One of the more memorable parts of the classic Franco-Belgian comic Spirou & Fantasio is of course Spirou’s car – the sleek and elegant Turbot, which was penned by writer and artist André Franquin. I can’t be sure what inspired him, but it could perhaps have been a fifties curiosity from Italian Lancia.
At the annual car show in Torino during the spring of 1952, Pinin Farina debuted a new concept car based on a Lancia B52 Aurelia chassis. The B52 chassis was rather special seeing as only a mere 98 examples were constructed, and every one of them was delivered to various carrozzeria to be clothed with special and unique bodies. Pinin Farina’s new Aurelia was heavily influenced by the periods fascination of the jet aircraft – an era which especially in the USA was dubbed The Jet Age. On the car, this was emphasised by a protruding circular nosecone with a large chromed edge to it, which somewhat mimicked the air intake from the F-86 Saber jet aircraft. This was followed by a raked windscreen, pontoon front wings, and long flowing lines leading to the rear where six exhausts exit just above the rear bumper.
This slightly bizarre open Lancia was called the PF200 and was the first in a short series of similar cars which Pinin Farina created during the following four years. Every one of them featured the open, round nosecone and the same overall proportions as the PF200 from the Torino Motorshow. By the time the last one had been presented, the full series included three open cars and four coupés.
As such, each PF200 varied slightly from the other making each car unique. One was given a more elliptical nosecone. Some had more conventional exhaust pipes, while others continued the first cars design where they exited above the rear bumper. Even the open cars varied in for instance how the retractable hood was constructed.
The futuristic design of the various PF200s created quite a stir at the time, and even lead to two similar cars being built but this time based on an American chassis. Famous jazz impresario, Norman Granz, saw the PF200 Spider in Torino in 1952 and ordered a similarly styled body to be mounted on a 1954 Cadillac 62 chassis, while Pinin Farina evolved their design one step further with the Palm Beach Special from 1956 which was built on a Nash Rambler chassis.
Sadly, a fire at the Pinifarina factory destroyed large amounts of their documentation from that era including the individual sketches and details of the PF200s. As such, information about these Jet Age Pininfarina designs is scarce to say the least. However, it’s presumed that only eight cars were built (including the Cadillac-based PF200) and that only half of them still exist today.
Ordinarily, Lancia were fairly constrained when it came to their designs. Yes, they were visionary, but never flamboyant, ornate or exuberant. It’s probably fair to say that the PF200 was the exception. It was a design which clearly promised more than it could deliver, but it was still both beautiful and captivating. Even today – so many decades later – designs from the fifties continue to appetise and constantly remind us that many things have certainly become a lot duller today.