There are many beautiful cars at this year's Geneva Motor Show, and it's hard to pick the prettiest, but one stands out as an absolute stunner: Touring Superleggera's Berlinetta Lusso. Dressed in a subdued shade of blue and clothed in alloy bodywork, the Berlinetta Lusso is as new as the computer controlled Ferrari V12 under the long hood, and simultaneously as old as the hammers used to beat the body panels into shape.
There was a time when the car buyer of a certain peerage would not just simply walk in to a car dealership and purchase something off the rack, as it were. No. If you were a Count or a member of the new money gentry, you would purchase a Bugatti or a Hispano-Suiza as a chassis and engine only, just the running gear. You would then arrange to have a body crafted for you by one of the fine design houses that had sprung up in symbiotic relationship with car manufacturers. Firms such as H. J. Mulliner & Co. and Figoni et Fallaci would see to your needs and some months later, you would be seen motoring along the Cote d'Azur or Broadway or the Champs Elysee in an automobile that would make onlookers literally gasp.
Then came the depression, and then came the war and very few of these coachbuilders survived, having all but vanished by the post-war period. Only in Italy did a few functioning coachbuilders, carrozzeria as they're called, still survive.
Among these was Touring, and the company's technique of using a small tube under-frame to support lightweight, hand-formed alloy body panels was called Superleggera, Superlight in Italian.
This combination of innovation combined with tradition and resulting in performance gains, had enough of a reputation to attract the steely and uncompromising gaze of Enzo Ferrari. And the closer he looked the more Touring proved to be irresistible to The Old Man, so the company got the nod to make the bodies for the very first Ferraris.
Imagine building a birdcage lattice, covering it with light alloy shaped in the same way your literal ancestors created suits of armor for medieval knights, then dropping in a V12 engine and turning it lose on the roads and racetracks of the world.
That is what Ferrari and Touring did with the 166 MM. Set upon the racing world at the Mille Miglia (where the MM designation was derived), Le Mans, Spa and the Targa Florio, the red Barchetta swept all before it. And that was just a start, when Ferrari, both the man and the company, were young.
The Old Man is gone now, but his company lives on, and so does, curiously enough, the coachbuilding firm of Touring, now formally known as Touring Superleggera, so synonymous is the company with its building technique. Touring has worked off and on, quietly, almost unassumingly, on special versions of already very special cars. You have to know where to look, and which doorbells to ring, but Touring is still out there.
To remind those that had forgotten, or perhaps just to get the attention of those with noses buried in smartphone screens, Touring dropped a couchbuilt custom on its stand at this year's Geneva Motor Show and it landed like an unexpected aria from a mountaintop.
It's called the Berlinetta Lusso, and like its 60's vintage predecessor, Touring's version is built on the chassis of a V12 front-engined monster, the Ferrari F12, that is no stranger to power and performance. The mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment and powertrain are untouched from the Ferrari F12, meaning Touring's show car packs a wallop. The 6.3 liter engine cranks out 740 PS (544 kW, 730 hp) at 8,250 rpm and 690 Nm (509 lb ft) of torque at 6,000 rpm.
"There’s no need to conceal or overdesign," said Louis de Fabribeckers, head of Touring's design team. "Nowadays, we concentrate our energy into the most significant activity: the validation of volumes and proportions. We keep applying the original Touring design philosophy: the volume defines us and shows us our path."
The body design works so well in its details as much as its overall impact. The waistline edge moving from the front wheel arch and embracing the whole of the body all the way to the rear has been a Touring trademark since day one.
And keep in mind, the body for the Berlinetta Lusso was designed using pencil and paper and made through manual hand beating of aluminum sheets into shape. There is no need for modern techniques like laser-measured surfaces guiding the placement of carbon fiber panels made in a mold and cooked in an oven. The body of Touring's Berlinetta Lusso is made by hand and by eye and with hammers, guided by experience and a depth of knowledge many other carmakers could only dream of having.
Only the body color seems to deviate from the traditional. The Berlinetta Lusso is not painted in rosso corsa ("racing red"), but rather in a medium blue that Touring calls Azzurro Niourlague. The company says there's, "a hint of Mediterranean sea in a sunny and windy day. The chilly shade contrasts with the interior, which featuring a cocoon of slightly darker blue just split by a cream-colored band all around the cockpit and sumptuous seats with their refined blue stitching."
The carrozzeria also points out that all needless or off-putting items have been removed from the interior to aid the driver in concentrating on the driving experience. There are touches of hand-brushed aluminum as a reminder of the craftsmanship Touring put into the construction.
Now we must deal with the bad news. Only five Berlinetta Lusso will be produced. No, there's no word on what the cost will be, but one can only imagine it will be stratospheric. The truly stunning thing about Touring's Berlinetta Lusso is the apparent ease with which it sits there on the show stand. There's no sense of struggle about the car at all. It's as if Touring simply shook it out of its sleeve. And in doing so, looked out at all the other carmakers in the world and said: "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"