Medardo Fantuzzi: King of the ‘Panel Beaters’

October 17, 2022

Many people, including myself, believe that the most beautiful era for cars was the 1950s sports cars. They were curvy, seductive, muscular, and genuine pieces of art. We know many of the coachbuilders, or carrozzerie, because they are still with us today; names such as Pininfarina, Touring, Bertone, and Zagato. 

Those are all great houses, but the master of the proverbial “School of 50s Sports Cars” goes by the name of Fantuzzi Medardo Fantuzzi. He is one of those behind-the-scenes characters of that golden age who made groundbreaking contributions. His bodies are renowned even to this day, having clothed Maseratis and Ferraris, among others. 

What made Fantuzzi unique is that he didn’t just design the bodies, he also fabricated them. He was a special combination of craftsman and artist. His elegant and functional shapes defined an era and were often mimicked by others. Due to his unique talents, Medardo Fantuzzi earned a seat at the table, so he was often present when new cars were being built and tested.

He has not been the subject of many articles and only gets a passing mention in Italian automotive history. Let’s dive in to learn the story of Fantuzzi, who had a larger-than-life presence.

Medardo Fantuzzi posing by a Maserati 4CL (1938)

Maserati From the Start

Medardo is an uncommon name that is French in origin and means “brave” or “hearty.” It was given to a baby born in Bologna in 1906. Little is known about his upbringing and early years. His story starts when he connected with the Maserati brothers. The four brothers, led by Alfieri, began building cars in Bologna in 1914 under the name Officine Alfieri Maserati S.p.A. For their first dozen years, they were subcontractors who built race cars for others. Their primary client In the 1920s was Diatto, for whom they built 2-liter sports cars 

In 1926, Diatto pulled out of racing. It was a jolt to the brothers, but it led to them to start building cars under the Maserati name. Medardo Fantuzzi, along with his brother Gino, joined Maserati at this time. Ever since then, Medardo Fantuzzi was directly responsible for the appearance of every Maserati racing car, up to and including the famous Tipo 61 “Birdcage.”

In the pre-war era, Maserati punched well above its weight. It started with the Tipo 25 Alfieri Maserati drove in the 1926 Targa Florio. In 1930, the Maserati racing team broke through with the Tipo 8C-2500 which won seven times, including a famous 1-2-3 at the Monza Grand Prix. The 6CM in 1936-37 was a dominant car that earned the factory a strong reputation. During this period, Fantuzzi’s work gave Maserati its own look. However, the cars were actually quite simple and functional.

Fantuzzi (r) with the first Maserati A6GCS (1947).

Rise After the War

Fantuzzi was a young man in those early days, but his standing grew within the firm. In 1937, following the death of Alfieri Maserati in 1932, Italian industrialist Adolfo Orsi acquired Maserati. Once the war ended, Maserati jumped right back into racing but with designs that were legacies from the 1930s. 

In 1947, Orsi started the A6 program, which got its name from the “A” representing Alfieri combined with the “6” representing the number of engine cylinders. The first model was the A6-1500 released in early 1947 with an enclosed body designed and built by Fantuzzi. 

The famous A6GCS ‘Monofaro’ was the first racing version and it showed promise. Fantuzzi’s responsibilities grew with an evolution called the A6GCM which utilized a chassis he personally developed. It featured a rigid axle with a leaf-spring suspension in the rear, and independent front suspension with coil springs and hydraulic brakes. 

The A6GCS was the breakthrough car for Fantuzzi. The body was a masterpiece, and is still considered one of the most beautiful body designs in automotive history. The charismatic body design enveloped the wheels and debuted in 1953. It went on to win its class in the 1953 Mille Miglia followed by another class win in the 1954 Targa Florio.

Fantuzzi working inside a Tipo 60 'Birdcage' (1959)

Maserati's Golden Age

In terms of racing success, the mid-to-late 1950s stand above all other eras for Il Tridente. With the A6GCS’s success, as well as its monoposto counterpart, Orsi was ready to push on to further heights. Maserati was aiming to dominate at every level of motorsport.

In 1955, the 150S and 300S came on the scene, followed by the 200S in 1956 and the 450S in 1957. Each model featured a stunning, handcrafted body built over a tubular space frame chassis. No two bodies were identical, with designs varying from the shape of the nose to unique ducting to cool the engine compartment and brakes. The cars won, but not very frequently. They are still held in high regard, in no small way due to their eye-catching designs.

The pièce de résistance was the 250F Grand Prix car that debuted in 1954. The sleek, tubular shape was “interpreted” by every other team of the day once it hit the track. Juan Manuel Fangio earned two World Driver’s Championships in 1954 and 1957, which made Maserati one of the most famous automotive brands in the world. When one imagines a vintage Grand Prix car, a vast majority of the time it is a 250F that comes to mind. 

Maserati was running into financial difficulties in the late 50s. In 1959 they introduced the radical Tipo 60/61 ‘Birdcage.’ The main attraction was a tubular space from under the skin, constructed of more than 200 tubes that looked barely thicker than a pencil. Again, Fantuzzi produced a striking silhouette for the car that raced until 1961.

Fantuzzi (l) and Enzo Ferrari (r) and the 1961 'Sharknose' (1961)

The Later Years

Following 35 years at Maserati, Medardo Fantuzzi opened Carrozeria Fantuzzi in 1961. At the time, Maserati racing programs were on their last legs. With the reputation he had earned, he immediately picked up work. His first post-Maserati client was Modena-based Ferrari with whom he worked until 1966.

Fantuzzi and Jano

Fantuzzi built bodies for some of Ferrari’s finest, including the 268 SP Fantuzzi, 196 SP Fantuzzi, and the 330 TRI/LM Spyder Fantuzzi. On the Formula One side, he helped with the 1961 Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’ car that took Phil Hill to the World Driver’s Championship. For Ferrari, he also fabricated a Pininfarina design for a 250 Testa Rossa Spyder, as well as his own variations on the 250 GTE and 330, both of which were one-offs.

In his later years, Carrozeria Fantuzzi worked with OSCA, De Tomaso, Scuderia Serenissima, AMS, and Techno. His designs were able to adapt to the times, with his later ones capturing the fashionable wedge shapes that designers like Giugiaro had introduced. 

Medardo Fantuzzi lived in Modena for the majority of his adulthood, and this is where he passed away in 1986. His shop continues under his son Fiorenzo Fantuzzi but focuses its work on restoration and repair rather than new designs

Medardo Fantuzzi's singular career, rising from humble craftsman to sought-after designer and engineer, defined an entire era. His greatest gift to motorsports was his design of fast cars that also had harmony and elegance, making them genuine works of art. It’s hard to be more Italian than that!

Fantuzzia (l) overseeing a Serenissima Spyder in the 1960s

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