Frame academy

How road and racing cars used to be built, a world away from CAD systems and wind tunnels

The automobile per se is arguably the most transformative agent in modern history. In America the Revs Institute for Automotive Research is a new educational foundation dedicated to advance the scholarly study of automotive history. The Institute provides access to the magazine, book and photographic library holdings of the formidable Collier Collection.

It has been set up in conjunction with Stanford University and its Revs Digital Library is currently being developed online in conjunction with the Californian body.

Photos that will become available online already exceed 166,000 images scanned from 12 collections, including the former Karl Ludvigsen library, Autosport photographer George Phillips’s major work, Ted Eves, Max le Grand and many more. I have been captioning some of the racing coverage, and one Ferrari factory shot by Rudolfo Mailander really appealed. It was taken in Ferrari’s Maranello factory in 1952 and shows a stack of some 20 chassis frames, ready for assembly into finished Ferraris, just supplied by Gilco, Ferrari’s specialist sub-contractor in period.

At the end of World War II, 24-year-old Gilberto Colombo was production director of his father’s metalworking company in Milan. He became friendly with the Ruggeri brothers whose re-emergent Scuderia Milano team was one of the first to campaign Maserati GP cars internationally postwar. Encouraged by them, Colombo set up Gilco Autotelaio as a company specializing in small-series production of innovative and experimental chassis frames. When Enzo Ferrari considered car production under his own name, he invited Gilberto Colombo – no close relation to Ferrari’s chosen designer Gioachino Colombo – to tender for chassis supply. Gilco must have been cheap, as well as good, for The Old Man accepted its tender. From 1947-57 Gilco competition-car chassis frames would underpin Ferrari’s progress. Gilco’s use of oval-section thinwall steel tubing maximised rigidity of the otherwise rather sketchy contemporary frame designs, and Gilco later diversified into light-alloy boat hulls and built a fine reputation in racing bicycle frame design and production.

While Mr Ferrari died aged 90 in August 1988, Gilberto Colombo outlived him by only three months, dying that November at the early age of 67. But their cars, and chassis frames, live on.