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Castagna

Founded by Carlo Castagna in 1849.
Filed under:  Companies
 
Comment(s): 0
 
 

This story begins in the Milan of bygone days, where Leonardo's canals were flowing, when Italy was not yet united and when this city was more European than Lombard.

In the San Celso district, around 1830, Carlo Castagna is an apprentice worker in one of Milan's most famous "workshops", where, for more than a century, elegant and sumptuous carriages have been produced, mainly for the aristocracy and the European royal families: the Ferrari, previously Mainetti & Orseniga.


castagna logo2

Thanks to his daily effort at his work, Carlo is able to gain the respect of his colleagues and his employer, until, in 1849, he is able to take over Mr. Ferrari's business when the latter expresses his intention to retire.

Carlo builds elegant, majestic carriages, finished with fanatical attention to detail, secretly believing that luxury must be built slowly and with passion: in detail.

With the support of some of the greatest names of the Milan aristocracy, both customers and financiers (the Viscontis, the Brivios, the De Capitani d'Arsagos, the Bagatti Valsecchis and the Prinettis) he becomes a well-known businessman. Famous personalities order promenade carriages, the precursors of today's sports cars: Alessandro Manzoni and Enrichetta Blondel use one of such carriages, made of lemon-wood with red threading, for their romantic outings on the shores of Lake Como.

Towards the end of the 1800s, the first motorised carriages driven by combustion engines are produced, on commission, for Ottolini and Ricordi, importers of Benz quadricycles for Italy "workshop" in via della Chiusa.

From horses to the engine.
The steam carriage fashion is an immediate success and spreads quickly, thanks to orders from the most prestigious families of the era. The motorcar becomes the unquestionable symbol of the industrial age that characterised the end of the 19th Century.

In 1905, Castagna creates the legendary "Sparviero" for Queen Margherita of Savoy, on a Fiat 24HP chassis: a magnificent, highly accessorised, white double phaeton in which the Queen personally competes in one of the most important races of the time: the Susa-Moncenisio.

Castagna, with his own motorised creations, is present at one of the most important international trade fairs, and the old facility situated in via della Chiusa is totally refurbished in line with the new production requirements.

Ercole and cars. The difference is in the detail.
Ercole comes from a theatrical family. In 1915, following the untimely death of his father, he is called upon to show off all that his father had taught him and that he had learned: for the previous ten years he has been technical manager at the factory.

That which seemed to have been born only as a fashion fad, becomes a habit for some. Orders for motorcars become ever more numerous and the premises in via della Chiusa are now inadequate.

Ercole decides to move the business to new premises, which he has specially built, with a layout that facilitates all the production processes and can accommodate the workforce required to satisfy the increasing demand from all over the world.

"Carrozzeria Castagna & C." makes the best chassis, above all those exceptional ones, such as the Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz, Hispano Suiza, Daimler, Lancia, Duesenberg and Alfa Romeo, transforming them into the epitome of comfort.

The entire world recognises the Milan coachbuilder's style and that of his "dream factory". The models displayed for the first time in the halls of the Hotel Commodore in New York became famous, namely the "Prince of Wales" sedan, based on an Isotta Fraschini chassis and purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and the "Commodore" roadster, based on an Isotta Fraschini and Mercedes Benz chassis.

Comm. Castagna is always present in the factory: he is the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Convinced that the difference lies in the detail, the quality of assembly and the finish, every vehicle produced is meticulously inspected by him before being shipped or delivered to the customer.

(source: Castagna).


castagna factory

The dream factory.
The historic premises in via della Chiusa are now nothing but a distant memory. The number of orders for motorcars is such that, some years before, the whole business was moved to via Montevideo, number 19. The premises occupy the entire block and cover an area of 32,000m2, of which 20,000 are under cover and there are about 400 employees: it is the largest coachbuilding firm in Italy.

