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From T To Taunus: A visit to the Gratton Museum, Italy’s Blue Oval Mecca

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The facade of Gratton Collection’s building. All photos by the author.

—Matteo, do you know who George Selden was?

—Mr. Gratton, if I correctly remember, he was the man who claimed to have invented the automobile concept as a whole, patented it, and via an agreement with a firm called Electric Vehicle Company, he proceeded to ask for other carmakers of the early 20th Century to pay fees if they wanted to build cars of their own. ALAM association was formed in order to “collect” them. If memory assists me, Selden’s claims were based more on an opportunistic stretch of his own “gas engine” patent (which was perfected year after year, to the point it finally encompassed also its application on a 4-wheeled affair) than on strong supportive facts, and Henry Ford was the key man in the fight against this. Ford ultimately won, after a long legal battle, practically freeing the automobile makers from the need to pay further royalties. Ford became a hero, and Selden went into oblivion.

—Matteo, you are quite close to the truth, and now I am going to show one of those cars made in conformity with Selden patent. You know, you are the first to know Selden himself.

Well, we can spend much more words describing the feud between the great entrepreneur and the cunning lawyer, or the fact that Selden effectively started his attention toward the whole automobile affair as early as 1879, having granted the patent in 1895 only, or the fact that those two “carts” built to show feasibility of Selden’s rights were only made to support his case against Ford himself in court.

Anyway, the dialogue between Mr. Paolo Gratton and myself sounded a lot like the above words: in all honesty, I don’t remember the very exact terms pronounced in the occasion (next time, I’ll use a tape recorder, or something like that, maybe borrowing one from Paolo’s collection itself!), but they are quite close to what my host and myself shared just a few minutes after I met him, before going to visit his collection of impressive relics from a distant but still thriving Ford Motor Company past, a collection filled with surprises and marvels.

And the car Mr. Gratton described me as a recipient of the ALAM-driven rules (ALAM being naturally the organization grouping those carmakers who duly followed Selden’s patent, and therefore paid royalties for this), was none other than the most famous and most glorious among the very early American autos, the Curved Dash Olds. Naturally, it comes complete with the Selden patent plaque fixed on the very stylistic detail which owed its very name.

However, Gratton’s name is synonymous with Ford more than anything else, to the point that he did quite a few things arguably never accomplished by others in Italy, at least in the name of Blue Oval only.

When I arranged for a visit to his private collection, Mr. Gratton prayed me to pick him in his home in Gorizia, directly behind his family business which is a real long lasting tradition for this cheerful small Italian town directly bordering with Slovenia; this was quite logical, considering Mr. Gratton’s venerable age (he was in fact born in 1927). The museum in itself, for that matter, is located in Farra D’Isonzo, only a very few miles away from Gorizia, and visits can be arranged directly with Paolo himself (his phone number can be found in the Automotoclub Storico Italiano’ site, in the dedicated list of affiliated museums).

This short trip allowed me to have a neat conversation concerning, as said, the origins of Henry Ford’s legend, and his battle against George Selden. What few words we did share during those few miles also made for a perfect introduction to Paolo Gratton’s own passions: Fords, as said, and another icon of modern life, the radio. And while I was well aware of the former, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the latter, to the point that what I initially thought was an “all-autos” gathering of relics was in reality full of rarely visible broadcasting apparatuses, with gramophones, early TV sets, tape recorders of various nature, and Morse receivers and transmitters.

In sum, this polite Italian gentleman seems like the living incarnation of that close relationship between Ford and Edison, for he amassed plenty enough items to explain a lot about the early automotive life (where Henry was champion) and, on the other hand, about some of the most successful electricity applications, thus exemplifying one of Thomas Alva’s various and most important contributions.

But Paolo Gratton himself is half Edison, half Ford and total genius: a real self-made-man, without formal specific instruction behind him, yet truly expert in the technical and engineering fields, to the point he can be described as a full time entrepreneur and inventor, rather than an everyday sales rep, with an unmatched skill in promoting his activity via ingenious concoctions. After all, this inner talent afforded him to transform his first auto, a Fiat 500 Bacorta (from BAlestra CORTA, rear short semi-elliptic springs, the nick given to the very early 500 A), in a proper 4-seater , via the addition of an Opel Kadett rear body portion in lieu of the original Fiat body section ! His passion likely started the day his father gave him a pedal woody buck as a gift , and since then our hero has never stopped.

Paolo Gratton now in his museum and as a young boy aboard his first auto.

