Before he died in June, Tom cast his expert design eye over the Pegaso Z102 Cupula coupé and its concours-winning quirks
The first really exotic post-war European car came not from Italy, but Spain of all places. The Pegaso company, located just outside Barcelona, was noted for its buses and trucks, but unusual circumstances led to the limited production of one the most exotic cars in automotive history, Pegaso’s Z102 Coupé.
The first versions of the Z102 never had much success but the special one-off Cupula coupé had an enormous impact on the car design world. Today, whenever this car shows up at a concours d’elegance it’s like a magnet; spectators rush over to take a closer look at its striking design.
What makes it unusual is the form of the basic body, so different to the shapes of the time. It has catamaran theme that carries through the entire design, incorporating the bulbous fenders that partially cover the wheels. The way the headlights are placed in these flanks is novel, in that they are seperate design elements that do not dictate the radius carried through the entire length of the body.
The plexiglass rear window is the immediate focal point; a precisely shaped element that’s radical without being heavy. The body could have ended up being heavy but was not, thanks to the lower-body line that cuts off the mass high up, leaving space for the exposed mufflers. A continuation of that design theme is evident in the rear lights being placed on the metal without influencing the car’s shape. These details – together with the fly yellow exterior, light green interior and shocking red tyres – puts this masterpiece on the ‘Best of Show’ shortlist every time.
How did such a car emerge from the post-war rubble and industrial destruction in Europe? In this case it was down to Spanish Civil War exile Wifredo Ricart. After a period with Alfa Romeo, he returned to his homeland to spearhead the industrial development of the state-owned Enasa company, which owned Pegaso.
Ricart’s unique talents as an engineer with an artistic touch meant the prototype Z102 shown to the public in 1951 was both innovative and exotic – its 2500cc V8 engine had two gear-driven camshafts per cylinder bank topped by beautiful valve covers. Meanwhile, the alloy chassis – to which a driven rear transaxle using a de Dion-type rear suspension was mounted – had numerous lightening holes. But exotic or not, it was expensive to make and the steel bodywork was just plain dumpy.
However, during the production Z102’s subsequent gestation period, the one-off Cupula was made. Ricart had asked Spanish design students to illustrate their ideas of how cars would look in the future. The results were pieced together by Ricart to form this exotic masterpiece, shown at the 1953 New York Auto Show to great acclaim – but it was too late.
Since its conception the Cupula has passed through a number of custodians – the first being President Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and the latest being the Louwman collection from Holland. I saw the car at the Villa d’este Concorso in 2015 and again winning Best of Show at the 2016 Amelia Island counterpart. Its design will never become stale and will enjoy periodical presentations at classic car shows for infinity.
Tom rated the Amelia Island Concours-winning Pegaso Cupula coupé highly