Radio Industry Television Journal reported the new Voxson Magic,
“the new Voxson Magic is a true miniature radio, very small, and it can therefore easily be carried in a pocket or purse. Sensitivity and audio power of this set are truly exceptional, and the manufacturer claims to have distinguished it from all the plethora of pocket receivers that more or less are legally invading Italy. Actually the Magic is a real radio and we believe that it is beating the competition, above all because: it is more sensitive; it is more powerful; and has greater autonomy. It should also be considered in the right way for this device Voxson gives all the guarantees and therefore can be purchased with complete peace of mind “.
In 1962, the company headquarters was moved to a new factory designed and built specifically for production, and located in Via di Tor Cervara, close to the Company’s previous building.
It was during the 1960s that Voxson moved heavily into the car radio market. Starting with the 1960 Vanguard model. This ingenious radio combined itself as a rear view mirror. It was a great idea, particularly for small Italian cars that had little dashboard room to fit a radio.
In addition to radios, car radios and televisions, Voxson also extended to turntables and later to tape players . This forward thinking Company brought on board major Italian designers of the day, including Rodolfo Bonetto.
It would be these cutting-edge design elements that went into Voxson equipment, that catapulted the Company into the big-league.
Indeed, the Company had taken a major bite of the car radio market, and in 1968 brought to market their new Voxson ‘8’ track radio player.
This 8 track player, with combined radio, could fit into the space occupied by most conventional radios of the time.
This was the perfect unit for many high-end cars, particularly because of its space saving characteristics. Ferraris of the day often packed a Voxson Stereo 8 radio player.
F.A.R.E.T had achieved much success in the market place by the early 1960s, and the Voxson brand had become a household name. The Company’s success hadn’t gone unnoticed by outsiders.
In 1965, two foreign holding companies , the Swiss Finelen and the Servo-Radar of Liechtenstein , entered the Italian company and acquired 5% of the shares each. The Company already had over a thousand employees at that time.
In 1969, the Company changed its name to Voxson-Fabbrica Apparecchi Radio e Television SpA , and in the same period a foreign branch was set up in Paris under the name of Voxson France SA , to strengthen distribution in European countries central and northern.
By this time, the company had around 1 800 employees, and it became the twelfth world producer in the electronics sector, registering a turnover of 11 billion lire. The marketing of Voxson products took place in over 30 countries, particularly affirming itself in Spain , Great Britain and Germany.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History |The seventies and the crisis
In 1971 Voxson’s founder & Company President, Arnaldo Piccinini, sold the company, and his 50% was taken over by the multinational British record label EMI . They invested 3 billion lire in this operation, while the ownership of the remaining 50 percent was divided between Italian RCA and the petrol company Agip.
However, in a complicated twist, Voxson’s property base passed to EMI, which subsequently took over other shares of Voxson and managed eventually to own 81% of the Company.
Voxson continued to produce televisions and car radios, but stopped producing portable radios. This part of the business was superseded with the production of amplifiers , loudspeakers and high fidelity stereo systems. The 1970s were without a doubt, the most prolific years for Voxson, in terms of design and innovation.
Stunningly good design pieces by the likes of Italian designer, Rodolfo Bonetto, were put into production by Voxson. Products such as the Tanga radio and the T 1228 Oyster television were churned out in vast quantities by Voxson for design loving public that couldn’t get enough of them.
Bonetto’s Tanga radio was ingenious. The boxed package included a coloured plastic radio, tuner, speaker, and docking station for home use. The micro sized radio [ just 7 x 4 x 2.5 cm] could be carried in a zipper case and hung from your keys, or re-united with the docking station when in use at home.
No wonder it was a trend setting piece for young Italians. The radio itself came in three colourways, green for FM stations, red for medium wave, and yellow for long wave.
The T1228 Oyster television was yet another design icon by Bonetto. The product name ‘oyster’ being an immediate giveaway to the concept.
The plastic body was hinged, and could open up to watch television, with the speaker and controls above, or be closed to form a neat cube. Typically the T1228 oyster was available in a small series of colourways.
Despite their successes, Voxson, like many other companies of the decade, were battling the onset of cheaper imported goods from the far East.
Unlike Italian national-run companies, the EMI foreign ownership of Voxson decided to close the factory in 1975. By that time, the Company had accumulated a liability in the budget of 5 billion lire.
Voxson had seen its shares contract in the national and foreign TV market. However, Voxson had managed to maintain 20% of its market share in Italy for its car radio market.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | Enter Amedeo Ortolani
The Italian Ministry of Industry decided to intervene in the the sale of Voxson, by its foreign-based owners, EMI. Their intervention led to an Italian buyer being found – a buyer that apparently wanted to keep Voxson intact.
Enter the 33 year old Roman entrepreneur, Amedeo Ortolani, the son of the financier, Umberto Ortolani .
