Alfa Romeo is celebrating their female racing pilots on international women’s day…

Odette Siko in her Alfa 1750 6C…

International Women’s Day is an ideal occasion, Alfa Romeo found, to put its female racing champions behind an Alfa sportscar wheel into the spotlight. The material they put forward is so abundant and interesting, that we make (at least) a two-part series of it.

We start here with the early, very elegant protagonists, who combined female elegance with panache and excellent racing qualities…

We start here with Odette Siko, you see her elegantly here in the photo above.

She takes you back to the 1930s, where Alfa Romeo asserted itself as one of the main protagonists in motorsport. This was partly down to extraordinary vehicles, but also to drivers who became part of the legend: these were the years of Nuvolari, Varzi, Caracciola and Sommer. The latter won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1932 behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, but the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 SS driven by the striking Odette Siko finished fourth overall and won the 2.0-liter category! A young Parisian, Siko quickly became one of the stars on the track, displaying her elegance both in the paddock and in her racing performance, often accompanied by another female French racer whose path also crossed Alfa Romeo’s several times: Hellé Nice.

Hellé Nice, see the photo here, was a model, acrobat, and dancer. Her real name was Mariette Hélène Delangle, but was more commonly known as Hellé Nice. Renowned for her outgoing personality, Nice was good friends with the Rothschilds and the Bugattis. She raced in Europe and America and became one of the first drivers to display the logos of her sponsors on the bodywork of a single-seater racing car.

She took part in the 1933 Italian Grand Prix at Monza in her own 8C 2300 Monza; in the same race, Campari, Borzacchini and Czaikowski tragically lost their lives. In 1936, she won the Ladies Cup in Monte Carlo and took part the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, where she fell victim to a dreadful accident, then miraculously came out of her three-day coma.

Further on, there was Anna Maria Peduzzi. In her time, the years of Scuderia Ferrari marked a crucial chapter in Alfa Romeo’s history. The drivers of the “Prancing Horse” included Como-born Anna Maria Peduzzi, the wife of driver Franco Comotti, who was nicknamed the “Moroccan”.

After her debut aboard her own Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport, which she had purchased from Ferrari himself, Peduzzi almost always raced alone and only occasionally with her husband. In 1934, she won the 1500 Class at the Mille Miglia and, in the post-war period, raced in the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

We conclude our first part here with Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo.

The forerunner of female Alfa Romeo drivers, Baroness Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo made her debut in the interwar years. A pioneer of Italian motorsport, aviator and journalist, d’Avanzo won third place in the Alfa Romeo G1 at Brescia in 1921, and proved her worth in many competitions as a formidable opponent for the best drivers of the time, including a young Enzo Ferrari.

Baroness d’Avanzo in her Alfa 20-30 ES

Baroness d’Avanzo raced until the 1940s in a variety of vehicles and races, traveling all over the world to do so…

In the next part we will tell you more about our national champion Christine Beckers and her more contemporary colleagues… Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

How Renault succeeded in building a bridge between past and present with it’s Renault 5 Prototype…

The brand new Renault 5 Prototype has already stolen the hearts of many, as was the case with the original R“Cinq”. François Leboine, Director of Design Concept and Show-Cars at Renault explains here how to succeed in the retro-futuristic exercise carried out on the cute Renault 5 Prototype.

Revive good memories, “provoke a smile”, that’s what François Leboine wanted with the Renault 5 Prototype. Responsible for concept cars and show cars at Renault, he looks back at the development of the prototype’s headlights, which, he confides to us, embody all the work done on the car. To do this, he used a well-oiled method that he agreed to unveil to us.

“If I had to choose a particular element that symbolizes all the work done on the Renault 5 Prototype, it’s definitely the headlights.”

Before starting any creative process, you need material, explains François Leboine.

The first step, called analytical, was to gather archives to analyze, understand, decompose the original vehicle. To grasp its very essence. Photos, sketches by the original designer Michel Boué, period magazines, fascicles and brochures, made it possible to study the mythical R5 from all angles. A vehicle loaned by Renault Classic also helped to better understand certain elements such as the famous headlights.