During the tough days of WWII, he put his innate skills in mechanics and electrics to good use while performing on-field service and maintenance during clandestine and quite dangerous off-duty operations, helping partisans and applying his care to devices use by Italian Resistance men !

In the doldrums of postwar Eastern Italy (when the nearby Trieste had not yet gain a fully fledged Italian status, and with Yugoslavia just a stone’ throw away), young Paolo continued to work as an employee in a pair of workshops, thus learning in brief an enviable expertise and competence, to the point he started his own activity as early as 1949. He became one of the best experts in his field, to the point he became official mechanic for local Italian Automobile Club’ chapter . This allowed him to be a precious part of a 1960 special tour, an Italy-To-Moscow raid via the Iron Curtain countries: decidedly no picnic trip back then. In 1963, he became official zone dealer for Ford, and thanks to his ability in selling, promoting and servicing, Blue Oval products became commonplace in this easternmost portion of Italy, even more remarkable because Gratton’s exploits came before the Fiesta debut, the car which propelled Ford at the highest levels in Italian market’ sales rankings.

So successful was Gratton in beating Fiat at its own game that he met with Hank The Deuce in person in 1969, being thanked for his trailblazing activity for Ford’ Italian cause. This was quite an interesting experience in itself: Paolo was then in Sardinia, participating at a Fiva event with one of his beloved antique mounts. But Italian Ford branch, feeling his uppermost Italian salesman couldn’t possibly miss this occasion, mandatorily ordered him to be a part of the Rome Hilton Hotel event organized to properly welcome Henry II, and so he had to go there, bringing back his rally mount, the A still in his collection. Once in Rome, he met with Old Henry’s grandson receiving great honors, because he was de facto the most important Italian guest.

(left) Paolo Gratton aboard the A with Henry Ford II in Rome, 1969. (right) Paolo presenting the A to a smiling Henry II.

He was a trailblazer for other reasons too: for example, in 1973 he established the Ford Italian Register, this at a time when Italian classic cars lovers (as a whole) were still a rather meager number.

When the Fiesta arrived, Gratton’s fortunes received a further boost; by the way, Gratton’s touch was also evident in promoting the smallest Ford yet, because, despite the obvious built-in qualities of the model, Paolo decided to go one step further, as far promotional techniques were concerned : in 1977, he sold 7 different Fiestas to 7 brothers, all members of the same family, a feat likely inspired by the renowned Seven Brides For Seven Brothers movie.

In following years, Gratton’s passion didn’t diminish, to the contrary: in 1987, (16th October, to be precise), he inaugurated his museum, christened Museum Of Automobile And Communication, now Museum Of Automobile And Technics, because it was conceived as a sort of Mecca not only for automobile enthusiasts, but also for pioneering radio and TV apparatus lovers.

Gratton ceased to work actively in the commercial field in 2003, but thanks to his son Rodolfo, his surname is still synonymous with Ford, in Gorizia.

However, his legend, his legacy keep on going strong. And a visit in his collection explains why.

Once arrived, the first thing I noticed about the museum was its façade, made exactly like the one which was used for the very first Ford Italian branch’ building, in Trieste. This is a smart touch, one which gives immediately a peculiar flavor to the whole collection. This was made not only as a homage to Ford itself, but also as a potent reminder of the origins of Ford activities in Italy: Trieste is just a few miles away from Gorizia, and Paolo wanted to celebrate both the Trieste role in Ford’ life and the Ford role in Trieste (and nearby locales, like Gorizia) life.

The early Ford activities in themselves lasted for only a decade or so, but during that brief period, plenty of Trieste-assembled Fords scattered across Italy, and many were also exported to rather distant and fairly exotic locations, including Italian African colonies and Middle East countries. And most of those Fords were Ts: this museum is in effect their well deserved Italian sanctuary.

So, it is quite natural that after such an architectural premise we can discover a veritable Mecca for Ford T fans. A vast amount of floor space is dedicated to the Tin Lizzie, and as we will see, some other items had to be suspended from the ceiling, in order to maintain their well deserved role in this private museum.

In fact, what is surprising is the effort toward a rather original presentation, the effort in making this more than a mere selection of old cars and parts. The final result is quite effective, and it says a lot about the intimate passion which drove Mr. Gratton during his entire active life – up until today.

Take for example this private realm’ most famous display: a schematic but quite appealing diorama, notable for its great impact, which shows in real life size the Ford T assembly methods, starting with the bare chassis .