Amedeo Ortolani took over Voxson in 1975. In fact, within that same year he had created the Electronic General Company, and it was this Company owned by Ortolani, that bought Voxson.
Ortolani had only been president of Voxson for just two months when he was kidnapped. On June 10th 1975, at 08.45 am, two bandits dressed in Carabinieri uniforms, blocked the blue Fiat 132 of Amedeo Ortolani , killing the driver and kidnapping him.
The seizure lasted 11 days, after which time, his father, Umberto Ortolani , paid a ransom of 800 million lire.
After his ordeal, Amedeo Ortolani went back to Voxson as President of the Company. Under Ortolani’s ownership, Voxson launched the Tanga NS radio (a new version of the 1970 model) in 1977.
This new model was built entirely in plastic and became a successful product for Voxson at that time. It took on the same principles as the first generation Tanga, and had a simple green, red, yellow button that dictated if the unit was FM, medium wave, or long wave.
The Tanga NS was later followed by the Mostro and Boccardino models. The Mostro car radio was battling to keep pace with technological advances from other companies. It included pre-tuneable stations, electronic memory, LED tuning scale, and sliding controls.
Subsequently the production of colour televisions was started. Ortolani also started his own TV channel through Voxson, called Tvr Voxson.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | Voxson and the P2 Lodge
In 1977, the Italian newspaper La Stampa, headlined a damming article about Amadeo Ortolani. He had been accused of bankruptcy and fraud. The prosecution were stating that Ortolani had cheated the State out of half a billion lira, obtaining tax refunds in a fraudulent manner. The judge had issued a warrant for Ortolani’s arrest.
However, unknown to the State prosecution at that stage, was Amadeo Ortolani’s father’s connections with the P2 lodge (the full name being Propaganda Due, but everyone called it the P2).
This infamous Italian masonic lodge was headed up by Licio Gelli, the Grand Master. However, Amedeo Ortolani’s father, Umberto Ortolani, was a key member of the lodge.
In fact, Umberto Ortolani is believed by many to have been the brains behind the P2 lodge, and certainly headed the organisation in Uruguay, where he owned a bank, publishing house, and large tracts of property.
The P2 lodge was implicated in numerous Italian crimes and mysteries, including the collapse of the Vatican-affiliated Banco Ambrosiano, the murders of journalist Mino Pecorelli and banker Roberto Calvi, and corruption cases within the nationwide bribe scandal Tangentopoli.
It wasn’t until 1981, that P2 was unmasked during police investigations into the Mafia contacts and financial crimes of Italian banker, Michele Sindona. For many years he was the chief influence in the Vatican Bank, thanks to his contacts with Paul VI and Prince Massimo Spada, a Vatican nobleman.
P2 was sometimes referred to as a “state within a state” or a “shadow government”. The lodge had among its members, prominent journalists, members of parliament, industrialists, and military leaders—including Silvio Berlusconi (who later became Prime Minister of Italy), heads of all three Italian intelligence services, and even the Savoy pretender to the Italian throne, Victor Emmanuel.
When the P2 lodge was investigated properly by the police in 1981, it transpired that Umberto Ortolani was the real owner of Voxson, with his son, Amedeo, fronting the Company for his father.
As the investigations gathered momentum, Umberto Ortolani fled to São Paulo in Brazil, who refused to allow him to be extradited back to Italy. Umberto Ortolani had taken out Brazilian citizenship in Brazil back in 1978, possibly as an ace-card up his sleeve, after his son had been arrested.
Ortolani decided to return to Italy in June 1989 and was arrested by the Guardia di Finanza at the Malpensa Airport. After being locked up in a Milanese prison, he paid a 600 million lire bail fee and after a week was released. In 1994, Ortolani was sentenced to four years imprisonment for bankruptcy in the context of the management of Rizzoli, of which he had been a director.
In 1996, during further trials relating to the P2 lodge, Ortolani was acquitted of the charge of political conspiracy against the powers of the state. In 1998, the Court gave Ortolani a 12-year sentence for his involvement in the Banco Ambrosiano affair.
However, he did not return to prison due to poor health. The Court of Rome suspended the execution of the sentence because of his illness. Ortolani died in Rome on 17 January 2002.
Licio Gelli fled to Switzerland. He was arrested while trying to withdraw tens of millions of dollars from a bank account in Geneva. Gelli was found guilty of fraud arising from the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. He then escaped from a Swiss prison, and went to live in hiding in South America until 1987. Gelli then gave himself up, and was extradited to Italy, where he was eventually imprisoned for 12 years.
The Italian prime minister, Arnaldo Forlani, was asked to resign, along with his cabinet (he refused, and carried on governing). A police chief shot himself, and various ministers were forced to resign.