We really capitalized on the history of Renault and the R5 in particular, which had this special sympathy with people and this perfectly recognizable mischievous look.

Then the designers draw the first sketches on paper, like cartoonists who try to capture what makes a face’s personality.

“The sketches captured the fundamental elements that needed to be retained to reproduce the mischievous look of the original R5,” explains François Leboine.

Getting the proportions right…

Then, the designers moved on to a graphic palette to define proportions, contours, the distance between the headlights, to find the expression, the smiling look of the 1970s R5.

After analyzing graphic characteristics and working on proportions, designers operate what is called a shift: a method that consists of taking an object and tilting it into another world. “They’re going to use all the graphic work from previous research, mixing it with the mood board research and codes from today’s objects to project the design details into a futuristic world.”

Inspired by the worlds of aeronautics, architecture, product design and even electronics…

Thanks to this method of shifting visual codes, the prototype’s headlights have become true technological and futuristic elements. As for the fog lights that were often added at the time, they took a leap into the future. They were transformed into daytime running lights fully integrated into the front bumper.

“It was really important that the Renault 5 Prototype was not just a slavish copy of the past, but that it really was a vehicle that contained the elements of the future.”, explained François Leboine.

The final test: meeting the public

Finally, comes the encounter, the ultimate step for designers. The one that allows them to know if their work is successful. “Everything we’ve done, it’s the reaction of the people around us which determines if we’ve hit the bull’s eye, if we’ve brought the R5 back to life or if it was a failure”, says François Leboine.

The reaction of the internal people was already telling us that the car was going to be a success, but in the end it exceeded our expectations.

The Renault 5 Prototype has indeed received a very warm and unanimous welcome. Whether on the headlights or on the whole vehicle, the treatment of the lines and the futuristic details were very much appreciated. With the Renault 5 Prototype, the emblematic model of Renault’s heritage now has a worthy heiress. A modern car, full of charm and in tune with the times. Renault’s DNA respected, a successful projection into the future: mission accomplished

We can only agree…

Within 5-6 weeks, we will be able to take the wheel again, also anxious to get acquainted again with Renault’s latest E-powered products and hybrids… Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Alfa’s: Italy’s invincible and iconic police cars…

We vividly remember them when I drove in the historic Mille Miglia with my father. The olive green Alfa Giulia Supers of the Carabinieri coached us along the way, watched over crossroads, helped to control traffic along our route, kept overenthusiastic spectators at bay.

The Carabinieri had not only taken out their fifties’uniform complete with riding boots, they also had polished their Giulia Supers. And of course, mechanically, these Alfa’s were in top form. What a delight it was to hear their 1,6 thoroughbred DOHC four cylinder revving up when they joined with panache and screeching Michelins again our fast moving column of Millia Miglia cars. Only to pass us swiftly with the blue police light flashing on the roof, with their engine on full song.

The beautiful Alfa 1900 was in 1952 immediately an iconic intervention car for the Italian Polizia…

Delightful, simply delightful. On the return leg from Roma back to Brescia, on the lunch stop before Siena, me and my father took (too much) time to chat with Stirling Moss, and we forgot our schedule a bit. This meant we were late, and had to do some massive catching up through the field. As there were timed sessions ahead, and we had to be within our time slot again. Easier said than done, with the power of a Mercedes 180 D ponton. Fight your way past birdcage Maserati’s and the like with 40 HP. Also the normal traffic was busy and held us up too much, as it took always time to accelerate for us to our top speed of 120 km/h at best.

The Giulietta was in the mid-fifties the police car par excellence… to be replaced by the Giulia Super.

Then we saw the olive green Giulia Super at a crossroad. We waved frantically and threw our hands in the air, shouting “siamo in ritardi!” We are too late!    

“Okay, Okay”, they shouted back, starting their Giulia, putting swiftly their Alfa in front of us. “Siguici da vicino, follow usse close” they commanded us in their marvelous Italian accent, and so we went as a two wagon speed train through traffic, and passed the field of surprised Mille Migla participants. Lancia Aurelia, BMW 328 and Jaguar XK120 drivers couldn’t believe their eyes. But we got after 30 minutes of frantic speeding again in our slot. We waved at the carabinieri thankfully, and they responded with two signals on their beautiful Fiamm horn.

