By Brandes Elitch
One of the most striking cars at the first edition of La Dolce Vita at the Monterey Historics was a 1957 Alfa 1900 Primavera coupe with a Boano body. This car is so rare that I have never even seen a picture of one.
Before we go into the history of this particular car, a few words are in order about Boano, or to be more precise, Felice Mario Boano, of the Italian coachbuilding firm bearing his name. Boano originally worked for coachbuilder Ghia, a venerable Italian firm founded in 1918. Giacinto Ghia saw Boano as his protégé, and made arrangements to transfer ownership of the firm to Boano when he retired. Unfortunately, Ghia died of a heart attack in February, 1944, while supervising reconstruction of his factory, destroyed in Allied bombing raids the previous year. Ghia’s widow, wanting to maintain the continuity of the firm, transferred ownership to Boano and Giorgio Alberti. Boano had apprenticed at Stablimenti Farina, and then Pininfarina, as a “soccheria,” an industrial provisioning company, supplying the wooden bucks that the carrozzeria used to hand-form car bodies out of aluminum. Boano bought out his partner, Alberti, in 1947, and in 1948, realizing that his talents lay in styling, not management, hired Luigi Segre to take over the day to day management at Ghia. Segre had previously worked at SIATA, and went on to create and manage a famous relationship with Virgil Exner at Chrysler. In 1953, Boano sold Ghia to Segre, and started his own firm. Boano managed his firm, in conjunction with his son, Gian Paolo, until the end of 1957, when he transferred it to his son-in-law, Ezio Ellena, (husband of Gian Paolo’s sister) who took over with his old partner Luciano Pollo. Confusing? Yes, but probably no more so than most family held companies.
Then, in 1957, Boano was hired as the head of FIAT Centro Stile, which would be the Italian equivalent of Harley Earl running the “Art and Colour” section at GM. At FIAT, Boano created the FIAT 600 and the Simca 1000, among other things. While these things are always subject to interpretation, prominent historian Jan Norbye believes that Boano gets the credit for the VW Karmann-Ghia.
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Boano is also credited for the Alfa Giulietta Sprint (later manufactured by Bertone) and the Lancia Aurelia B20 (later manufactured by Pininfarina), as well at a famous Alfa 6C2500S convertible from 1949. Boano is certainly a famous name in Italian coachbuilding.
Now, for our feature car. The owner found the car in a barn in New Jersey, where it had slumbered for almost fifty years. The great grandfather of the seller brought it over from Italy and put only 43,000 kilometers on it before putting it away. It is believed that five of these coupes were constructed, of which three have this taillight configuration, which incidentally, was a major challenge in the restoration. The present owner had to perform a complete restoration, including all chrome, the interior, and a complete respray, matching as closely as possible the original grey and gold color. The current owner is relatively young, but he grew up in Milan, and speaks Italian, and when he first heard about the car he knew that he had to restore it, although of course the rule of thumb on these things is to take the original estimate and double the time and triple the costs.
The car received a very sympathetic and highly accurate restoration, and looks as it must have appeared when the Boano company delivered it to the first owner, 22 years ago. Perhaps most surprising are the details: the chrome trim around the front door and the rear window, which all had to be done by hand, and for only 5 examples. Of course today the cost of making a custom car (in this case, transforming a four door sedan into a two door coupe) would be prohibitive, and it must have been expensive even fifty years ago. The new owner, Guido Lanza, is to be congratulated on a highly accurate restoration, which would be difficult to do even in Italy, not to mention here in the US, where no parts for an Alfa 1900 are available at all.