Based on the real life Italian Trieste assembly plant, this spectacular ensemble offers a quick and precise look at the various processes of early chain assembly system, and it’s best appreciated after a not too lengthy walk to its physical back, which is in reality the beginning of the production procedures : in fact, this display is devised in a way that the first thing you notice, once you enter the building, is the final result of the Ford method, a complete T. If you wish to see the origins of the finished auto, you must go all the way until well beyond half of the entire museum’ spacefloor.

The first step of T’ chain assembly process.

The frame is now almost complete.

The suspended T body, showing how it arrived from top.

A typical T’ body waiting for installation on the frame.

The assembly line, for that matter, is just like what we remind of a circa 1920 Ford plant: after the bare chassis, we can see a chassis about to receive its engine and the trademark front and rear axles, then a frame after this operation, complete with start crank, rad fan, pedals and wheels, and finally a frame with cowl, steering wheel, and radiator ready to be mated to looming basic body parts, properly finished in black, properly suspended above the main assembly line (as per traditional illustrations of River Rouge plant) .

The final result of the production processes.

The finished product, a tourer in total black look surrounded by Ford memorabilia, awaits us, showing the final result of one of the greatest revolutions of all time.

The replica of the 1909 Guggenheim Trophy disqualified winner in a composite shot.

Anyway, in case you wish to take a look at the “assembly line” diorama before everything else, you also have to pass by an exquisite replica of one of those Ts which travelled through the U.S. of A. in 1909, in that epic, grueling and definitive trip known as the New York-To-Seattle race, the Guggenheim Trophy.

This famous “trip” was not only epic or grueling, but it was also a bit disappointing for Ford fans—disappointing and, contemporarily, exceedingly successful; this apparent mismatch of results is naturally due to the fact that despite being the first car to reach Washington State’ main city, the Ford T Number 2 was later disqualified, much to the chagrin of everybody involved, including naturally Henry in person, who correctly saw this as a priceless opportunity to promote the very essence of T’s qualities (sturdiness, stamina, reliable all-terrain cruising abilities and easy-to-fix mechanicals). However, for five months (before the car’ disqualification, due to an en route engine replacement ), the “winner” was proudly displayed wherever possible, and it was always billed as a perfect example of what Ford was aiming to. Paradoxically, I would say that the engine replacement itself could be considered as valuable advertisement, for it was evidently a relatively easy task, done with no particular fuss: easy-to-fix, easy-to-maintain operations were precisely some of the most coveted goals of the T’ whole reason d’etre, so the role of Old Nr. 2 in the automotive history is well deserved, regardless of a bit of rule-bending (or direct rule-breaking practice…). An interesting fact regarding the early T’ career in automobile racing, involving variants quite close in concept and appearance to the one used for the New York- To- Seattle competition: in 1911, two Ts were among the participants in the June 1911 Trieste-Opicina hill-climbing challenge, the first edition for this renowned race, and they obtained a third and fourth place in their class, with times of 9’36’’ and 9’48’’ respectively. Since their debut, Ford Ts were among the preferred autos to be used whenever and wherever people wished to score high in sport trophies.

But here in this private Mecca for Fords there are more Ts available to eyes, if this in-depth lesson in scholarship about the assembly chain realities was not enough to justify a trip here: so, those curious enough to see some Tin Lizzies in real life format can always marvel at the brass symphony of a 1913 Flivver, one of the most celebrated autos in Gratton collection (chosen by Paolo expressly because in 1913 Ford famously began to use his mass production methods) or they can take a glimpse at an early Canadian-assembled roadster (a 1911 model, complete with dickey).

This rakish T is then followed by a later Touring, a preserved example with a perfect time-proven patina, a neat specimen belonging to the famous “any color you want, as long as it is black” era; this one, however, sports a nice license, the bright radiator frame. Really the quintessential auto as America entered the Roaring Twenties.

Two views of a late T tudor, showing the vast improvements on early models.

Behind it, one of the last Tudor models, showing some impressive stylistic improvements on the original T, which unfortunately came evidently too late to make a significant difference for commercial Ford fortunes, and to make T an everlasting item as hoped for by old Henry. However, savvy Edsel had already convinced his father about the necessity for an apt heir to the old Lizzie: with the A arrival, any fear for Ford future thankfully vanished as soon as the new auto showed itself on dealers showrooms’ floors.

The Ford TT truck, with some modifications for Italian roads use.