So when the dynamic PR people of FCA came up with te story about the fast, invincible Alfa’s in the service of the law, our delightful memories came back again, and we had to tell you here this story.    

Of course, the Polizia/Carabinieri Giulia’s were totally iconic and omnipresent in the sixties, but the love affair of the servants of the law with Alfa’s started already in the early fifties with the formidable Alfa 1900. We show you here the photos, and dream on with us…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We spoke with Charles Fuster, Product Marketing Manager Fiat 500 X: this Sport version is built to conquer everybody’s sporting heart, like football…

Charles Fuster taking the 500X Sport to the football field…

When Fiat presented the 500 X Sport, they had the very good idea to draw a parallel between its excellent sporting and stylish qualities and embed it into the language and philosophy of top football. Therefore the venue of presenting this new Fiat was at the the “Luigi Ridolfi” Federal Technical Centre in Coverciano (FIorence), a centre of excellence for teaching, training and sport, as well as the historic seat of the Italian Football Federation.

The presentation “in the field” was expertly done by Charles Fuster, Product Marketing Manager 500 X, and the qualities of dynamism, precision, control

Echoing the qualities of the National Team in the Fiat 500 X…

and Italian style of this 500 X Sport were echoed on the accompanying screen by the coaches and specialists of the Italian national team, indeed the same characteristics that lead a player to wear the blue jersey of Italy with pride and joy…

Reason enough to have an interview with Charles Fuster here…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

HK: How did you communicate the enhanced sporting characteristics and properties of the new 500 X to the top people of the Italian Football Federation, how did they tune into this? What was their reaction?

CF: Actually, the starting point and the basis was and is the car. It arrives with important improvements. The balance, the road holding, the performance, the style, and of course, when we had created this story about the car, we focused ourselves on the world of football. This had very good reasons: like Fiat, it is a very democratic world, it is a very accessible sport for everybody. And so we started to work with the Italian Football Federation to draw all these parallels, between the world of the automobile and the world of football.

Charles Fuster on the playing field…

This proved extremely interesting because all this storytelling proved extremely natural. Also the persons of the federation, who we have presented today is somebody who has worked all his life with football and has an incredible experience.

Top performance is top performance, whether one speaks about cars or people…

These people prepare the future stars of tomorrow. So we arrive at an allegory with a well perfected industrial product and a sports player, and this can be very eloquent…

 HK: indeed, this is very unique in your presentation today… we saw the comments of Roberto Mancini, Italy’s National Team Head Coach and others…

CF: Thank You, it is indeed the work of our whole team!

HK: Can you tell a bit more what is the mission of this sporting version of the 500 X…

CF: Just have a look at its position within the range. The Cinquecento is a typical women’s car. 75 % of the clients are women. This is different with the 500 X, where the buyers are about fifty-fifty between men and women. The 500 X Sport will also be bought by independent women who want to be seen having personality and character.

But this is a car which is targeted to a large public. We will not discriminate. Of course the car has a look which distinguishes it from the others in the range.

HK: Can you tell a bit more about the future electrification of the Fiat models? We think about PHEV…

CF: There will be something new in 2020. There will be an important electrified range at FCA in 2022. That is the only thing I can tell you right now… The first models will be launched in 2020, and this will continue throughout 2021 to 2022. It is the strategy of the group to be present in all forms of electrification. It will also be very important for the fleet market.

HK: We thank you for this interview.

Of course there is (still) more. We will treat you also shortly with further interviews with Danilo Coglianese, Head of Fiat & Abarth Communications, EMEA, and also have a long talk with Alessandro Grosso, Head of Fleet and Business Sales, EMEA, about the European Fleet markets and FCA’s position therein.

Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Women behind Cars: Angelica Carapezza

At the presentation of the new Fiat Ducato earlier this summer we met up with some very remarkable people of Fiat Professional, who had brought the new Fiat Ducato project to a pinnacle in the world of commercial vehicles, and also made a splendid presentation of it.

Intrigued as we were with the electric version of this Ducato, a harbinger in the trend towards clean urban mobility also for commercial purposes and bringing goods to our inner cities in an environmentally responsible way, we also directed our attention to the people behind this project, Domenico Gostoli, Head of Fiat Professional Electrification Programs, and Angelica Carapezza, assisting her boss in managing and coordinating the implementation of such electrification programs.

Angelica Carapezza and Domenico Gostoli, the team behind the Ducato Electric project…

We were very intrigued by the way they both worked out and conceived this programme, only to discover when we spoke to Signora Carapezza that she had a long lived passion for automobiles and Fiat, and had participated in many important projects which had marked the history of the Fiat brand and group.

This discovery led us to start up a series where we present you the profiles of remarkable women who play an important role in our automotive world. We start off with an interview here…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

HK: You have already built up quite a long career with Fiat, and were at the heart of quite a few important projects. Can you tell more about this?

AC: I started to work in FCA, more than 30 years ago; at that time it was just Fiat, a domestic company very far from the international giant that is today. 

I started in the Logistics dept, ensuring Spare Parts distribution in Europe, then I passed to Purchasing, where I had the chance to have a key operative role in the “world car project”. Working for the realization of this project that took me for 3 years to Morocco as responsible for purchasing local and nationalized components- , then I came back in Italy. After a short while I was flying again to a new country for another important challenge: Vietnam, as responsible of the Licensee market where a local partner used to assemble CKDs (Completely Knocked Down) parts and components of the world car first and the Doblò thereafter.

After 1 year of exciting experience in Far East Asia, it was time to come back again to the old continent and face a new role: International Business Development. It was the time of great deals among OEMs: General Motors, Suzuki, Ford, Peugeot/Citroen, and many other negotiations which remain in the secret drawers of FCA… this was a great chance for me to be part of the epochal change which the automotive world was making! Time passes and I thought why not capitalize on all this experience and put it to good use in the commercial world? I took the opportunity to join Fiat Professional, first as responsible of Brand Developments (one amongst all: China experience) and then I was focusing my time on electric developments. Always “out of the box”!

HK: You even put up a project in Hanoi, involving a press drive with the new Doblò, this was in July 2003…

 AC: Yes, when I was in Vietnam, I took the chance to expand my professional background: my original assignment was to negotiate, with a local partner, a new licence for local assembly of a Fiat model. It happened that, even under the strong request of the local assembler, my role took a 360° shape: I was requested to figure out and organize the commercial launch of the Doblò (at that time I had no experience in this context), the local Partner gave me full white paper, and that is how the “Trans-Vietnam Road Show” took place.

We organised a press conference and launch ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City first, and then we literally “brought” the launch to the capital, alongside the coast of the country from south to north: a caravan of 13 Doblò’s, driving for 8 days, 2.600km, passing from Nha Trang, Danang, Halog Bay, and finally Hanoi; in the capital I set up a new launch ceremony and was honoured by the presence of Italian Ambassador and Vietnamese Minister of Transports.

36 young Angelica Carapezza heading in 2003 the launch of the Doblo in the Opera Hotel in Hanoi…

I was the only Italian and the only person of Fiat to manage the group of Vietnamese people of the Road Show: my best and most exciting professional experience ever! 

HK: What led you to Fiat, was it the attraction of all the wide creative and professional possibilities which result from working for such a large group with a global reach?

Working in one of the biggest companies of the world has positive and negative sides. You can benefit from the size of the company itself, and collect strong and different experiences which, in a smaller context, would oblige you to change company.

This basically means that after more than 30 years, each day I wake up being conscious that – even today – I’ll learn something more about this extremely complicated world called “automotive”. On the other hand – I speak personally – you develop such an attachment to the Company, feeling as being  truly yours, which makes it impossible to betray it with another one.

I feel FCA as being my family, my personal growth, my house. I have such a sentimental attachment to the Company that it is inconceivable for me to look elsewhere, and this is indeed my emotional boundary.

