Every racing fan has dreamed about designing and building a car at least once in their life. And some have actually done it. This is the story of Leonardo and Vittorio Frigerio, and their dream come true.
There are various ways of approaching the classic car world. Some fall in love with classic cars because they want to relive the thrills of their childhood, they buy the car their parents once had to relive the noises, smells and vibrations. They are trying to go back to their youth. Or they remember when, as a child, they went to the races with their dad, to meet the drivers (it was easier back then), to see for themselves the incredible cars they had read about in the magazines in black and white.
This is what happened with Leonardo and Vittorio Frigerio. First of all, they raced each other for fun on a few circuits, tracks that weren’t like today's “playgrounds”, but those that helped to write the history of car racing. And, like any Milanese worth his salt, most of the time they raced in old Alfa Romeos. So, historic cars on historic circuits, where they got to know every bend and every straight watching the races on TV or, if they were lucky, directly from the stands.
But from here came a new spark. One of those crazy moments that makes the difference between any old racing fan and those who have the courage (and the means) for dreaming big, when messing about on the track is no longer enough. Because we all dream, but there are a few lucky and crazy ones who make their dreams come true.
Leonardo and Vittorio Frigerio imagined the car of their dreams, and then they built it. And so the Effeffe brand (which stands for Fratelli Frigerio) was born. And so was the Berlinetta.
Berlinetta is a name of the past, a name that conjures up a very specific type of car: a high-performing sports car with closed bodywork, a 2-seater (or 2+2 at most). The name Berlinetta embodies all the philosophy of the first car made by Effeffe. A car built today in exactly the same way as craftsmen moulded the famous GTs in the late 1950s: the mechanics borrowed from the series and redesigned to suit new needs, a hand-made chassis and bodywork. All starting from a blank sheet. An original car with a strong personality, in form and in deed, which is the best possible homage to the skill of these craftsmen. A generation we have perhaps forgotten, that offered the Italian car tradition - and the history of motoring generally - plenty in terms of uniqueness, charm and design. A product built and finished by hand, like in the past, with a tubular chassis, hand-beaten aluminium bodywork and wire wheels, seeking to guess and please the taste of the owner, expressing a timeless character.
The Berlinetta prototype was born in 2014, little more than a scale model. Made and finished, but not running: the mechanics are approximate, and it has never really been fine-tuned. But it is beautiful. An authentic time-machine. It seems as if it has just been found in a hay barn and dusted down. In addition, being practically a style model, its lines are pure and smooth, not “dirtied” by license plates or indicators. So beautiful, in fact, that, almost as a game, the Frigerio brothers sent a few photos to the people in charge of the Concorso di Eleganza di Villa d’Este. And, a surprise, they sent an invitation to present the Berlinetta in the Concept Cars category. A dream within a dream, the self-built car made its début and the world’s most prestigious and glamorous elegance competition.
Along with the interest and pleasure shown immediately by the public and the media, this would have gone to anyone’s head. But as we know, the Frigerio brothers aren’t the sort of people who sit on their laurels, and they decided the play another chip. They realised that their idea could become something more than just an adventure, and decided to exploit their years of relationships, acquaintances, friendships and skill to set up a workshop to produce the Berlinetta in small series. An exclusive, tailored and fully customisable product. Built as in the past by a handful of old craftsmen wanting to get back in the game, but with the help of the best technologies available today.
The Frigerio brothers got the team together: an engine designer, a chassis specialist, a panel beater, a tester and a master fitter. In addition to the skills required to build a car from scratch, the only other requirement was the ability to work “old style”.
The lines of the Berlinetta need no explanation. They are a well-balanced mix of classic, late-50s stylistic elements, from the muscular bumpers to the oval grille, a hint of rear fins and the double bubble roof. The definition of the lines of the car talks of an approach that is about as poetically anachronistic as you can get. The Frigerio brothers started by placing the mechanics and seats on the floor, tracing the basic outline around them with chalk, then gradually building the chassis, welding, cutting and welding again. Following the curves of the tubular metal frame, they then moved onto the bodywork, beaten entirely by hand in aluminium according to the artisanal sensitivity of Vittorio, who has a good hand, assisted by a few panel beaters with forty years’ experience. And from there, the project moved on in a kind of reverse engineering, working backwards by making 3D scans of the shapes to produce the drawings and designs.
Style and proportions have that instantly recognisable Italian flair, as does the passenger compartment, entirely leather-lined with a dashboard painted in the same colour as the car, and the Alfa Romeo-derived mechanics.
The engines are 4-cylinder “Bisciones” from the 1970s, developed by two authentic racing specialists of the time: Carlo and Giuliano Facetti.
