Aesthetic Analysis: Cistalia 202GT

Aesthetic Analysis: Cistalia 202GT

This is the first part of a series we are planning that will provide an indepth analysis of specific designs from our proposed series of the Worlds Car Designers.


This article grew out of a synthesis deeply rooted in a critical analysis and appreciation of the achievements of Colin Chapman and Lotus. It was also inspired by:

  • A requirement to establish the relative hierarchy of Chapman through comparison
  • That fact that Chapman commissioned designers to cloth his cars. In particular the Esprit introduces us to specialist designers.
  • The Eight Automobiles Exhibition profiled the aesthetics of automobile engineering and design.

As a means of critical analysis we adopt a system of bench marking. This article essentially comprises an A_Z directory of the world’s car designers and their work. It also thought that assessment can be made through comparison with enjoyment and critical appreciation developed by the exercise.More about this in the next issue of the newsletter.

Aesthetic Analysis
The 1946 Cisitalia 202 GT.

The Cisitalia achieved certain immortality as result of its inclusion in the 1951 New York Museum of Modern Arts exhibition examining aesthetics and the form of the motorcar. Immediately prior to this it had been acknowledged as a masterpiece in Europe. Cisitalia is an acronym for Consorzo Industriale Sportivo Italia.
The Cisitalia was designed by Pininfarina.
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition was devoted to car design and contemporary culture. It was curated by Arthur Drexler. The exhibition is also known as by the abbreviated title of “Eight Automobiles or Eight Great Automobiles”.
Drexler’s selection was:

  • Willys Jeep
  • 1948 Cisitalia 202 GT
  • 1948 M.G.TC
  • 1941 Lincoln Continental
  • 1939 Talbot [ teardrop ] by Figoni and Flaschi
  • 1937 Cord 812 custom Beverley
  • 1930 Mercedes Benz SS
  • 1939 Bentley Saloon [ James Young]

The exhibits were presented as “rolling sculpture or self moving sculpture” A 28 page catalogue was written by Leo Lionni.
The exhibition in America was important for its aesthetic and manufacturing content. In many respects it ushered in post-war modernism allied to American mass production particularly relating to the motor car.
The selection of cars deferred to European taste .The Cisitalia was singled out for particular attention and was to remain on display many years.
The Cisitalia 202 was a technical and aesthetic achievement. It was accomplished and seminal. It was conceived as an aerodynamic package single shell comprised of an integral continuous flowing surface, devoid of sharp edges or extraneous detail. The homogeneity of concept imbued the design with a flowing unity and sense of speed. The cars basic proportions were 49”x58”x138” approximately.
It was Avant Garde and a continuum of the European aesthetic based on refined aerodynamic thought.

Drexler’s appreciation of the Cisitalia

“The Cisitalia body is slipped over the chassis like a dust jacket over a book……….The openings Farina cuts into the jacket provide some of the most skilful contrived details of automobile design………….. to maintain the sculptural unity of the entire shape. Its surfaces are never joined with sharp edges but instead are wrapped around not blunted.
The door is minimised .The back of the car particularly the fender is lifted at an angle rising from the strict horizontal baseline which gives stability to the design. Thus both ends of the car gain an extraordinary tension, as though the metal skin did not quite fit over the framework and had to be stretched into place,
These accounts in part for the quality of animation which makes the Cisitalia seem larger than it is.”

The Editors Aesthetic Evaluation and Appreciation

The beauty of the Cisitalia resides in its integration, harmony and homogeneity.
This is understated, intelligent possessing quite refinement. The design is modern, clean, contemporary, delicate but not effeminate
There is:

  • No brash bravado
  • No egotistical stylistic elaboration
  • No boasting, self aggrandisement or swank or gimmick
  • No elaboration, intoxication, decoration or titillation.
  • No pretention, exhibitionism or extravert flourish.

