Legendary styling house Bertone went out of business in 2013, having already sold many of its precious historic collection of concept cars in 2011 – with more selling in 2015.

The car world thought that was it, the sad end of Bertone which, with its 100-plus year history, was one of the greats of Italian coachbuilding. And it was the end, except that what almost no one realized was that the Bertone Stile HQ, located in the north-east of Turin, was still full of archive material – original design drawings, styling models, rare spares and even full concept cars.

It’s incredible that this has remained hidden for so long. Now, the Italian court overseeing the bankruptcy has instructed for the contents of Bertone Stile to be sold off. Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi has been commissioned to run the sale.

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Bertone Stile was the design arm of Carrozzeria Bertone, and its headquarters in a quiet village was opened in 1972. It’s an architectural marvel, with galleries, internal bridges over studio space, dark-wood boardrooms, orange-painted ceilings, angular exterior detailing echoing the concept cars of the time, and beautiful curved wooden surfaces – a perfect representation of Bertone’s designs.

It was shut down and locked up when the company went bust, and it’s clearly remained untouched ever since. The offices show all the signs that the employees went home one evening with little idea that they’d never be allowed back in.

It’s a remarkable, atmospheric, rather sad environment, but there are hints of what’s to come in the entrance lobby, where a handful of styling models are still on display. Only a few people, including the archivists from certain major manufacturers’ museums, have been allowed in. We’re the sole media representatives to have been admitted.

We’re shown around by Massimo Delbò, the classic car writer and historian who’s consulting for Aste Bolaffi on this project. He takes us down into the huge basement, dark and freezing cold. The water and electricity supplies were shut off years ago.

Massimo has set up a few makeshift lights on back-up power, but we’re warned to watch where we’re walking. When he first explored, he stumbled into a Lamborghini V12 engine and gearbox, covered over with a sheet. It could be from an Espada, but there’s a theory it might be from a concept car.

"It’s a sort of hidden treasure resurfacing, full of surprises and emotion," says Massimo.

"When opening a drawer, you never know what you’ll discover; sometimes, it’s empty, sometimes you find one of the original Miura projects or a folder named BMW-Lamborghini, containing the style development of what today we know as BMW M1 or the Alfa Romeo GTV or the Fiat 850 Spider, and you realize that you are holding a piece of automotive history."

In the first area we come to, better lit than the rest, there are racks full of 1:5 and 1:10 scale models, used to evaluate the style of a new project before building an expensive full-scale version. Among them, the Lamborghini Countach – in the shape and color of the very first car – the LP500, multiple Miuras and a wonderful model of a Fiat Dino Coupé.

Another gem is the model portraying the Alfa Romeo Canguro (below), as well a smaller one representing the Alfa Carabo.

Inside the Bertone collection

"Models of cars that were made are easy to identify," says Delbò. "Others, of cars never developed to a final version, are more difficult, but all are pieces of arts and deserve attention."

"When Lorenzo Ramaciotti – for many years a director at Pininfarina and, in more recent times, chief of style of the FCA group – visited the warehouse in a private preview, he was impressed to see some of the models and to spot the old drafting table thought to have been used by Marcello Gandini."

"The drafting table is a very early counterweighted version; very rare because it was soon mostly replaced by a spring-activated version and, later, by a pantograph system. Of the counterweighted ones, a single unit used by Aldo Brovarone remains at Pininfarina, and here at Bertone we have the one used by Gandini."

Another item catches our eye: the "sample tree," on which every branch is made of a box containing, for a specific model, metal color charts, with the name, paint supplier and code, and sample of the fabrics or leathers for the seats, carpet and headlining.

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For some models, there is a report for the first cars built, with the samples of the paint and material for the interior used stapled on. The models covered range from the Alfa 2000-2600 and the entire Lamborghini and Iso Rivolta production of the 1960s and 1970s, to the Fiat 850 Spider and the Volvo coupes built by Bertone.

