There is a certain type of car buyer for whom the very best, most expensive thing in the showroom just isn’t enough. That’s why car makers from Jaguar to Ferrari, Bentley to McLaren are creating secretive engineering divisions to make the most exclusive of models you won’t find on any price list.
But there is another type of car buyer, a group that contains fewer people that you can count on your hands and feet, who might turn their noses up at even these creations – it’s only a Ferrari still – and want something even more exclusive, something lovingly hand-crafted, and something where money really is no object.
That’s where coachbuilding comes in, and this small corner of the automotive industry, which includes companies such as Bertone, Pininfarina and Touring Superleggera, is witnessing a rise in demand.
“More and more people are getting bored with mass production cars,” says Piero Mancardi, chief executive of Milanese coachbuilder Touring Superleggera, “so the wealthy are ready to do something different. We are almost unique in being able to respond to this.”
If your wallet is big enough, Touring Superleggera can build you a super high-end, bespoke luxury car with beautiful design, engineering and build quality. Its latest creation is called Disco Volante, a striking new supercar based on the Alfa Romeo 8C. Only eight will be made. The price? Sorry, you find that out strictly on application.
The 8C’s structural hardpoints remain intact inside and out, as does its 444bhp 4.7-litre V8 engine, but the body has been replaced with a Touring-designed one that mixes hand-beaten aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic panels.
The result is a car with all the bits you can’t see being properly engineered Alfa Romeo jobs, and everything you touch, feel, see and admire being the lovingly hand-crafted work of Touring Superleggera.
It’s a very special car indeed, as we’ll discover, but that’s not a surprise when you consider Touring’s history. Founded as a coachbuilder in 1926, the company carved its niche by patenting Superleggera body construction – small tubes to form the body shape with alloy panels attached to strengthen and sculpt – that was lightweight and flexible, creating some of the most evocative car designs in history.
Take the Aston Martin DB5. That most iconic of British cars has a Touring body that was licensed back to Newport Pagnell for manufacture. Look closely on the DB5’s bonnet – and the DB4 before it and the DB6 after – and you’ll see the Touring logo.
The first Lamborghini, the 350GT in 1963, was a Touring car, too. Enzo Ferrari commissioned Touring to design many of the early Ferrari road cars, such as the 166, 195 and 212 GTs. Many legendary Maseratis, Lancias, and most notably Alfa Romeos of the 1950s and 1960s also wear the Touring logo, as does the Jensen Interceptor.
Despite an untouchable back catalogue, Touring disbanded in 1966 following an industry shift away from outsourced low-volume coachbuilt products to mass-built models designed in-house. The famous name lay dormant until it was quietly reborn 40 years later.
Since then the firm has made small waves by turning the Maserati Quattrporte into a fastback called Bellagio and larger ones by making a Flying Star estate out of a Bentley Continental GT. Its comeback as a creator of the finest hand-crafted coachbuilt cars has been fully announced with the Disco Volante.