Just as “mid century” furnishings have become marketable antiques, you can be sure that “jet age” artifacts will also soon become collectible, if they aren’t already so. They certainly are in the car community. The Concours of America featured jet age station wagons in 2012 and jet age convertibles last year. The influence of aircraft design on American automotive styling is well known, dating to before the actual jet age. Part of automotive lore is the fact that the 1948 Cadillac’s tail fins were inspired by the P-38 fighter, and before that Hudson used the Terraplane brand, no doubt a nod to aviation. However, airplane influenced automotive design really took off (sorry, had to do it) with the advent of high speed jet aircraft, culminating, I suppose, in the Chrysler Turbine car of the early 1960s. American designers weren’t the only car stylists to evoke the look of jet aircraft. Italian designers were almost more overt in borrowing shapes from what then were primarily military aircraft. Bertone’s B.A.T. series, shaped with the use of wind tunnels, perforce had to look a bit like aircraft, what with form following aerodynamic function, but with cars with names like Ghia’s limited series of coachbuilt Supersonic cars, it was clear that the influence was more than just functional. Battista “Pinin” Farina’s contribution to jet age styling was the Lancia Aurelia PF200.
Before Pinin Farina remade the family name into a portmanteau containing his own nickname, he made a name for himself as an automotive designer with the landmark 1948 Cisitalia 202. Car-writing convention dictates that I now tell you that the Cisitalia was so revolutionary and such an elegant design that it was chosen to be on permanent display in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (convention also dictates that I refer to that institution as MOMA). I think it’s more important to tell you that Pinin Farina’s design for the Cisitalia has been arguably the single most influential postwar car design, at least when it comes to performance cars. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the 427 Shelby’s body is that of a mesomorphic, steroid enhanced Cisitalia.
When he decided to make a jet inspired car to show for the 1952 Turin Motor Show, Farina must have looked to contemporary military aircraft, because the round grille on what he dubbed the PF200 (need we guess what PF stood for?), accentuated by a wide chrome plated surround, looks like it was borrowed from a F86 Sabre. The pontoon front fenders also evoke aviation shapes and what jet age car would be complete without prominent tail fins? The PF200′s fins extend back past the rear deck of the car. If those weren’t enough styling cues from planes, particularly military ones, the fact that the twin set of triple exhaust tips that poke through the rear valence look like machine guns is probably not coincidental.
If you ask me, I think that rear end is the least original part of the PF200, borrowing a lot from Harley Earl’s personal jet age show car, the LeSabre. Earl’s team may have returned the favor because the Oldsmobile Cutlass show car from 1954′s GM Motorama has a roofline that makes me think of the PF200 coupe, introduced a year earlier.
Pinin Farina used a Lancia Aurelia B52 chassis, one of the few chassis that coachbuilders could then buy from large Italian manufacturers without a body. Based on the production B20, it had a 2 liter V6 90 hp engine designed by Vittorio Jano, who designed successful engines for Alfa Romeo before the war and then after he left Lancia, he went on to Ferrari where he did the engine for the original Dino and where his work continues to influence every Ferrari engine made to this day. The B52 also had a four speed transmission, integrated with its clutch into a rear transaxle riding on a de Dion suspension. Front suspension is sliding pillar. Inside the grille are louvers that can be opened or closed to allow more air to flow through the radiator, a feature that actually dates to the classic era and can be found on prewar Packards and Rolls-Royces.
This particular PF200-C was on display at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s. It’s been in owner William Borrusch’s possession since 1968 and it has undergone a complete “nut and bolt” restoration. Several body panels and the floorboards had to be refabricated due to corrosion, but it looks great now. There’s some question in my mind as to the car’s proper nomenclature. According to some sources, the PF200-C designation was for the coupes. However, the owner says that his Lancia is an Aurelia PF200-C and my guess is that he knows more about the car than those sources.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS