Faralli Restauri: Family Tradition And The Self-Taught Masters Of Hand-Formed Aluminum
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Period photos provided by the Faralli family
Between Florence and Pisa, in an area of ancient Etruscan and Roman settlements famous for centuries for producing high quality of wine and extra virgin oil, there is a workshop called Faralli Restauri. It’s a small, family-run “bodyshop” that has restored and continues to restore unique, low-volume cars for collectors, drivers, and enthusiasts the world over.
The cars that pass through the unassuming doors are restored from whatever state they arrive in, from the complete restoration of the body and chassis to the reconstruction of rare missing parts, or just for a paint job.
For this story, I met with Walter and Andrea, the sons of the founder of the workshop, Antonio Mario Faralli, and while they were working on forming fresh sheet metal, I asked them a few questions about their profession, which seems to fall somewhere in that nebulous space between art and practical craftsmanship.
I start at the beginning, asking the brothers why their father set up the workshop in the first place, to which they answered, “Our father was a coachbuilder who learned this profession as a self-taught man. He had learned to work with aluminum sheets from an old tinsmith from Pisa, known as a ‘mad professor.’”
As is the case with many who’ve turned their passion into a career, Antonio Mario’s interest in cars dates back to when he was a child. As a boy, he built custom bodywork on the chassis of a Fiat Topolino, but then had to leave to do his military service. After he was done with his duties, he returned home only to find the poor thing rusted and broken to the point of it being unsalvageable. His sons remember the story of the Topolino as the starting point for the workshop, in a sense. “His beginning as a coachbuilder was not the best start, but when he started working seriously he immediately got remarkable results,” Walter tells me with a smile as he looks proudly around the shop’s interior.
At the end of the 1960s, when the senior Faralli was working at La Cella body shop in Pisa where he chanced to meet Pierluigi Muccini, a racing driver and car builder himself. An important and lasting relationship of collaboration began from that point on, and Faralli built Muccini various bodies for his sports racing cars for hillclimb races from 1973 all the way to the last car that he used, made in 1997.
As Faralli’s sons recount, “Our father followed motorsports with great interest, and he liked racing cars, but he never wanted to be a professional driver. But at the end of the ’60s, he was frequently participating in gymkhanas in Tuscany with a Glas 1300 GT which he bought in poor condition and went on to modify in order to run these races, just for fun.”
In 1978, Faralli left the La Cella body shop and moved to nearby Cascina to start work at La Stella body shop, where he remained until 1986, when, after accumulating the necessary experience, he finally decided to open a garage bearing his name.
Walter was very young at the time, but he already knew that would follow his father’s footsteps into the industry, describing how the family business took shape in the early years. “After having built some racing cars, our father also tried to modify cars for this pursuit, but he was never satisfied with the work, so he decided to devote himself entirely to the restoration of special cars, when in Italy at that time, there were only perhaps a dozen of these kind of workshops.”
The first customers who brought their cars to Faralli for restoration work were mainly Tuscan collectors who had cars with extensive use of aluminum, such as those bodied by Zagato. “There were no restorers of these types of car in the area, and when they learned that my father knew how to work confidently with aluminum, he started to become very busy.”
Case in point, the first major works on which Faralli worked alone were the restoration of three Alfa Romeo SZs, an SS, two TZs, and a Lancia Flaminia Zagato. Walter began to support and help his father in 1984, but his first real complete job was completed in 1987; a 1964 De Sanctis SP 1000. A few years later in 1991, his brother Andrea joined the family business.
“I learned everything from my father,” Walter continues, “I didn’t go to any specific technical schools or attend professional restorations courses. When I was 14, my parents enrolled me in the first year of the mechanical workshop professional school but I did everything I could to fail in order to go to work with my father instead. Working with him was my real education.”
With Faralli Restauri now boasting a few decades of operation, I ask about the most prestigious cars the shop has worked on, the answer to which comes quickly.
“The list is thankfully very long, but among the most significant restorations we have worked on are the Maserati 450S Costin-Zagato Coupé, known as ‘Il Mostro.’ That car was awarded with a trophy at Villa d’Este in 2014.”
For those unfamiliar with the car, it was built as a barchetta in 1956, ran the 1000km Buenos Aires with Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, then in 1957 it was transformed into a coupé by Frank Costin before it participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Stirling Moss and Harry Schell.
“This car today should be in the US with the same owner that we never knew directly because the work was followed by an intermediary. The thing we remember well is the terrible job that was done in a hurry when the car was turned into a street-legal version. To fix all the interventions made at the base of the windshield and in many other parts of the body, in the end we filled a 25-liter can with the tin we removed!” Walter explains.
“Then there are the other important cars like the Alfa Romeo TZ and TZ2 that later joined Simon Kidston’s collection, the Cisitalia Spider Nuvolari, the 1938 Lancia Astura Castagna that the owner told me once belonged to Mussolini’s son, Bruno, and then the Abarth 205A Vignale chassis 205102, which was awarded at Goodwood in 2019.”
In other words, this is not a shop that pumps out restorations of your everyday automobiles. As I looked around the workshop during our conversation, it became obvious that the Farallis don’t shy away from a challenge, either, seeing the state that some of the cars are given to them in, prompting me to ask how they balance these long restoration schedules against one another as a small team, and if there is a limit to what they will take on.
“We certainly have faced very demanding jobs, but at least we require the chassis and mechanicals, otherwise there is no way you can call it a restoration!” Walter says with a laugh. “We use very little modern technology, and all our tools are manual; hammers, the English wheel, Eckold machines, etcetera. So the time we need to complete a project changes from one to the next, each job has its unique difficulties and complications. To finish a ‘complicated’ job. it generally takes about two or three years. The Lancia Astura Castagna took us five, and that was our longest job so far. Over the years we have created collaborations with an upholsterer and a mechanical workshop not too far from us, and this definitely saves us a lot of time.”
However, modern technology certainly helps the business manage its relationships with customers with whom Walter and Andrea can make video calls to update them on the status of their cars. But what about the Faralli family’s cars, I wonder? In Italy, we say that the cobbler walks around with the worst shoes because he’s busy fixing everyone else’s. In the Farallis’ case, the restorations of the family cars have all been completed to the same extent as the customer cars, but they’ve never been in a rush.
“In all these years, we have found several cars in abandoned condition and very slowly we have restored them in those brief spare moments between one job and the next. We’ve completed them, but it takes a very long time,” Walter tells me. “It was my father’s passion to go and find these automotive carcasses, take them to the workshop, and give them new life.
“The Fiat 500 Coccinella Francis Lombardi is a good example, which we found abandoned at the end of the 1980s. We completely restored it, and it is still here, used until recently by my mum as an everyday car!”
The list continues. “…and the Fiat 1100 Vignale Printemps, also abandoned in a garage, which we found in the mid ’90s and restored, which remained in the family until 2006 before it was sold to a dear friend of ours who decided to let us keep it and use it as if it were still our own.
“There is also the Abarth 750 Spider Zagato that was found in the United States, which after a long restoration, entered one of the most important Abarth collections in Europe in 1997.
The Bosato F Junior 1100, which we found with the chassis complete with mechanics in 2000, was time capsule. The clock had stopped for it in 1959, and my father—who had the original designs—rebuilt all of the aluminum bodywork.
“Another important car is the Fiat 1100 Cabriolet Farina that we found in very bad condition in 2004. My father worked on this car until he passed away, and we’ve only just recently completed its restoration.”
Although Antonio Mario Faralli is no longer hammering out beautiful curves in the workshop with his sons and is deeply missed, Walter and Andrea are upholding the family legacy of bringing these rare and forgotten specimens back to life. The art of hand-formed aluminum automobiles is practiced by few, but its a tradition that deserves impassioned participants like the Faralli family.