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OSI: When Turin was still the center of the European car industry

31 July 2012 16:51 No comments

Future Italian car brands will more often be built (and developed) in Detroit or Changsha. The main reason for this relocation is the bad economic situation of the Italian car industry, which is related to the more and more global economic influences. A car industry located around Turin (which was one of the largest in the world, also years after World War 2). Keeping this in mind, we now have a closer look at the many factory areas which were founded rather quickly over the years. This time ‘La Grande Storia’ focusses on OSI.

Officine Stampaggi Industriali (OSI S.p.A.) was the new car factory of Luigi Segre and Arrigo Olivetti around April 1960. Orders for bodywork from national and international car manufacturers were the main source of income from the start. Segre was the director of Ghia, which was rebuilt after the war at the other site of Via Agostino da Montefeltro, just around the corner of Mirafiori. A subsidiary with the same speciality side by side OSI. Serge made the transition to Ghia (from SIATA) at an early age. He was appointed by Mario Felice Boano, who he later replaced. Boano was the man behind the miraculous rebuild of the destroyed Ghia. He had orders from the widow Ghia to rebuild the site (Founder Giacinto Ghia died during the war, some say that he could not endure the destruction of his company).

Segre could almost do everything related to design and acquisition. He became famous for his designs of the Karmann Ghia (commissioned by Volkswagen). This helped Ghia to make a name for the company and be commercially successful. Large deals were signed with Ford and Chrysler. This success was one of the reasons OSI was founded. Colleague Arrigo Olivetti transferred from the company Fergat to OSI, (Fergat produced car components, like alloy wheels, for the car industry), this company was also located in Turin. OSI’s intentions were to produce small batches for several brands. The company made their own cars (Ghia), on the other hand they made cars by commission. This is why the factory originally was named Ghia-Osi. The first independent Italian bodywork factory was also OSI’s, which used batch oriented series production. Something which was later used by Pininfarina and Bertone.

Sergio Sartorelli was seen as one of the most influential designers at OSI. Appointed as chief of design, he transferred from Ghia and was responsible for the design of the remarkable OSI S.p.A. logo. Thanks to the great balance of labour in the company the image was strong. Soon Fiat showed their interest and also Innocenti from Milan. OSI built compact cars like the Innocenti 950 Coupé and Spider, a light sports car (based on the Austin-Healey Sprite) and a Fiat 1300/1500 Familiare, an estate version based on the popular middle class Italian saloon. Innocenti was important for OSI to establish itself as an important company. Ferdinando Innocenti was often seen as the third owner of the company (a silent one of course). The name OSI was often interpreted as Olivetti, Serge and Innocenti. OSI became more and more important as it could develop prestigious projects, like the impressive Fiat 2300 S Coupé Ghia. During the sixties, OSI was even allowed to use their own logo with the 1200 S Coupé and Spider (based on the Fiat 1100) and the 20 M TS based on the Ford Taunus. An order for a larger series production came also available, it was the Ford Anglia.

The design division of the company was led by Sartorelli (who left Ghia, located on the other side in 1963). He was accepted by other important designers, like Sergio Coggiola (bodywork Coggiola), Giovanni Michelotti (who designed the Ford Anglia) and the American Tom Tsjaarda (who was employed at Fergat Torino). Dante Giacosa was responsible for the transfer of Sartorelli to Fiat’s Centro Stile in 1968. Sartorelli died a couple of years ago. At Ghia’s he already designed the most beautiful coupes (ranging from DAF to Maserati) and several prototypes. At OSI he designed prototypes based on the Fiat 2300 (Convertible and Club) and Alfa Romeo (2600 Iso and 1600 “Scarabeo”). At Fiat he was the ‘founder’ of the 126, the successor of Giacosa’s 500. By the way, Osi’s Centro Stile was located in Borgaro Torinese, just north of the city. At the peak of the company’s history 60 people were employed and developing/building prototypes.

OSI was founded with a starting capital of 270 million lira and had 645 employees. Around 1962, 50 cars a day were produced. The new plant with a total floor space of 21,000 square meters, reflects the days of glory of the Italian auto industry in the sixties. Besides the two assembly lines, there was also a paint shop, 780 meters long. Sadly Luigi Segre died in 1963 related to complications of an operation of his appendix. He wasn’t able to witness the success of OSI. His successor was Giacomo Bianco, a director of Fergat. The dead of Segre also meant that the natural link to Ghia died as well, OSI became part of Fergat. Bianco could not obtain any new contracts. So the company already suffered from financial difficulties after a short but dynamic time. In 1966, 2000 employees were dismissed while large clients like Ford and Innocenti didn’t renew their contracts. In 1967 OSI stopped the production of cars and started focussing on components. Production went on till the end of the last century. Centro Stile in Borgaro already stopped its activities in 1967. The factory is in the meantime completely abandoned, just like the former location of Ghia. The locations are waiting to be demolished, according to plans of the city Turin. The city wants to invest in a large design campus (IED, European Institute of Design), which it will create near the Torino Porta Nuova (railway station Turin).


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