As­ton Martin V12 Za­gato dou­ble-bub­ble roof

Evo India - - FEATURE REPORT - By DAVID VI­VIAN | PHOTOGRAPHY by DEAN SMITH

IIS THERE AN EX­AM­PLE OF FORM FOL­LOW­ING func­tion in au­to­mo­tive de­sign that turned out quite as well as the dou­ble-bub­ble roof; in the sense that, if you didn’t know the rea­son for it, you’d have to be­lieve it was the re­sult of pure artis­tic li­cence? I se­ri­ously doubt it.

That the idea orig­i­nated from the pen of Ugo Za­gato pro­vides some per­spec­tive. Za­gato founded the coach­build­ing busi­ness that bears his name in Mi­lan in 1919 and swiftly es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for us­ing light, strong body­work struc­tures in alu­minium, a con­tin­u­a­tion of the meth­ods he’d ac­quired over four years at air­craft con­struc­tion spe­cial­ist Of­ficine Aero­nau­tiche Pomilio. But per­haps his most sig­nif­i­cant carry-over was the stream­lined look and per­for­mance ben­e­fits con­ferred by sound aero­dy­namic de­sign. By ap­ply­ing this to both road-go­ing and rac­ing alu­minium-bod­ied Alfa Romeos, Fer­raris, Fi­ats, Lan­cias and Maser­atis through the in­ter-war years, Za­gato’s name be­came syn­ony­mous with high per­for­mance and rac­ing suc­cess.

It wasn’t un­til the early 1950s, though, that in the quest for even greater aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency, Za­gato cre­ated its most en­dur­ing and recog­nis­able de­sign cue: the dou­ble-bub­ble roof. It was a rad­i­cal con­cept specif­i­cally aimed at ex­tract­ing an ad­van­tage on the race­track, while the form-fol­lows-func­tion logic was sim­plic­ity it­self: re­duc­ing the roof height and frontal area of a car helps it slice through the air bet­ter. But the lower roofline in­evitably com­pro­mises head­room and com­fort for both drivers and pas­sen­gers, es­pe­cially if crash hel­mets are worn.

Za­gato’s so­lu­tion was to start with the lower roof and el­e­gantly ease out the space di­rectly above the oc­cu­pants’ heads, thus cre­at­ing the dou­ble-bub­ble, and the treat­ment had the added ben­e­fit of ac­tu­ally strength­en­ing the thin alu­minium roof panel. It worked and it looked great, fea­tur­ing on a host of Za­gato-bod­ied com­pe­ti­tion Fi­ats, var­i­ous pri­vately com­mis­sioned one-off Maser­atis and ACs, the gor­geous Alfa Romeo 1900 C Su­per Sprint Za­gato and Lan­cia Ap­pia GTE Za­gato, and even some long-wheel­base Fer­rari 250 GTs.

Za­gato’s long-stand­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with As­ton Martin has given the dou­ble-bub­ble free ex­pres­sion in more re­cent times, but per­haps the big­gest com­pli­ment to Ugo’s bril­liant idea comes via the Peu­geot RCZ, which has made it a com­mon but no less beau­ti­ful sight when you travel to Europe.

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