The Bertone Pirana: A Jaguar Like No Other

Images: Archivio centrale dello Stato/Stile Bertone, Branko Radovinovic

When maverick British publisher John Anstey of The Daily Telegraph Magazine sat down with his magazine colleagues, picture editor Alexander Low and art director Geoffrey Axbey, in March 1967, to draw up the specifications of The Telegraph Dream Car, a project they hoped would create enough hype as cover material to promote the fledgling weekly, the choice of England’s pride—the fast and powerful Jaguar E-Type—as the base for the dream coupe, was most logical.

Probably the first time a magazine decided to commission not just the cover shot but the subject of the cover pic

The E-Type had pace, grace, and dynamics to match the best from Italy. But the Jaguar’s sinewy form seemed to be aging as automotive design had just taken an extreme deflection in another direction as evinced by an amazing concept car that Anstey had just seen at Geneva, the Lamborghini Marzal.

This could have been one of the early concept renderings by design legend Marcello Gandini, exploring the possibility of translating the shape of the Marzal onto the base of the Jaguar E-Type

Anstey’s cover caper visualized a 2+2 sports car with Jaguar mechanicals, which would be “a fast and comfortable coupe with plenty of leg-, head-, and elbowroom and a modern heating and air-conditioning system of such advanced design and proven efficiency that we could cruise quietly at 100 mph or more—on Continental motorways, of course—with the windows closed.”

Although this wooden buck has been ascribed to that of the making of the Pirana's body, it is quite possible this was also used for making the first prototype of the Lamborghini Espada

Safety features and in-car entertainment system would be state-of-the-art, and the car would be clothed in a body inspired by the most advanced car on the planet then, the Marzal. What’s more, the fully running prototype needed to be ready in time for the ‘67 edition of London’s Earls Court Motor Show that October for The Daily Telegraph Magazine to carry a scoop cover!    

This angle makes it obvious that the wheelbase was too long for the Pirana

With a (then sizeable) £20,000 budget sanctioned by The Daily Telegraph, Anstey contacted Carrozzeria Bertone (the coachbuilder which had made and showcased the Marzal), and after a rapid exchange of just a few letters, the decision was taken to go ahead with the project.

Front three-quarter image of the Pirana

Jaguar agreed to supply the chassis of a 2+2 coupe version of the E-Type, which was shipped to Italy. By the time the chassis arrived, and work could begin on the project, barely five months were left.

Marcello Gandini, who was the design chief at Carrozzeria Bertone, was informed by owner Nuccio Bertone that Anstey had been very impressed by the Marzal and that design elements defined on the Marzal needed to be carried over.

Rear three-quarter view of the Pirana

At the same time, work was going on for the new front-engine Lamborghini four-seater coupe evolution of the Marzal, and some of the styling features that were being used for this project too found their way to The Daily Telegraph car.

On Anstey’s insistence, the car sported a chunkier set of rubbers and thus, the track of the car became wider than that of an E-Type. High-tech contributions from several high-profile suppliers saw the use of special windows from Sundym, the windshields featured in-built heating elements from Triplex, whilst the accessory division of Smiths Industries supplied the heating and air-conditioning system, as well as state-of-the-art AM/FM radio and Philips cassette player, which was still very rare then. Plus, audible warnings when speeding!

A picture of the front three-quarter view as provided in the Bertone press release

Although the beautifully finished and well-appointed interiors remained rather conventional in the use of the steering wheel from the E-Type, plus Connolly leather everywhere and Britax seat belts, the exterior was an obvious evolution of the Marzal: a flattish bonnet line followed through as the beltline until the B-pillar, whence it sharply curved up to meet the downward sloping roof line, which merged into the fastback rear window, ending with a sharply truncated Kamm tail.

As the rear visibility was limited by the shallow rear window (which also doubled up as a vertically opening hatch for access to the boot), the Pirana (as it was christened by Bertone) featured an additional louvered rear panel which was a sort of ‘viewing aperture’ to aid reversing and rear visibility. This feature would appear in future projects, as would several other details.

A side profile view, also part of the Bertone press release kit

The car, painted in a special silver metallic flake, was unveiled at Earls Court on the 18th of October 1967, where it was an instant hit, no doubt aided by being on the cover of The Daily Telegraph Magazine with the headlines declaring ‘We built the star of the motor show’!

The car next travelled to the Turin Motor Show few weeks later, but soon thereafter the Pirana was sold by The Daily Telegraph for $16,000 to recoup some of its investment.

A detailed cutaway provides a view of the technical aspects of the Pirana

The car was originally equipped with the standard four-speed manual transmission, but after being acquired by its first owner it was retrofitted with a three-speed automatic because the man's wife didn't enjoy driving the car in London traffic with a stick shift. This was an unfortunate change as it hobbled the cars performance.

In 1972, the car was acquired by enthusiast collector Joseph Mingolla who took the car back home to Massachusetts, USA, and he owned it until the mid-1980s, as confirmed to the author by his son Joseph J. Mingolla II.

The interiors retained most of the instrumentation of the E-Type

“Due to a bad business decision, my father's fortune was wiped out in the early 1980s and most of our extraordinary collection was seized by a bank and sold at an auction,” explained Mingolla Junior to this author. “The only car there that I really wanted to get back was the Pirana, hence I asked Andrew Hanna, a trust fund friend, to buy it and told him that I would buy it back from him later.”

After keeping the car for more than five years Andrew Hanna either sold or consigned it to a dealer in Palm Springs, California. According to Mingolla Junior, Hanna “had greatly neglected the car, leaving it in a hot garage which destroyed the interior. He also had an accident with it and in repairing it, painted it dark green.”

The Pirana leaving the Bertone facilities for the UK; all those who were associated in the making of the one-off car, with Nuccio Bertone himself at the top row centre, Marcello Gandini at the centre of the lower row

The Pirana surfaced in an eBay advertisement around 2010, when it didn’t sell. But soon after, Ed Superfon, co-founder of the VIP Toy Store in Los Angeles, aware of its uniqueness, bought the car and had it comprehensively restored.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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