The last T in this outstanding Italian collection is an intriguing truck variant, a TT belonging to the type which debuted in 1924, in a most fitting stake bed combo. Showing both the first proper Ford-built truck cab (the appropriately named Open Cab) and an appealing old Italian license (from Vicenza, its second home for quite a long period – the number belongs to the late Twenties-early Thirties era), it is a truly remarkable vehicle because of its integrity and its elegant looks. It’s also got some “Euro” mods, like the drum-type headlamps (also moved up a bit) and the bright metal radiator frame. For that matter, also another T in the Gratton’s collection has front lamps sourced from outside the US, albeit in the case of the TT this is more evident. Naturally, the restored bed also has some Italian touches, but as a complete example of a truck which earned its living for quite a long time, it is difficult to find something like this one in Italy. This sturdy member of T family doesn’t look like a fragile spider on wheels, does it ?

Anyway, the apparently fragile T won the hearts of millions of motorists, all the world around, and Mr. Gratton is among them, albeit his first auto was a more obvious Fiat Topolino. This explains why he also amassed a considerable amount of non-Ford autos, with the most prestigious of the lot being the already mentioned Curved Dash, also wearing a Vicenza number plate, dating from the era when Italian rules dictated the use of numbers only, in lieu of the later letters-and-numbers combo (in this case, the red numbers points at the Vicenza’ position in the alphabetical order of Italian provinces prior to 1927).

It was kind of necessary to show such a car here in this selection of fine cars, amidst a plethora of T models, not only because of its important heritage of its own, but, as anticipated, as a potent example of Selden’s and ALAM’ role in shaping the early years of auto industry.

Accompanying the merry Olds, an equally charming Cleveland, impressive both as an example of an early electric vehicle and because of its 120-years old lines: there are clear stigmas of horseless carriage on it, and while our eyes may not be ready to tell the differences between the Olds Curved Dash and this electric car, it is nonetheless interesting to see some design differences, just to prove the slow but steady stylistic improvements or modifications done to automobiles since a very early era. The Ransom Eli’s creation seems a more complete package, one far less likely to be attached to a horse or a donkey, while the Cleveland has a definitely more primitive design, despite being nifty and appealing. For the record, notice how the Cleveland too has Vicenza province’ number plates, showing the role of this city in very early Italian automotive life (and a strong hint at the fact that both the Cleveland and the Olds spent most of their life in Italy).

The Fiat 501, one of the most popular early Twenties Italian autos.

After studying those two rare examples of early Americana, a visitor can approach the Gratton Collection Non-Ford section, full of noteworthy items. Yeah, most of them are in preserved and untouched conditions, rather than upper scale restored grade, but this doesn’t detract from the importance and charm of most of them. So, you can notice a superb Fiat 501, a different and older kind of Fiat than those you are accustomed to. In 1921, this was a popular Italian model, a real Model T competitor, devised to avoid Italian market conquest by Ford products. In this respect, we must admit the little Fiat worked finely.

Designed by a lawyer (sic), Carlo Cavalli, the 501 debuted just after WWI end, and it was powered by a 1,5 liter four which cranked out 23 hp @ 2600 rpm, thus motivating this ancient example of closed car to achieve 45 mph as its top speed. All things considered, it looks fairly less crude than coeval Ts, it seems more up-to-date from a stylistic and engineering point of view, and the fact that also an European car of smaller size looked a more complete package than the T explains why Twenties Fords, modeled after stubborn Henry’s definitive judgment about what a car had to be and had to offer, no ifs and no buts, began to appear long in the tooth also to some of their most zealous supporters. If even a car manufactured in Italy appeared to be a better and more modern machine (despite its smaller engine and the slightly less advanced production methods, which for that matter followed Ford’ techniques but with no sheer improvements by Fiat itself), you can just imagine the impact made on American public by more modern and arguably more refined domestic competitors. Domestic autos like Dodge, Chevrolet, Overland, Essex. Those cars—so similar in concept with this early twenties Fiat—began to conquer sales, de facto mining the absolute tyranny of Ts.

However, a direct , inch per inch comparison between the T and this ancient Fiat is a bit of a stretch from a commercial point of view, because autos in Italy were still what they substantially were in America 15 years before: toys for riches. The fact that we can describe the smaller Fiat as a competitor for the Model T, while claiming it remained a quasi-luxury machine, speaks a lot about the still primitive Italian automobile market conditions, where also a T was regarded as a distinguished item. In the meanwhile, in America the T had become a veritable el cheapo package, thus showing the sensible progress toward the concept of an automobile for every family, potent testament to the immense step forward in American way of life prompted by the advent and success of Ford’ mainstay model: this alone was maybe the most formidable Henry Ford’s achievement.

The ’34 Fiat 508 Balilla 4 Marce, one of the most iconic Thirties Italian cars.

