“Weight is the enemy, air resistance the obstacle” – Carrozzeria Touring’s 1950s designer, Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, speaking of his original Disco Volante
Who says the days of truly coachbuilt cars are over? In 2012, Touring Superleggera’s inspired head of design Louis de Fabribeckers penned a modern take on Alfa Romeo’s legendary 1950s Disco Volante. The stunning design, seamlessly integrated onto the running gear of a powerful modern Alfa Romeo 8C, was shown as a 1:1 model at the Geneva Salon and in production subsequently claimed the Concept Cars & Prototypes award at the world-famous Concorso d’Eleganza, Villa d’Este in 2013.
Three years later, inspired by a request from a client for whom Touring Superleggera were restoring a significant 1950s Ferrari, another truly bespoke Alfa Romeo by Touring made its debut at Geneva.
It was the ‘Disco Volante Spyder’: the very car shown here.
The Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Spyder by Touring Superleggera
The inspiration for the 2012 coupé concept was Alfa Romeo’s significant 1952 C52 ‘Disco Volante’ – ‘Flying Saucer’ in Italian. Designer Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni created a highly aerodynamic car, powered by a tuned 1,997cc four-cylinder, yet, thanks to its lightweight construction and advanced styling, capable of 140mph.
Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons and his designer Malcolm Sayer were said to be so influenced by the cars that the D-type and E-type bear many similarities.
In creating the modern Touring Superleggera Disco Volante, Louis de Fabribeckers took the key components of the 1950s Touring original – wind-cheating lines, an extended rear overhang and ‘retracted’ greenhouse, a wide front section with integrated bonnet and wings – and applied them to the rolling chassis of Alfa Romeo’s limited-edition 8C Competizione. Powered by a 4.7-litre, 450bhp Ferrari-designed V8, the 8C was a barn-storming supercar: Road & Track believed it could top 190mph. A six-speed transaxle transmitted power to the road, gearchanges actuated by steering wheel paddles. Only 500 were built.
The craftsmen at Touring Superleggera’s Milan factory took a standard 8C road car, totally stripped its bodywork than painstakingly built it up again mostly using aluminium panels formed by hand in the old ‘hammered’ traditions of the company, with some sections in high-tech carbonfibre. The interior was likewise hand-finished in Italian hides dyed to match the exterior.
The whole process was a step back in time to the days of discrete runs of bespoke, coach-built cars available from the Grandes Marques only for the lucky few. ‘Few’, in this case, meant just eight cars.
Fast forward to 2014 when our client, a discerning British Ferrari collector with a significant stable of the very best cars, was in Milan discussing the restoration of his early, Touring-bodied Barchetta. Surely, the C52 Disco Volante Spyder of 1952 was a prettier car, hadn’t the modern company considered an open version?
Touring’s managing director Piero Mancardi was quick to respond: “Why don’t you commission us then?”
The die were cast. Working closely with Alfa Romeo (this time using an 8C Spyder donor car) who rebuilt the engine, transmission, drivetrain and brakes, Touring embarked on an 18-month design and development programme paying particular attention to the height and profile of the windscreen. De Fabribeckers’ design was significantly different from the regular car, with a dramatic wraparound, ‘helmet visor’ effect.
Great attention was also given to the Disco Volante Spyder’s removable roof, one that could withstand the 8C’s top speed when fitted. Detached, the car’s occupants would still be able to enjoy conversation with little buffeting at the serious speeds of which this car is capable. And all against a backdrop of an exhaust system unique to this model, specially tuned to produce, as the owner fondly reports, “the most exquisite noise, particularly on the over-run”. The car’s suspension was re-engineered for a more pliant and comfortable, yet still sporting ride.
Appropriately, given its owner, British supplier Connolly was chosen for this car’s interior, and a matching set of Connolly luggage fits neatly in the boot, even with the hood stowed away. On its nose sits the classic Alfa Romeo ‘Milano’ insignia, as used on the original C52 in 1952. The aerofoil that houses the third brake light is unique to this car and inspired by the wings of the Supermarine Spitfire.
Number One of just seven built, the Geneva, Villa d’Este and Monterey Show Car, this unique Touring Disco Volante Spyder is an icon of 21st Century coachbuilding. They really do still build them like that.
Photo credit: Nanette Schärf