After the P2 investigations, Amadeo Ortaloni retreated to a private life, and later returned to Sant’Oreste, where the Ortolani family originated from. It would take some years for the dust to settle on the P2 scandal.
Later, in 1994, a Rome-based criminal gang member, with links to P2, had been arrested, and was being interrogated. During the interrogation process, the gang member, Antonio Mancini, stated that the kidnapping of Amadeo Ortolani was organised by his father, Umberto.
Apparently, Umberto Ortolani had used his son’s kidnapping as a way of taking away suspicion about believed links with the underworld.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | Worsening times
During Ortolani’s ownership of Voxson, the Company had been haemorrhaging money. Voxson found itself with a heavy bank exposure to Banco Ambrosiano (a bank linked in with the P2 lodge). Voxson had an overdraft of 20 billion Lira on their current account, a debt which had existed since 1976 . Nevertheless, the bank – undoubtedly due to their P2 links – continued to grant the company further credit amounting to 30 billion Lira.
The overall debts accumulated by Voxson by the end of the 1970s, was close to 68 billion lire. As an insolvent company, Voxson, was subjected to a controlled administration according to the Prodi law, as an alternative to bankruptcy. Voxson was placed under the management of Ing. Emanuele Morici, as extraordinary commissioner.
With the Ortolanis out of the way, it was down to Voxson’s new boss, Ing. Emanuele Morici, to try and pick up the pieces. Adding to Voxson’s burdensome financial situation, was the Company’s ever-increasing loss of competitiveness in the consumer electronics market.
Aggressive competition in the market place, by Japanese companies – coupled with their ever better products – was having a marked effect on all European electronics companies.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | The end of Voxson
In February 1985 there was uncertainty about the future of the company and that of its 1 350 employees. Most had now been laid off for some time. The imminent closure of Voxson was envisaged, leading to half of its employees being hired by Vidital . This was a new company established in that same period by the US multinational ITT Corporation to produce video recorders.
Meanwhile, with Voxson still teetering on the edge of collapse, an American computer technology company, Toreson Industries , made an offer to take over Voxson. The Italian government had approved the rescue plan presented by Toreson Industries, and even granted them a loan of 25 billion lire, to help regenerate Voxson.
Also in the same year, the new minister Adolfo Battaglia approved another recovery plan, which in addition to those 25 billion in financing, provided for another 4 billion in capital account, in which the majority shareholder would be Toreson, for the creation of a pheonix company Nuova Voxson (New Voxson).
The plan discussed was that Toreson would continue production of car radios and televisions with Nouva Voxson, but would also start production of home computers under the Nouva Voxson brand.
However, negotiations were taking so long, that in September 1987, Voxson ceased production altogether, and the factory was closed. The remaining skeleton staff of workers were dismissed.
In December 1987, the new company was established by REL and Toreson, with the name Nuova Voxson SpA . It had been agreed that production would focus only on home computers.
Three years later in 1990 and nothing had taken place. The plan approved three years before by Minister Battaglia was never applied, and the money for the revival of Voxson was never paid. And for these reasons, the financing of 25 billion lire was revoked by the Minister of Industry.
As such, Nuova Voxson SpA was never operational. Then three years further on in 1993 the idea of financing a start-up package for Nuova Voxson SpA rose its head again. The Italian Ministry of Industry came up with a plan for Nuova Voxson SpA to start production in the former Maserati factory in Lambrate , a suburb of Milan.
The Maserati factory had been closed for just over a year, and the Ministry’s idea was to offer a start-up package to get Nuova Voxson SpA into production, hiring a hundred former Maserati workers. Despite a multitude of high level discussions, no agreement was reached.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History | The return of the Voxson brand
At the end of the nineties , the old Tor Cervara factory, now abandoned for years, was purchased by the financial company Fincentro Uno, controlled by the entrepreneur Francesco Di Stefano .
The factory was renovated, and in 1999, Stefano created a company he called Central Europe 7.
The new Company, Central Europe 7, was involved in television and cinema production .
In the early 2000s , Di Stefano also purchased the defunct Voxson brand, creating a new company called Voxson Europa SpA.
With Fincentro Uno owning 100% of the new Voxson Europa SpA , the new Company started trading in 2004.
Voxson Europa SpA returned to the Italian consumer electronics market with LCD and CRT TVs , DVD players, and air conditioners.
The products were produced in Southeast Asia , imported and distributed under the Voxson Europa brand.
Voxson | A Tumultuous History
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Anthony Branson | BBC – On This Day 1981 | Tony Good OBE, former Chairman, Good Relations Ltd | Roberto Lionello | Tony Marshall, former Sales Manager, Jensen Motors | Emanuela Orlandi | La Stampa | Francesco Di Stefano | The Times.
COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | Roberto Lionello | La Stampa
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