Zorro . Zorin . Zoltan . Zatopek . Zagato.

There’s a certain mysterious ring to entering a name with the exit letter of the alphabet; vide: the mask and the mark of Zorro. Max Zorin, for his part, was a James Bond baddie, but not a very good one at that. Zoltan and Zatopek are common place Hungarian names resonating with a menace that would have made for better Bond baddies than Blofeld. And Zagato was the first guy who utilised lightweight metal skinning on aircraft bodies.

Ugo was his first name. As founder of Carrozziere Zagato, in 1919 in Milan, he transferred his structural revolution in aero science to the automotive world straightaway by endowing his very first car, a Fiat 501, with fuselage-like lines and an aluminium skin stretched over a wooden frame. The incorporation of aero principles was consolidated when Ugo and legendary Fiat designer, Vittorio Jano, teamed up to produce the extremely elegant Alfa 1500 of 1926. By replacing the car’s traditional wooden frame with a light but very strong steel structure, the Alfa confirmed Zagato as the master of lightweight construction.

The legend grew and by 1960 the European continent abounded with aluminium-bodied Zagato versions of Alfas, Maseratis and Lancias – plus an all-time Ferrari classic which was conceived when two of Enzo’s premier clients requested that Zagato, specifically, should skin a 250 GT chassis for each of them. Five 250 GT LWB Berlinettas eventually saw the light of day, the first three with Zagato’s signature double-bubble roof. Even to this day the design stands as a timeless monument to the art of elegant automotive sculpting; Zagato had an unerring eye for line, flow, proportion, surface, curvature, balance and stance. Virtually all of his cars were masterpieces.

After Ugo’s death in 1968 the company continued, still to great acclaim, in the hands of sons Elio and Gianni. Now, with third-generation Andrea at the helm, the Zagato styling house has once again enthralled the automotive world with the Vantage-based Aston Martin V12 Zagato, which duly bagged the Concorso d’ Eleganza Design Award for concept cars at the recent Villa d’ Este Concours on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como – the latter being famous, amongst other things, for holiday homes owned by George Clooney, Richard Branson, Sly Stallone, Madonna and the late great Versace. Clooney, by the way, has broken up with Elisabetta Canalis. So, if you’re pining for a glamorous Italian girlfriend, make like mister Bond and woo miss Eee Cee with an Aston Zee.

The V12 Zagato is, after all, not all show and no go. Introduced in the 50th anniversary year of the iconic Aston DB4 GT Zagato as an endurance race car concept, two V12s recently completed the gruelling Nürburgring 24-hour before flaunting the Z-factor at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, where it was joined by the new Virage, as well as Aston’s 7.3-litre One-77 supercar – or should that be Zupercar, as the latter’s design kinda hovers between Zef and Zing . . . which might just conjure up a wee bit of Zorro amongst traditional Aston aficionados .

by Egmont Sippel
Published by Playboy South Africa August 2011