It’s impossible to list all the brands represented in the Bertone archive. Almost every well known company is there, from Bugatti to Saviem, from Maserati to Scania, from Porsche to Tata and from Jensen to Volkswagen.

We spend several hours exploring the basement, and uncovering more remarkable items, including concept car wheels and glass, and four – yes four – unused Stratos seats, still in their wrapping. Then we head back upstairs to warm up.

There’s more to see, though, because the Bertone Stile headquarters was also where prototypes were made, and there are dedicated rooms for their construction.

"In one," says Massimo, "there is the 1:1 plaster model of the Aston Martin Jet 2. It was built to be used as a reference bench for the proposed small production model with a Station Wagon body, based on the Rapide, of which a one-off was built in 2013."

"There are many parts, projects and tooling to build the car, all to be sold as a single lot. A skilled collector could merge them with a Rapide rolling chassis to build his own Jet 2."

The Bertone Stile site also contains the remains of the Bertone Museum. A jumble of old display boards reveals the breadth of models once displayed there, before they were sold off, but there are still several cars to see.

"We found the very last two show cars built by Carrozzeria Bertone," says Massimo. "The Pandion and Nuccio are two automotive pieces of art, sharing the privilege and responsibility of being the final two witnesses of an era – the one of the Italian coachbuilder style."

"The 2010 8C Competizione Pandion (below, in white) was first shown at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alfa Romeo. The Pandion’s most amazing feature is the doors – two long “blades,” almost as long as the whole car. When open, they seem to reach the sky.

"The car shows an internal tunnel built as a skeleton, with seats made using an illuminating fabric covered with soft foam. The back of the car looks like a stylized classic Alfa Romeo front, made in a shell of resin, empty inside, to be lit with optical fiber."

Inside the Bertone collection

The other concept, the Ferrari 430 F1 Nuccio (below, with orange roof), was first shown as a styling model at the 2012 Geneva expo and then as a fully working car at the Beijing show a few months later. Made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bertone company, its shape and colors link it to one of the most successful Bertone designs of the 1970s, the one-off Stratos show car, which later evolved into the Lancia Stratos.

Inside the Bertone collection

The most obvious link to the Stratos is the flat front screen. Ferrari, tightly linked with Pininfarina, was not very happy about the Nuccio, and asked Bertone to hide the origin of the rolling chassis. Inside the engine bay, all the Ferrari logos have been meticulously covered with strips of glued alloy.

"In offering the cars in its auction," says Massimo, "Aste Bolaffi wants to respect their historical importance. Therefore, each one will be offered as a single lot together with their original projects, pictures taken during the making, the trophies won when shown, and, for the Nuccio, the 1:1 style car used in Geneva, as well as the original clothes worn by the models at the shows."

Aste Bolaffi will offer other two cars from Bertone Style: one, a barely used BMW Z3 M Roadster, given by the Munich-based firm to Bertone to build a prototype from, although the project was never started. The other is the Alfa 90 used by Nuccio Bertone himself, who died in 1997. It’s been resprayed in-house in a deep metallic bronze and re-upholstered in leather.

The sheer breadth of the material still at Bertone Stile is almost impossible to imagine. Massimo and the auction house team have barely scratched the surface so far.

"What we do know," says Tommaso Marchiaro, the director of the Aste Bolaffi motoring department, "is that it’ll be impossible to offer the whole Bertone collection in our May sale, because still today, almost every day, we discover something worthy of attention."

"Therefore, we’ll offer a part of it during the May sale, together with the interesting classic cars of the “normal” sale. We’ll arrange a second sale, in early October, for the remaining Bertone material." A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for every car collector…

The Aste Bolaffi auction

The Aste Bolaffi sale will take place on May 23, at the ACI Race Track in Via Juan Manuel Fangio 1, Lainate, Milan, a few hundred meters from the Alfa Romeo Museum of Arese.

For more information on the sale click here.

Or visit the Aste Bolaffi website.

Gallery: Inside the Bertone collection

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