Following a torrid two year absence during which the famous Bertone name very nearly vanished, the Italian design house will be back in Geneva next month where it will unveil a stunning new concept Alfa Romeo sports car, dubbed the Pandion. Not only is Bertone heading back to the Swiss Palexpo but Lilli Bertone, widow of Nuccio, is firmly back in the driving seat having wrested back control of failed Gruppo Bertone’s design division, Stile Bertone. It all adds up too a remarkable turnaround in fortunes although the contract manufacturing arm, which caused Bertone to be brought to its knees, has since been sold off to Fiat Group.
Leading Italian design houses Pininfarina and Stile Bertone, along with Giorgetto Giugiaro, are all showing an Alfa Romeo-based concept car on the occasion of the Geneva Motor Show to tie in with Alfa Romeo’s centenary. The former two are presenting a spider and coupé respectively, both based on the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione sports car, while the latter will unveil a berlina concept based on the new C-segment Giulietta which will also debut in Geneva.
For Bertone this will be the second project it has carried out focused on the underpinnings and mechanicals of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione sports car, just as two years ago it created the B.A.T. 11 concept, a modern-day continuation of the historically-admired Alfa Romeo-themed B.A.T. concept cars, around the same platform and mechanicals. That car was in fact born at the low point of Bertone’s fortunes when it was unable to afford a stand after more than half a century of unbroken appearances at the Swiss motor show and instead the distinctive B.A.T. 11 was unveiled at the AutoDeignNight which took place during the show in downtown Geneva. Stile Bertone, which was founded in 1972 by Nuccio Bertone and is based in Caprie, just a few kilometres from Turin heading into the Susa Valley, was then split away from the rump of the Gruppo Bertone business which was at the time collapsing under the loss of all its business by the contract manufacturing division, and the design arm was temporarily put into the hands of Marie-Jeanette Bertone.
However Lilli Bertone, Nuccio’s widow, is now firmly back in charge of Stile Bertone having fought hard over the last two years to save the family business and she has come out on top of a bitter feud with her two daughters, Marie-Jeanne and Barbara. With the contract manufacturing facilities at Grugliasco having now been sold off by the administrators to the Fiat Group, Stile Bertone, with its long and fabulous history, is the key surviving element of the almost century old Italian design and engineering house. "Back to Geneva with a world première," says Lilli proudly, a lady who has come a long way since Bertone last showed its wares in Geneva in 2007. The new Alfa Romeo Pandion concept by Bertone follows on from the design house’s last work for Alfa Romeo, the pretty GT Coupé, which is still in production, albeit in small numbers.
The new Pandion concept car is the first work from the pen of Stile Bertone’s new Design and Style Director Mike Robinson. "After the sale to Fiat Auto of the production facilities in Grugliasco, ensuring the employment of all employees, we have regained full possession of the brand that was developed by Nuccio in person," says Lilli. "We’re back, indeed we are on track to launch our centennial with a completely new management team and be a leading services company that is rapidly returning to its historic role as a trend setter worldwide. These are not just words," she adds, "as evidenced by the car [to be] presented in Geneva, a workshop for technology and style that expresses these ideas."
The Alfa Romeo Pandion concept contains many elements of Bertone’s recent design language ably combined with the fresh sheet of paper that comes from two years of upheaval and the influx of new staff. The front end continues the recent theme of enlarging the Alfa Romeo "heart" in a return to the brand’s famous past. The sweeping glasshouse which matches the rise and fall of the side glass that stretches from wheel-to-wheel brings both historic and bold new thinking to the equation and – along with the use of steel – builds on Bertone’s highly-acclaimed Panda-based two-seat "Barchetta" concept which was created for the Geneva Motor Show in 2007 to celebrate the designer’s 95th anniversary. Inside elements of the Barchetta’s clean, simple and tiny cabin and dashboard are also much in evidence. The rakish design of the Pandion also points towards the Mantide, the dramatic and futuristic concept car styled by ex-Pininfarina design chief Jason Castriota last year during a shortly period when Stile Bertone was under the leadership of Marie-Jeanne Bertone. The rear end is a new departure for Bertone, it appears very busy in images and mildly reminiscent of Fiat Brazil’s recent FCC II ‘buggy’ concept.