Angelica Carapezza in 2003 in Hanoi posing with the Italian Amabassador and the Vietnamese Minister of transport…

HK: Coming to the present project, putting the electric Ducato on the rails so to say, can you tell us more about the “bottom up”, client-based approach, focusing  first on building up a database with a specific, detailed study of customers’ real use of their vehicles, which involved a year of data gathering. How do you work together as a team with Domenico Gostoli?

AC: Domenico Gostoli is the most professionally experienced boss I’ve ever had. Working with him means to collect day by day competences and knowledges, thanks also to its vision and background: he collected in his career important roles in engineering, product planning and commercial, which is a quite rare combination in our world, and this makes him really stand “one step ahead”.

For the Ducato Electric, we started to analyse the real life utilization of the vehicles in different usage situations and missions, being conscious that an LCV means much more for our customer than just being a vehicle: it is the source of daily business revenue.

We put the customer in the centre, with his specific daily needs (path, km’s, delivery times, payload and volume request, city centre access, etc) and we conceived a Ducato where the new Electric propulsion enhances the successful modularity of Ducato that made it the #1 among LCVs in Europe (more than 12.000 versions of the same model manufactured in the biggest LCV plant @ Atessa, south Italy!).

Our “bottom up approach” starts from real life usage, and brings a fully tailor made and customized recommendation to customer, with whom we choose the best vehicle configuration fitting his specific needs, which have been subject to a prior analysis.

Fiat Professional electrification does not penalize the payload and volume of the vehicle, takes away the “range fear” thanks to his battery modularity and lets our customers accomplish their daily mission also in Co2 free cities. All our analysis are fully consistent to the epochal change of people behaviours and daily needs: e-commerce means rising delivery speed and the need for our customers to deliver goods, mainly in urban centres.

HK: What would you say/advise to women who want to start a career in the automotive world?  

I would not make a statement between men and women: first of all there must be passion and a daily predisposition to put oneself under questioning, by seeing a new thing, a new role as an opportunity. Disruption is always an opportunity, especially when you face it blindly. 

On the other side there is this daily truth: women carry a heavier burden, if you are also a mother, this may turn into a problem for your career. It is a matter of choices and compromises, always. For a woman much more than for a man, even today.

Each of us has to develop her/his “tailored professional profile”, because each of us has her/his “daily mission”, exactly like a Ducato Electric.

We thank You for this interview.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Volker Germann is new Managing Director of Audi Brussels…

Audi Brussels has undergone a total transformation over the last three years in becoming the production site for the Audi e-tron 55 Quattro, and you can read more about this plant in our columns here.

The front e-engine of the Audi e-tron is put in place on the front axle on the Audi Brussels production line…

At the helm of this rebirth stood Patrick Danau, and with his team he made the factory in the heart of Europe into a leading plant for electric mobility. This was his final challenge and crown on his long and successful career, as he celebrated his retirement last week.

On this photo, from left to right: Christoph Herzig, General Director Finance, Volker Germann, new Managing Director, Patrick Danau, former Managing Director, Eric Prieels, General Director HR.

The graduate engineer had known the Brussels plant since 1978, when he began his career in the assembly section of the former VW plant in Brussels. After numerous positions in Group companies around the world, Danau found his way back to Brussels in 2014, where he worked for the past five years as General Director for Production, Technology and Logistics and Spokesperson of the Management. “For me, my professional life has come full circle: I am now ending my career where everything started for me more than 40 years ago. I could not have imagined a better conclusion at the end of my career than the production of the Audi e-tron.”

A new director with a vast international experience, spanning from Brazil to China…

Volker Germann is now the new managing director at Audi Brussels. Within the executive board of Audi Brussels, Volker Germann will hold the positions of General Director for Production, Technology and Logistics and Spokesperson of the Management.

“With Volker Germann, a proven production expert with great international experience has come to the Brussels site. We are delighted that we have been able to gain him for this task,” says Peter Kössler, Chairman of the Administrative Board of Audi Brussels and Member of the Board of Management for Production and Logistics at AUDI AG.

