The Mille Miglia was not a motor race to be undertaken lightly. For 30 years between 1927 and 1957 it challenged drivers to tackle a thousand miles of Italian public roads at racing speeds, hurtling through sleepy towns with spectators clustered inches away from screaming race V12s. The quick men managed it in around 10 hours, the equivalent of setting off from Singapore at 7am and arriving in Bangkok at 5pm in time for cocktails. Without expressways…
To finish the Mille Miglia a driver had to run the gauntlet of dozy sheep around blind bends, oil patches on apexes, slower cars ahead, faster cars in pursuit and the Herculean efforts at concentration required to drive flat-out for hours on end on a route far too long to memorize. Fatalities were not uncommon and the race attracted a special blend of drivers and machinery.
In 1950 the winning driver was a man called Giannino Marzotto who, rather magnificently, wore a double-breasted suit as his racing attire. The car he drove was a blue Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta with bodywork by a company called Touring. That image of style and speed is a useful one to hold onto in attempting to understand what this company is all about.
For the first half of the 20th century, wealthy car buyers were afforded choice beyond the manufacturer’s options lists. Rather than just selecting paint colour, audio options and a sunroof, as we do now, you took the engine and chassis combination of your choice to a coachbuilder and had them build you made-to-order bodywork. From pretty Barchettas to imposing Sedanca de Ville the limitations were financial resources and imagination.
Touring was one such coachbuilder and their portfolio contains some of the most desirable cars ever built. The twin supercharged Alfa Romeo 8C Mille Miglia Roadster, the silver birch Aston Martin DB5 in which James Bond pursued Tilly Masterson’s Mustang along the Furka Pass in Goldfinger and the Lamborghini 350GT that launched Ferrari’s Italian rival all featured bodies by Touring.
As major manufacturers increasingly took coachbuilding in house during the 1960s, specialist design houses suffered and indeed Touring closed its doors in 1966.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Forty years later Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, to give the company its full name, was revived. As Head of Sales and Marketing Emanuele Bedetti explained on a recent visit to Singapore: “We are seeing a progression whereby owners start by buying luxury cars, then use the manufacturer’s own bespoke services and finally want to design their own unique creations.”
At the 2008 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance, Touring launched the swoopy Maserati A8GCS, in 2010 they announced the, a dramatic shooting brake, and this year’s Geneva Motor Show marked the production debut of their Alfa Romeo Disco Volante.
In part homage to Touring’s sculptural 1952 machine by the same name, the modern evolution has the mechanicals of an Alfa 8C underneath perhaps the most beautiful bodywork at Geneva. That means a 450HP V8 to go with the boat-tail rear and voluptuous wings.
For 2013 Touring have also made the Flying Star available for Asian markets, through EuroSports Auto in Singapore. At the launch Bedetti explained the genesis to me. “The car came about because a Bentley owner found that he was unable to accommodate both his wife and his dog in his existing car. The Flying Star was a response to that dilemma and the owner agreed to a limited production run of the design.”
Just 19 Flying Stars will be built and four have been sold already, so a certain exclusivity will be part of the machine’s appeal. Along with that go the ability to select any engine from the Continental range, including the monstrous 620HP Supersports’ powerplant. Interiors can be tailored to customer demand and indeed the original car had its luggage compartment floor lowered to provide sufficient headroom for its canine occupant.
Exclusivity, tailoring and performance do come with a certain price tag attached — at least seven figures in most major currencies. To further justify that sum, the Flying Star has one additional feature up its well-tailored sleeve: Batilastra.
The Italian term for the process of hand-forming bodywork panels using a small hammer requires immense skill and isn’t to be rushed. This method means that craftsmen in Milan spend 4,000 hours creating the aluminium skin of the Flying Star.
It’s not a car for the Mille Miglia, but one in which to cross continents at speed and in comfort. A handmade, bespoke and brutally quick symbol of style and speed to mark the welcome resurgence of automotive coachbuilding.