AUTObodies: speed, sport, transport June 29–September 16, 2002, June 29–September 16, 2002
Director, Glenn Lowry: The Cisitalia, a revolutionary sports car, had a profound influence on automobile design after World War II. It's by Pininfarina, an exceptionally talented Italian coach builder – the person responsible for designing an auto body, but not necessarily the underlying frame or chassis, nor the engine.
You might start looking at the car from behind. That oval panel at the very back is where you put your luggage in. Above it, the body rises in sensuous, unbroken curves. Now walk around to the side. From here, your eyes can follow the lines of this automotive masterpiece from one end to the other. Notice the horizontal line that sweeps from the front along the length of the car until just before the rear wheel. There, it meets a rising curve which pushes forward—a subtle manipulation that creates an aura of speed even when the car is standing still.
You can see that Pininfarina sculpted the contours in a continuous flow, with no sharp angles. He was inspired by aerodynamic studies developed for race cars. In fact, this car was intended for racing as well as pleasure. Every part – headlights, door handles, fenders, is integrated into the overall design. In earlier cars, such elements had been stuck on—the designer compared them to bathroom fixtures. Just in front of the windshield, those sleek vertical slots hold semaphores that pop out to act as turn signals.
From the Model T Ford on, most cars have been mass produced in an assembly line, with body panels stamped out by machines. But the Cisitalia’s lightweight, malleable aluminum panels were shaped over wooden molds, a labor-intensive process. Less than 200 were ever produced.
Pininfarina designed this car shortly after World War II. In a world emerging from the ruins, he called the Cisitalia, "new, alive and efficient." His design broke what he termed "many rust-covered rules... I had understood that the old shapes had seen their time," he said. "The car had to have pure, smooth, essential lines." Indeed, the forward-looking, progressive design of the Cisitalia seems to epitomize a sense of postwar optimism. Not surprisingly, it won numerous awards when it was unveiled at the most prestigious auto shows.
MoMA first exhibited the Cisitalia in 1951. The bright red two-seater model you see here was the very first car to enter any art museum collection; MoMA acquired it thirty years ago.