We had Some Experts Weigh in on the Differences Between American Cars and Italian Cars
Updated October 27, 2017
What do Italian Cars have that American Automakers just don’t get?
Xtreme Xperience is a supercar driving experience that boasted one of the first Corvette C7 Stingrays available to the public. Yet its customers choose Lamborghinis and Ferraris over the Vette by almost three to one. This is just one example of how, even here in America (Xtreme Xperience stages events at 20 racetracks nationwide), Italian cars exude an exotic mystique which domestic marques struggle to match.
“In a nutshell, it comes down to rarity and exclusivity,” said Joe Moore, Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Xtreme Xperience. “Ferrari and Lamborghini have always had extremely limited production compared to American cars. Italian cars also have unique design profiles, so they will always stand out in a crowd.”
“The x-factor [of Italian supercars] that seems so elusive stems from the Italian lifestyle and culture,” said Dave Macholz, an Assistant Professor of Automotive Technology at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, New York, citing architecture, cuisine, and opera as examples. “The Italian supercars are embedded in culture. Trying to emulate that feeling without the context of the Italian culture is nearly impossible.”
Bruno Silikowski, designer and developer of private garage community AutoMotorPlex, views this cultural divide in a pan-European context.
“Wine vs. beer; sambuca vs. Wild Turkey; hamburger vs. prosciutto – the Europeans look at life as something to be savored; we look at their lifestyle as exotic,” he mulled. “American cars are generally heavy and go great in a straight line – Europeans tend to build a car that doesn’t slow in the curves.”
In fairness, comparing Italian and American supercars can be the classical “apples and oranges” dilemma, in large part because aspirational cars from Italy tend to cost a lot more than their U.S.-built counterparts. For example, whereas a 2015 Corvette Z06 starts at $78,995 (MSRP), a 2016 Ferrari 488GTB will set you back a cool quarter-mil and a ‘16 Lamborghini Huracán closer to an estimated $300k.
“American manufacturers make cars for American consumers who appreciate a good value,” said Moore. “Just look at the [American] Dodge Hellcat’s 707 HP at $81 per horsepower compared to a handmade [Italian] Pagani Huayra’s 720 HP at $2,000 per horsepower.”
But even “true” (i.e. super-expensive) American supercars like the discontinued Saleen S7 (which cost close to $400k) and the Lambo-like SSC Ultimate Aero (which ran $750k in its final, XT version) lack the innate, seemingly inevitable sexiness of their Italian rivals. There’s still something of a generic kit-car air about them – like something plonked over the chassis of an ’87 Fiero rather than a singular, seamless design statement. It’s like comparing Sophia Loren to Megan Fox: one a natural, curvaceous beauty; the other stunning in very different way – self-consciously made-up and with some (allegedly) off-the-shelf parts.
“These American supercars were produced in very limited numbers and are usually Frankensteined together with a chassis from one company, an engine from another, ECU from another and so on,” Moore explained. “This means that parts like tail lights, steering wheels, buttons, knobs, etc. are sourced out of catalogs from companies like Delphi or come from other production cars.”
As Macholz pointed out, based on his recent visit to Museo Ferrari (the Ferrari museum) in Maranello, Italy, that even the Italian cars utilize “stock” (and American!) parts such as AC Delco air conditioning compressors and Delphi switches. Only these tend to be “under the skin” components which don’t dent their lauded aesthetic auras.
The unique allure of Italian supercars can be broadly attributed to two factors: Italy’s historical emphasis on design (“As far back as the Roman Empire, Italy has a history of designing the world’s most beautiful things … from architecture to furniture and product design to fashion,” said Moore), which has spawned legendary auto designers including Marcello Gandini, Battista Farina, Giorgetto Giugiaro and Franco Scaglione, and design houses such as Bertone, Italdesign and Pininfarina; and an often multi-generational artisanal and apprenticeship-based approach to manufacturing which permeates everything from glass blowing to leather work.
“The [Italian] automotive design houses are not an anomaly unto themselves but rather an extension of the artisan approach,” said Macholz. “These designers are not college grads who majored in a subject area but are rather lifelong artisans who continue a design culture handed down over generations.”
But Italian supercars might want to start looking over their perfectly-proportioned shoulders. The build quality of American-made cars is widely hailed as having dramatically improved since the automotive industry crisis of 2008-10, and U.S. supercar designers have long hinted that they might one day achieve parity with their Italian counterparts.
“American manufacturers are getting better and better at catching up to the Europeans in terms of performance and refinement,” said Mike Rabkin, owner of new car negotiating service From Car to Finish. “But in appealing to the exotic supercar buyer, you need more than that, as part of the appeal is the exotic aura of a product being foreign, even if the vehicle isn’t the best one to own mechanically.”
Ford’s legendary mid-engined GT two-seater – which returns next year as a $400k, 600-horsepower hand-built head-turner – has long matched the Italians in all departments of “superness”. And SSC’s audaciously-styled, 0-to-60-in-2.5-seconds Tuatara could comfortably wear the badge of an Italian boutique brand (its American designer, Jason Castriota, worked for both Pininfarina and Bertone).
“American manufacturers are getting much better at making performance cars that also look good,” Moore concluded. “One could argue that the interior and exterior design, as well as performance, of the 2006 Ford GT, 2015 Corvette C7 Z06 and the new Ford GT are on an Italian level.”
Categories: Gear Grinding