Giorgetto Giugiaro, Nuccio Bertone, Pinin Farina, Ugo Zagato and Marcello Gandini are all household names to petrolheads, but one name escapes many of us despite its significance in the world of Italian automobile design.
Pietro Frua wasn’t just handy with a sketch pad — born in 1913, the talented Italian founded a coachbuilding workshop in his early thirties, setting up in a war-torn factory with a handful of aides. Throughout his career his contemporaries would be responsible for many more high-volume, high-exposure products, whereas Frua always seemed relegated to one-offs or just plain highly limited edition cars.
This makes his distinctive creations all the more rare and desirable today, if perhaps not as appreciated as the works of Pininfarina or Zagato. But what makes Frua stand out is that regardless of whether his coachbuilder’s badge was on the flanks of a Fiat, AC, Dodge, Jaguar or Maserati, you could always immediately tell it was the flow of Frua’s hand that penned the design.
They called it the ‘Frua line’, Pietro’s very own singular styling slant and taste resplendent in every one of his cars. What made the design house more than just a studio was the fact that Frua also featured prominently in every model’s production, right up until the designs dried up in the Seventies. Perhaps the ‘Frua line’ just wasn’t meant to be in the ‘wedge’ era of car design.
But before he stopped putting pencil to paper the Turin-born designer influenced much more than just low-volume sportscars. How many of us knew that BMW’s unmistakable front expression evolved from Frua’s Glas fascias?
At the time Germany’s smallest carmaker, but owned by BMW, Glas called on Frua to sort out an entire range of models that ended up resembling sleek period Maseratis, but Pietro also presented concept ideas to BMW itself, which eventually inspired the Bavarian brand’s distinctive and aggressive front end.
In addition to a dozen manufacturers he styled cars for, he also played a large part in the Volvo P1800, numerous Maseratis, Fiats, Renaults, Citroëns, the elusive Swiss Monteverdi Hai 450, and even created unique masterpieces for collectors and royalty.