Here, each year, more than 100 motorcars take shape, components for the burgeoning automobile and aeronautical industries are produced and work is carried out for third parties. The galvanic chroming division, the first in Italy, in addition to chroming parts for the vehicles, also does work for outside companies in the fields of componentry, small metal parts and furnishings. Here too, all the finishes that combine to form the internal furnishing fitted in the Wagon-Lits company's railway carriages are produced, even those for the legendary Orient Express.

In the afternoons, well-dressed people can regularly be seen walking through the divisions. They are the customers that, accompanied by the managers, are checking the lines of their vehicle, selected months earlier from pictures, are looking at materials and colour samples in order to make their final choice of finish. It seems as if some of these have developed the habit of having an aperitif with friends at Castagna, so as to share the joys and difficulties of making their choices.

A renowned journalist of the time, struck by the level of creativity achieved by the system, defines this place as "the dream factory".

emilio castagna

Style and precision of the right proportions.
Like his older brother, Emilio Castagna too has always worked within the company. He is the family artist and has, since his childhood, designed and built motorcars. While working, he attends the Brera academy, where he obtains a diploma in the visual arts. He has a real passion for fast vehicles and, in addition to loving motorcars, he also adores motorcycles, so much so that he becomes a patron, to the point of organising the first motorcycle gatherings in Milan.

Attention to the construction and specific training in the field of painting and sculpture make him a designer able to perfectly control the complex design of the motorcar: he is very cultured and gets inspiration for his creations from the precision and the proportions of the classical world.

A passion for the moving object that cuts through the air gives the lines created by his hand a total absence of stiffness and an unequalled level of definition: the shape of his motorcars is sinuous and smooth, neat but never flat. Absolute innovation.

Between 1929 and 1933, the most beautiful cars ever made are produced. Amongst Emilio's strengths is his search for the best patent solutions and for collaboration with the most renowned exponents of the time, such as that with French designer Jean Patou in the selection of textiles and colours, and that with German aerodynamic engineer Bergmann, which leads to the creation of numerous aerodynamic car bodies; a reminder of the first aerodynamic people-carrier vehicle in history, built for Count Ricotti in 1913, based on an Alfa Romeo 40/60 HP chassis.

sons

A moment of calm.
With the collapse of the American market, and the consequent closure of Isotta Fraschini Automobili, Castagna loses his best market, as well as the chassis that he most likes to make. It is the first sign that times are changing, and with them, the type of person and customers' interest in a certain type of motorcar.

In the pre-war years, Castagna builds official vehicles for Pope Pious XI, for the Savoy family and members of the establishment of the time, based on Fiat 2800 and Lancia Astura chassis.

The concept of custom-built vehicles is applied to cheaper chassis and mechanics, producing vehicles with an unaltered appeal, no longer only as official vehicles, but also for recreational purposes.

Ercole's three sons also take part in these changes, having just come into the company after attending the prestigious Swiss college of Neuchatel. Each has a different task, based on his specific aptitude: Carlo takes care of the sales aspects and will later be appointed as manager of the business, while Cipriano and Savinio respectively deal with production and administration.

Unfortunately the motoring Milan is no longer what it used to be. Of all the motor manufacturers that made Italian motoring history, only Alfa Romeo and Bianchi still exist and there is an attempted revival of Isotta Fraschini.

Custom-built vehicle production is a symbol of a distant past, and a firm such as Castagna no longer has a reason for being. In 1954 the "dream factory", "...that gives elegance to speed", as defined by Gabriele D'Annunzio, and survivor of the bombings in 1942, does not survive the changing times.

Years later the film world takes the surviving specimens on loan: Billy Wilder chooses the magnificent Coupe de Ville based on the Isotta Fraschini chassis, a symbol of times past, as depicted in "Sunset Boulevard", while the bright ivory of the Torpedo Sport 8 A SS represents James Dean's restlessness in "Giant".

ad1

Castagna ad for 2006 The International Motor Show in Geneva.

castagna vittoria 95

Castagna Vittoria, Italy, 1995. (Alfa Romeo V6).

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LINKS
Castagna   Official site.
 
 
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