Italy is known for exquisite food, timeless fashion, breath-taking landscapes and its passionate people.
However, it is also known for cars… fast, gorgeous, head-turning cars… more specifically red ones. Italy has a tradition of building some of the most sought-after sports and luxury cars in motoring history. Despite falling short of the engineering quality of the German makes, or the affordability of the French market, the Italians have led the way in styling, character and enjoyability.
The story of the Italian motor industry, much like the country’s own rich history, plays out like a Giuseppe Verdi opera; dramatic, perilous, exciting, captivating and tailored more for the wealthy. While financial meltdowns and erratic business ideas have plagued the Italian automotive industry, the nation is now one of the most prominent vehicle manufacturers in the world.
Let’s look at the best of the bunch with our Top 5 Italian Car Brands:
Of course, the biggest Italian car brand is Fiat. Not only is it the oldest on our list and boasts the highest sales rate – 1.52 million units sold worldwide in 2017 – but, it has also, at some point, owned 3 of the other entries on our list.
Fiat was founded in Turin by a group of Italian industrialists, led by Giovanni Agnelli, in 1899. Until the 1980s, Fiat was the largest car manufacturer in Europe and the third largest in the world. They have since grown into the biggest industrial organisation in Italy and have incorporated many other well-known car brands into their corporate partnership with Chrysler, forming the Fiat Chrysler Group.
Fiat is famous for producing stylish and affordable everyday cars – in the Punto and Panda series, but they have also produced some well-received sports car roadsters and have had a long involvement in rally racing.
The redesign and relaunch of the iconic Fiat 500 has dominated the younger driver and city driving markets, offering a very stylish driving experience. Fiat has deservedly taken the title of the Top Italian Car Brand.
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2. Alfa Romeo
The saying goes that you are not a true ‘petrol-head’ unless you have driven an Alfa Romeo. The car manufacturer was founded in 1910, by Alexandre Darracq of France. The original company, named just ALFA, began in Milan and was renamed to Alfa Romeo in 1915 after Nicola Romeo became the majority owner of the company.
The Italian car brand’s bizarre emblem merges 2 heraldic symbols of its home city. The logo comprises of the St. Ambrose Cross flag of Milan, which predates the English St. George’s Cross, and the “biscione”: the depiction of a giant crowned serpent devouring a human – yep, that’s not its tongue or fire, it’s a screaming person!
Alfa Romeo has become synonymous with motor racing, boasting the most race victories of any car brand in the world. Early superstitions also lead to the incorporation of the “quadrifoglio” name and image to all of its racing cars; the name has now been adopted for Alfa Romeo’s top spec level high-performance variants of its vehicles.
Currently part of the Fiat Chrysler Group, Alfa Romeo saw global sales figures of 115,000 units in 2017.
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Founded in 1914 by the Maserati brothers. The eldest brother, Carlo, developed a combustion engine for motorised bicycles, which he then began to race. Carlo died of tuberculosis in 1910, aged 29. Four of his younger brothers, Bindo, Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto, went on to found the Maserati car brand in Bologna, in 1914.
Mario Maserati, a middle brother and only one to not follow Carlo into the motoring industry, used his skills as an artist and painter to design the company’s iconic trident logo; taking inspiration from the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna.
Maserati has been associated with motorsport since its inception, with Alfieri being a prominent member of the racing driver community of the time.
Now owned by the Fiat Chrysler Group, Maserati focuses on luxury cars – from executive saloons and grand tourers to the companies first SUV, the Levante. In 2017, they enjoyed reasonable sales figures of 45,000 units globally.
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The true embodiment of the Italian sports car, and the nickname of “Italian Stallion”, Ferrari was formed in 1939 by Enzo Ferrari as Scuderia Ferrari; the racing team which succeeded the financially troubled Alfa Romeo racing team of the time.
Enzo used his new sports car brand to build fast, elegant and stylish road cars to finance his motorsport endeavours. Even becoming synonymous with the race red colour, which Italian race cars had to be painted in motorsport’s early years. Thus far, Ferrari is the only Formula One team to race in every year of the championship, since its inception in 1950, and has won the most constructor’s and driver’s championships in the division’s history.
The luxury sports and race car brand sold 8,398 units worldwide in 2017. Despite the relatively low manufacturing levels, this has only provided Ferrari with desirable exclusivity in its cars. Some of the most stylish, fast and near-mythical sports cars, supercars and hypercars have been painted red and adorned with the famous Prancing Horse emblem. Recently, a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO - one of only 36 made - became the most expensive car in history, selling in a private transaction for $70 million.
The youngest manufacturer on our list; the legacy of Lamborghini begins in 1963 with its founder and namesake, Ferruccio Lamborghini, in an effort to rival the sports cars of Ferrari.
The manufacturer has been owned by the Volkswagen Group since 1998, being placed under the group’s Audi division. In 2017, the brand sold 3,815 units globally.
Lamborghini has become known for its long-standing relationship with the world of bullfighting, following a visit by Ferruccio to the fighting bull ranch of Don Eduardo Miura, in Seville, Spain. They have taken the fighting bull as its emblem and named almost all of its models on famous fighting bulls, bullfighting breeds or famous families within the industry.
Lamborghini has practically invented the concept of the ‘Hypercar’, and exclusively produces these types of vehicles. Although, their upcoming high-performance SUV, the Urus, seeks to rattle the cage.