Who, working according to the Fia Gr2 specifications of the 1971 European Touring challenge, they were able to achieve around 200 HP at 6800 rpm, with maximum torque of around 30 Kg/m at 4400 rpm, on the road with no technological support. But why the ‘71 European? We asked Leonardo Frigerio in person: “1971 marked the turning point of the famous “Appendix J”. We chose it to add historical relevance to our mechanics, focused on the classic Alfa Romeo “twin-shaft”, the noble line of engines born with the “Giulia” and reaching the 8-valve “Twin Spark” of the Eighties. Engines with exceptional power and torque, but at the same time extremely smooth. We developed the mechanics around this, mounting 45 mm Weber DC0E2 carburettors. And as far as the transmission is concerned, we find a racing clutch, 45% self-locking differential-gear and two different set-ups: for a sportier use, we recommend a close-ratio gearbox coupled to a rear-axle ratio of 8:41, while for tourism use, a standard gearbox with a rear-axle ratio of 9:43 is better. Obviously, other combinations are available according to the client’s needs. And we should remember, the Berlinetta is a car built to order, right down to the last bolt.”
The car is fitted with push-rod suspension systems inspired by the 1970s single-seaters, guaranteeing the stability and composure of the Alfa Romeos it inherited its mechanics from. “On the road it is extremely easy and balanced,” Leonardo continues, “with a quick response that we are no longer used to today. We chose an engine with just four cylinders, to lighten the weight at the front and give the car a shorter bonnet. This makes it much easier and more precise on the bends. And even in tough driving conditions, the car is direct and sincere. With its low weight and consequently low inertia, low centre of gravity and rear engine, deceleration is precise and effective, without any yawing or awkward reactions, despite the lack of a vacuum servo. The high shoulder tyres do the rest, forgiving small errors and warning well in advance of any risks on the bends. Finally, the abundant horsepower, combined with a car body well below a tonne (in fact, around 790 kg), offers some enthusiastic dynamic results.”
So, the Berlinetta blends that visceral feeling of vintage cars with the pleasure and precision of driving a modern car.
It is a lucky and harmonious combination of mechanics of the past with the technologies and tolerances of today. And on the road, the driving experience blends the best of these two worlds, exalting the skills of the driver.
If there is one detail that best sums up the maniacal care that goes into the cars produced by Effeffe, it is probably the dashboard clock. To create this, the Frigerio brothers borrowed their idea from the biplane instruments of the early 1900s. They found a small craftsman in Brescia who designed and built it for them from scratch, lathing it from solid metal. The mechanism has a high-precision Swiss movement with manual winding every eight days. The rubies were replaced by authentic bushings, to ensure that the clock has the same anti-shock movements the vintage aeronautic instruments had. Finally, with a series of specially designed gears, the winding pin was replaced by a special rotating ring nut, to allow the clock to be wound without removing it from the dashboard. This detail explains what goes into an Effeffe better than any brochure.
Today the production capacity is 6/7 Berlinettas a year, with a delivery time of 10/12 months depending on the level of customisation, which is practically total.
The car is registered as a single model, and sold with German registration documents and license plates. The price is “confidential”: of course, it’s high, but as we all know, dreams never come cheap. And in a niche market, today the Berlinetta is in any case known in the four corners of the globe. Its own merchandising also includes a precious 1:43 scale model made by ZetaKit, a company that shares the Effeffe philosophy, and is almost as exclusive as the car itself.
The cars produced so far can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and a unique soft-top version is on its way. It will be ready in 2022 and, rightly so, will be called the “Barchetta”. A model that takes the Berlinetta concepts to the extreme, with a 70 mm longer wheelbase to cope with greater power and guarantee more stability. The mechanical characteristics planned include turbocharged 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder V engines, with power output of around 250/300 HP, again strictly based on the Alfa Romeo. The front end will have a lighter and higher performing push-rod suspension layout and, compared to the Berlinetta, the rear suspensions will also be independent with totally adjustable geometry. The clutch and gearbox are at the rear, with a drive shaft measuring less than a metre. Another treat is the lowered petrol tank: just 10 cm high, it will in any case hold almost 50 litres of petrol and, with a specially designed chassis, will be located beneath the passenger compartment to lower the centre of gravity as much as possible. The total unladen mass will be less than 700 kg.
The Barchetta will be ready for the first road tests at the end of the year, and will be presented in late summer 2022. As we say goodbye to Leonardo Frigerio, we promise that we will be one of the first to see it and test it on the road. And then? “The last part of the trilogy...,” Leonardo adds. “Using the Barchetta chassis and mechanics, we will be paying homage to the other great Italian car of the Sixties: the Gran Turismo. I can’t tell you much right now, the project is still being defined, but it will be inspired by the Alfa Romeos and Ferraris of the mid-Sixties.”
So, a round tail and headlight covers? “Maybe,” Leonardo admits, with a knowing smile.