Start with one of the pre-eminent names in Italian coachbuilding. Add in the elegant form of a landaulet. What could possibly go wrong? Story by Chris Rees.
OBSCURATI CURIOSITIES FROM THE AMAZING WORLD OF ITALIAN CARS
Castagna Imperial Landaulet
Castagna means ‘chestnut’ in Italian, and the Castagna Imperial Landaulet you see before you may well have been one of the biggest nut-jobs in Italian car building history.
You have to go back a long way in time to reach Castagna’s glory years. Carrozzeria Castagna at one stage claimed itself to be the biggest coachbuilder in Italy, with staff totalling 400 people in the pre-war years, when Castagna’s work included trimming the coaches of the Orient Express and building one-off bodywork on superior chassis such as Daimler, Alfa and Lancia.
By 1954 Castagna had closed its doors. But 41 years later, architect Gioacchino Acampora thought the Castagna name had enough cachet to be revived. His first effort was a controversial rebodied Alfa SZ shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1995 (featured previously in Auto Italia), but Castagna returned to Geneva in 2006 with this… well, I think the word ‘monstrosity’ isn’t overplaying it.
Supposedly inspired by Castagna-bodied Isotta Fraschinis of the 1930s, the so-called Imperial Landaulet was in fact a 21st century abomination of the most extreme order. Castagna described it as having “an elegant sporty appeal” but quite what the sport that inspired it was, or where the appeal lay, remained unanswered questions.
This was an absolutely gigantic machine at almost six metres long. In style, its retro-inspired bodywork was a cross between a coupe and an SUV. Its four doors opened in a ‘claphands’ way, a la Rolls-Royce Phantom, with no Bpillar to get in the way.
A running board would appear automatically when the doors opened – and it was needed as the ground clearance was pretty lofty. Design features of dubious taste included a Bentleyesque front grille, height-adjustable dual xenon headlights, striking LED rear lights and carbon-fibre bumpers (the rear one an F1-inspired diffuser).
In the Imperial Landaulet form of classical times, the rear portion of the glassed roof was designed to slide backwards, leaving the back seats open to the elements, and this was echoed in Castagna’s modern iteration, although it felt more like a glorified sunroof. To get into the boot, the whole rear end opened up hydraulically (a bit like cargo plane), with additional storage space offered behind the engine, fore of the passenger cell.
What about the mechanical basis? Although the company was coy to admit it, underneath it all lay a modified Porsche Cayenne. That meant four-wheel drive, adjustable ground clearance and a tuned version of Porsche’s 4.5-litre V8 engine with two superchargers, pumping out more than 800bhp. Acampora said the car was a ‘work in progress’ at its 2006 launch, and was indeed unfinished at the time.
However, Acampora did announce that he was contemplating a production run, and also threatened to build – although I believe never did actually build – a Porsche Cayenne with a 500mm extended wheelbase.
OK, I’ve poked a bit of fun at the Imperial Landaulet, but I should credit it with this at least: it anticipated the current furore of luxury SUVs from the likes of Bentley, Jaguar and Maserati. Not, I suspect, that any of these has great prospects to be very much more tasteful.