Friday 2nd May 1913
Born on this day, Pietro Frua, one of the leading Italian coachbuilders and car designers during the 1950s and 1960s. His creations included the Volvo P1800, Maserati Mistral and AC Frua.
Frua’s professional career began at the age of 17, when he joined Stabilimenti Farina as a draftsman. At the age of 22, he became Director of Styling at the Stabilimenti Farina, already a leading Turin coachbuilder employing several hundred people. Some credit him with having influenced early designs of the iconic Vespa while at Farina. That was where Frua had his first contact with Giovanni Michelotti, who became his successor as Head of Styling after he started his own studio in 1938.During World War II car-styling work was scarce and Frua had to turn to designing children’s cars, electric ovens and kitchen units, as well as a monocoque motorscooter. Frua planned for post-war times: in 1944 he bought a bombed-out factory, hired 15 workers (including Sergio Coggiola, who founded his own carrozzeria in 1966) and equipped himself to design and build cars.
His first known car is a 1946 Fiat 1100C spyder. Maserati was one of the first clients who contracted Frua for the styling of their new 2-litre, 6-cylinder sports car, the A6G. From 1950 to 1957, Frua built 19 Spyders and seven coupés in three different design series – including some on the A6 GCS racing chassis.In 1957, Frua sold his small coachbuilding company to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, and Ghia director Luigi Segre appointed him head of Ghia Design. In this short period, Frua was responsible for the successful Renault Floride, which experienced well-deserved commercial success (about 117,000 were sold in ten years). This success led to a disagreement between Segre and Frua over the car’s “paternity”, and Frua left Ghia to start his own design studio again.
At the same time, Pelle Petterson designed his Volvo P1800 under the attentive eye of Frua and, not surprisingly, it is often attributed to Frua’s pen. From 1957 to 1959, Frua also designed several cars for Ghia-Aigle, the former Swiss subsidiary of Ghia Turin, already independent at that time. Giovanni Michelotti was his predecessor in this position.
After Ghia-Aigle finished coachbuilding, a former employee, Adriano Guglielmetti, started his own business and founded Carrosserie Italsuisse in Geneva. Again Pietro Frua did the drawings and, most probably, built all the prototypes for this company. After a Corvair-like styled pontoon-Beetle in 1960, Italsuisse showed a Maserati 3500 GTI Coupé on the Italsuisse stand at the 1961 Motor Show in Geneva, together with two tasteful bodies on Studebaker chassis. In 1964 a lovely little Spyder followed with Opel Kadett mechanics.
During the 1960s Pietro Frua was among the most prominent car designers in Italy. The “Frua line” was synonymous with the good taste of a single man. He followed each car’s realization to the last detail of fully functional one-offs and prototypes, often driving them to their presentation at the motor shows in Europe.