Part 14: The Unknown Coachbuilder – Carrozzeria Boano
By David Cavaliere
Felice Mario Boano is one of history's least known and perhaps most under-appreciated coachbuilders. His work is mostly remembered for the Ferrari's that bore his name, but today, many of his other contributions are forgotten. During the 1930s, Boano created many of the great designs of Viotti, Bertone, Ghia, Farina and Castagna. Those marques affixed their names to his work, while Boano continued to work in the shadows.
Born in Turin in 1903, Felice Mario Boano attended the Technical School San Carlo. He gained his first work experience following World War I with Stabilimenti Industriali Farina, the company began by Giovanni Farina. The company was using advanced techniques for the day and he gained valuable knowledge for turning designs into fabrication. In 1930, Boano joined Battista Farina (Giovanni’s younger brother), who had started Pininfarina. Here Boano worked as chief designer. He also forged a strong bond with Giacinto Ghia during the 1930s.
Carrozzeria Ghia SpA was established in Turin in 1916 and became one of the most famous Italian automobile design and coachbuilding firms. Decimated by the war, Ghia was heartbroken at the destruction that had befallen his factory during the war. In 1944, while was on his deathbed, Giacinto instructed his wife to contact Felice Mario Boano to save his company. Boano stepped in and along with Giorgio Alberti, purchased the company.
The coach-building craft was in desperate shape in the years following World War II. Not just in Italy, but world-wide, many of the marque’s that had previously used coachbuilders for the creation of their car bodies and fitment had brought styling, design and body manufacture of the vehicles in-house. Part of the reason was the growing trend toward an integrated chassis/body design (monocoque or unibody), making the availability of suitable chassis for car body producers a dwindling market. This was an era that demanded that the larger coachbuilders form alliances with car makers, especially the ones that had the deepest pockets – the American automotive industry. Bertone forged a relationship with Packard, Touring with Hudson. Under Boano’s direction, Carrozzeria Ghia created a relationship with Chrysler. The cars produced under the Ghia name during this time are best remembered for their low-roofline designs. These cars included the Alfa Romeo 2500CC and 1900SS, Lancia Aurelia, Chrysler K200 and several examples of the Ferrari 166 Berlinetta.
In March 1954, after repeated disagreements with the company’s new temperamental designer Luigi Segre, Boano offered to sell him the company. He set a high price for its shares, but without even flinching, Segre agreed to pay the price. Shocked at the turn of events, Boano was forced to sell the company just the same, days after he had been awarded the contract to build the bodies of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint. Later that year, he founded Carrozzeria Boano in Turin with his son Gian Paolo, who had apprenticed for his father for years and now was a creative and talented designer in his own right. Included in his resume and one of his first series production vehicle designs was the Lancia Aurelia 2000 (designed while working at Ghia). His designs had Italian style but contained inevitable influences of American automobile.
Carrozzeria Boano became immediately successful. Boano’s work was still in high demand and he was soon asked by Pininfarina to create the designs for Ferrari's series production automobiles. This was a relationship that would prosper for many years. Felice Mario and his son, Gian Paolo Boano, were responsible for many of the striking bodies that were produced for the epic Ferrari 250 GT Series.
The company had very prestigious work during the mid-1950s. They created a one-off Alfa Romeo 1900 Super Sprint for Argentine President Peron and a hand-built luxury coupe (using a Chrysler drivetrain) for then Fiat president Giovanni Agnelli. Other memorable work of the Carrozzeria Boano Company included the Fiat-Abarth 207 series. He capitalized on the bespoke 1900 for the Argentinian president by forming a partnership with Alfa Romeo to produce the 1900 Super Sprint, of which 286 copies were produced between 1955 and 1957.
The work that Boano had done for Chrysler had brought him to the attention of The Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II had just recently taken control of the company from his father and was anxious to bring the company into a modern era. He supplied Boano with a Lincoln chassis and asked for a show car to be produced. Introduced at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, the Lincoln “Indianapolis” was a futuristic design – flamboyant and bold. The result was stunning - it was finished in bright orange with a black-and-white checkered interior. The “Indy” was sent to the United States and later, Henry Ford II gave the car to his friend Errol Flynn. The style and fantastic detail of the car led to Ford extending a contract to Boano.
The luxury coupe that Felice Mario had created with Agnelli led to Fiat’s formation of the Centro Stile department. Boano was selected as one of its leaders. Boano wound down production and sold the coachworks to his son-in-law Ezio Ellena. The new company's name became 'Carrozzeria Ellena' and the direction of this design center would be continued by his son Gian Paolo until 1988.
However, Felice Mario still had some more influential designs up his sleeves. Beginning in 1957, Felice Mario worked under Dante Giacosa for Fiat in their Turin styling department, creating the Fiat 600 city car of which 2.6 million were produced, the highest production number of any car that he designed. As far as the most expensive current values of his cars, the Lincoln Indianapolis was last sold in 2006 for $1,375,000. The Ferrari Boano low roof coupes average about $675,000. Not bad for a designer whose name is unknown to many.