Donald Osborne's 'Transatlantic Style: A Romance of Fins and Chrome' is a beautiful tribute to midcentury Italian design
Midcentury style and design are hot right now. Museum expositions, modernism weeks and niche publications that cater to the movement are popping up all of the time. Even Craigslist is full of Eames-era modern furniture. Strangely though, scant attention has been paid to midcentury style in automotive design. The new title by author Donald Osborne, “Stile Transatlantico/Transatlantic Style: A Romance of Fins and Chrome” fills that hole admirably.
Anyone familiar with Osborne — whether in person or from his TV work on “What’s my Car Worth?” and “Jay Leno’s Garage” — understands that the guy knows a thing or two about style. It goes far deeper than just his signature bowtie and his background as a professional opera singer and fluent knowledge of the Italian language and culture. He’s also based in the midcentury modern factory outlet that is Palm Springs. So, he starts with a love for the subject that goes far beyond the usual desire to cash in on a hot trend.
Despite the privations of war, Italy’s skilled designers and coachbuilders quickly resumed work on custom and limited-production car bodies. Their influence quickly spread to American design centers, and Osborne’s book makes the connections clear.
“Transatlantic Style” is 284 pages of hardbound homage to the improbable story that was the birth of post-war automotive design on both sides of the Atlantic. Improbable in that the beginning of the story took place in Italy, the country that had the distinct dishonor of being pummeled in the Second World War by the U.S., Great Britain and Germany, its erstwhile ally. Italy’s great industrial centers in Turin and Milan were ruined. You could excuse them for thinking more about where to find a lump of coal or two to stay warm for a while rather than expending the energy to give birth to a post-war style movement that is still reverberating today, yet that’s what the Italians did. To this day, few appreciate the enormity of the accomplishment.
Osborne’s book takes a detailed look at the style trendsetters that are still not given sufficient credit outside the world of professional designers, like the Cisitalia 202 Gran Sport and the Lancia Aurelia B20. But the book really makes its mark, not by admiring these cars in a vacuum, but in closing the loop, showing how Americans took notice of what was going on in Italy and how subtle (and not so subtle) cross-pollination made style on both sides of the Atlantic richer. From production Pininfarina Nashes to the Hudson Italia and numerous concept cars and design studies, the book is utterly authoritative in its approach to the subject.
The book explores how automotive design trends moved back and forth across the Atlantic in the post-war period; the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, bodied by Pinin Farina, is shown here.
The art is as well-executed as the editorial. Period photography is supported by the characteristically gorgeous work of photographer Michael Furman, whose work is familiar from dozens of coffee table books and museum exhibitions in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The book is available from Coachbuilt Press (coachbuiltpress.com) for a surprisingly reasonable $100 for the standard edition with a cloth cover and dust jacket. There’s a special limited edition for $450 with a lucite slip case and unique cover that is signed by both Osborne and Furman. The Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, will be holding an exhibition based on the book that runs from July 8 to Sept. 30.