Germann has been working successfully for the Volkswagen Group and Audi for many years. He has a acquired a vast international experience. He graduated in engineering at the College of Technology in Mannheim and began his career in 1986 as an employee in central planning for painting and assembly at VW. But in 2009 already, the distant horizons called, and he became managing director at VW do Brasil in Curitiba. In 2016, Volker Germann became managing director of the FAW-Volkswagen joint venture in Changchun, China. The Audi A4 L, Audi A6 L, Audi A6 L e-tron, Audi Q3 and Audi Q5 L model series are built for the Chinese market in that city, which has a population of approximately seven million.

Germann is now looking forward to the new professional challenge in the European capital: “The Brussels plant is currently carrying out one of the most important ramp-ups at Audi. Under the leadership of Patrick Danau, the factory has prepared itself optimally for this task. I am happy to be able to help shape the dawn of the age of e-mobility and the production of vehicles with completely new drive technology. I am now part of the team that is putting the Audi e-tron on the road with great passion and skill.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The genius who designed the D Type Auto Union: Robert Eberan von Eberhorst

We treat you this time, dear reader, on a following story about famous men who changed motorsport and/or made such an important contribution to the development of the automobile, that the automotive world has never been the same again since then. Such a man was the Austrian nobleman Robert Eberan von Eberhorst. He made his mark as a formidable engineer not only before WW2, but also throughout the war and also in the fifties, and one of his post-war creations, the Aston Martin DB3 sports racing car, is still raced in historic sporting events, right until this day…

But there is so much more, just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “The genius who designed the D Type Auto Union: Robert Eberan von Eberhorst”

Ettore Bugatti and his son Jean: two creators of a legend…

Having drawn the magnificent Bugatti engines, one is of course also fascinated by its creators. So I decided to make some detailed and realistic pen drawings of father and son – Ettore and Jean – on important occasions. The young Jean sits next to his father in 1924 at the Lyon Grand Prix, in a type 35. His father is then 43, and Jean is 15…

Ettore Bugatti was to shape automotive history forever – with his formidable artistic and technical genius. He was born on 15 September 1881 in Milan, into a very artistic family. His father was an important Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry designer, his brother Rembrandt Bugatti a sculptor, his grandfather an architect and sculptor.

Ettore turned his interest to cars. In 1909, his son Jean was born, and in that same year Bugatti established his legendary automobile company, Automobiles E. Bugatti, in 1909 in the then German town of Molsheim in the Alsace region. He had married Barbara Maria Giuseppina Mascherpa. Besides Jean, the marriage produced two daughters, L’Ébé in 1903 and Lidia in 1907, and another son, Roland in 1922.

Of course, son Jean was soon to follow in his father’s footsteps. Jean designed in de mould and tradition set by his father the Bugatti’s Type 50 and 51 and the stunning Bugatti 57, with their beautiful twin cam engines. When Jean reached the age of 27, Ettore retires, and leaves the factory and its management to Jean. Unfortunately, the kind and genial Jean kills himself on 11 august 1939 behind the wheel of the 57C which had just won Le Mans,  running at more than 200 km/h against a platan on a country road in Duppingheim.

 

I drew this charming and very elegant man here when he was 23.

Since then, things went downhill for Ettore and the famous brand. World War II ruined his factory in Molsheim, and his wife Barbara died in 1944. But Ettore Bugatti remarried in 1946, to Geneviève Marguerite Delcuze. This union and marriage had produced already a daughter, Thérèse in 1942 and later a son, Michel in 1945.

Ettore was also a lover of horses and yachts. He had bought a magnificent one after the war, but contracted the flu while visiting it at the wharf.  Having contracted pneumonia, he subsequently went into a deep coma. He was almost certainly unaware of the court decision whereby his property in Alsace, which had been confiscated by the state as retribution caused by his Italian origins, were restored to him on 20 June 1947: Ettore Bugatti died just over two months later, on 21 August without having recovered consciousness.

Hans Knol ten Bensel