Everything about the Cisitalia is near perfect. It is the personification of dignity, integrity and appropriateness as expressed through size, capacity and performance. To which functions are articulated with precision allocating volumes to engine, cabin and boot.
Such beauty distils into pure liquid form, moulded and adapted by the medium through which it moves. It possesses the same natural grace and purpose as the dolphin and the greyhound. It’s a design by those who know with calculated intelligence, soul and intuition what’s right. They don’t guild the lily.
There is an absolute minimum of chrome and trim. When used it’s partly out of necessity, and a foil to the paintwork as in the windscreen surrounds, door handles, headlamp and radiator surrounds. Even the badging is unobtrusive and blended.
The design is executed with the language of taste, controlled discipline and applied intelligence.
Line and proportion are handled with deft restraint and understatement. The designer speaks with inner confidence, nobility and manners.
The design code of the Cisitalia reminds the editor of Georgian vernacular architecture. Not grandiose but the spirit and manners of high ideal translated into practical necessity without recourse to mere utility. As with Georgian architecture the Cistalia possesses the same hierarchy and wherever possible a delicacy and lightness. The final sculptural form exceeds the draft sketch proposals.
In fact the Cisitalia seems to exist within the same design code and ethic as the Lotus Elite.

The Elevations and Design Continuum.

The Cisitalia 202 was a continuum of the European design tradition and canon. In particular it was both an evolution and radical departure from the aerodynamic concepts of the 1930’s. What is significant in the editor’s mind is that the relatively small capacity car was imbued with grace and dignity consistent and appropriate to its performance .Previously high performance, rank, status and price had commanded attention.

  • Front elevation

The front elevation was compact and sparse. There was a minimum of detail emphasised by the absence of bumpers. The 202 had a relatively large and dominant oval grill with an aluminium bar grill. Trim with a minimum of chrome [window frame, door handles and headlamp surrounds] were an offset. The badge as the other detail was simple and elegant.
The 202 was distinguished by a split front windscreen.

  • Side Elevation

Although only a small capacity four cylinder engine the Cisitalia is conceived with a dignity and presence that communicates and articulates a sports car of refined proportion. In side elevation the Cisitalia is evidently well proportioned as evidenced by balanced front and rear overhangs which in turn have expressive radii. The respect ascent and decent and curve of wing lines are blended , balanced and counterpoised by the windscreen rake , side windows and roofline flowing contour into the rear wing and bodywork. This continuous sweeping line from the windscreen edge down to floor level with the small overhang profoundly dictates the profile and sculptural quality assisting endow he car with dignity and poise and subordinating function detail like the doors and windows within a unified framework.
The Cisitalia visually sits better on wire wheels the pressed type with trims. Some models had partial rear spats.

  • Rear Elevation

The rear elevation is treated with the same thoroughness as the overall design .In fact it almost represents the final perfect culmination. For the editor it represents a near perfect confluence of form and function [see also Ferrari 250 GT SW]
At the rear there is a minimum of functional / practical requirements and this has allowed the designers to blend, meld and unify the cabin into the rear wings but also incorporate the boot [for a spare wheel and petrol tank]
The rear window although narrow offers practical vision .The stop and indicator lamps are set low and symmetrical in the wing.
The boot opening or “locker” is just sufficient for a spare wheel .It has an offset handle and lock. Centrally located above is the number plate light and the iconic distinctive script /font of Cisitalia.
Once again the chrome trim is of the merest functional necessity and contributes to defining sculptural shapes and forms through contrast.
The rear end treatment of the Cisitalia is a triumphant minimalist eulogy and epitome of functional good taste.

  • Plan View.

Although entirely simple, the plan view is graphic and articulates form and function. It achieves this by delineating functions .These are easily identified by the respective allocated areas and volumes. The hierarchical canon descends from engine to cabin to boot with decreasing space allocation.
The plan also identifies the sports car through the respective length to width proportion reinforced by the relative set back of the cabin. This is communicated to us in part by the distinctive split front windscreen.
Although not visually evident the trained observer will extrapolate the axle and respective track and wheelbase.
The plan view of the Cisitalia reinforces its design motif and philosophy of an aerodynamic shell. There are no components external to the wrapped body.
The Cisitalia in plan is a cameo.

The Badge.
The badge / insignia of the Cisitalia were a heraldic shield with a blue background onto which was a prominent gold coloured rearing ibex.
The name Cisitalia was written in a distinctive script / front style cast in chrome and mounted on the front and rear in some examples.
Cisitalia by N.Balestra & C .De Agostini

Copyright 1997 photo Museum of Modern Art New York


Cisitalias are one of those odd exceptions to the “top goes down, price goes up” rule, and in this case the coupe is actually the preferred model