Other more familiar Turinese cars, also of the popular class, are part of the collection too, including a pair of 508 Balillas and a nice 508 C (the first member of the immortal Millecento family), but what surprises most is maybe the perfect chassis of a Topolino, specifically made for exhibition duties, showing the delightful and miniaturized inner secrets of one of the most iconic Italian autos of all time.

Readers likely already know a thing or two about the Topo, including its diminutive chassis and the powerplant layout, with the radiator placed behind the front engine.

The suspended Topolino chassis.

But, did you ever see Topo’ frame, in show-like conditions, suspended right above your heads, so to let you study it from below? I bet this is what must be considered quite a rare occasion!

Rare outside Italy, the Innocenti A40.

Fiats aside, there were also cars like an NSU Prinz, or the rarely seen outside the Alps Innocenti A40 (the Latin-made equivalent model to this famous and brilliant BMC auto).

A Lancia Augusta and a Traction Avant are also part of the collection, evidently because Mr. Gratton has always had a soft spot for economical transportation of sort (in this case, economical but also luxurious). His love for sensible, no-frills machines explains why he owns a pair of rare and impressive cars, which belong to the lowest price field, bar no one.

In truth, they are very low priced, but not nearly as ubiquitous as the Fords, for that matter.

The diminutive ACMA Piaggio Vespa 400.

Take for instance the ACMA Vespa, the famous super compact designed by Piaggio and built by its French branch, already trusted to build the Vespas. Although it was built in decent numbers, it was never a match, in production quantities at least, for other French autos in the lowest price field; other Euro mini autos, like the similarly dimensioned Isetta (in the BMW version) or the similarly conceived Fiat 500, also had a fairly higher production. But as an effective first car for those accustomed to a bike or a scooter, the ACMA (acronym for Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles) was a sensible proposition, thanks to its interesting peculiarities: looking like a shortened Autobianchi Bianchina (the famous Fiat Nuova 500’ luxury cousin), it’s got the typical rear engine-rear wheel drive layout so typical of econocars of the time, and it is a proper two seater, with “unofficial” proviso for a pair of further passengers (of smallish dimension), or for suitcases in the compartment behind the front seats. The spare is located below the passenger’s seat, while the battery is placed on a sliding shelf found behind the bogus front grille. A curiosity: there is no cowl between the passenger compartment and the battery shelf , so your feet are just a few inches away from the car’ stem—almost touching the battery itself. To make things quirkier, no front open hood is available—however, this mini voiturette offers the advantage of a folding canvas roof, just like the Citroen 2CV or the aforementioned Italian duo (like a Rambler convertible too, to mention a more familiar auto). Its dash is a rather simple, all-metal affair, with a fan-shaped instrument cluster placed directly ahead of the driver. Overall fit and finish is crude, with press reports claiming it was even worse than an already Spartan Nuova 500.

Just like many other cars belonging to its same price bracket, the Vespa’ engine is a two-stroke air-cooled twin of 25 cubic inches (more or less 400 cmc, hence the name) which cranks out the princely sum of 13 horsepower, sufficient enough to propel it to 55 mph; testers rated more than decent both its overall performances and its road behavior. Although I personally already knew this intriguing lil machine, the visit to Paolo’s selection of fine jewels afforded me to take once again a look at one of them, arguably one of the most charismatic microcars of them all.

Even more astonishing is maybe the fact that the Vespa 400 is impressively smaller than most other so-called microcars of the day: its 112’’ overall length is almost 4 full inches shorter than on the already diminutive Nuova 500. Other dimensions are in proportion, with the Turinese compact looking positively larger than the ACMA when the two cars are parked close together; naturally, this also happens in case the French Vespa is compared to the similarly shaped Bianchina. The car owned by Mr. Gratton is a rare early Italian import: few Vespas were actually sold on this side of the Alps (the Nuova 500 was too tough a competitor, and in any case Fiat wouldn’t be too happy to see any direct challenge to its minimal auto, especially if this came by a well established Italian motorcycles firm), and the giant rear license plate says a lot about how minuscule this job is.

Alternatively, among the various autos collected by Paolo Gratton, there is also a car which can make an ACMA Vespa look like a proper full size auto, or can make a Ford T look like some sort of Locomobile limo or a Duesie bodied by LeBaron.

Is it possible that such a car ever existed? Yes!

And in case you are thinking otherwise, take a look at a Volugrafo, a deep look at it: while you do this, please anyway forget this was not conceived as a toy for rich children, being instead fully road legal transportation for impoverished motorists. And in effect, deep look is quite fitting for it: the more you want to study this thing, the more your spin may suffer somewhat.

Hmm, what is exactly a Volugrafo ? A bumper car for amusement parks built under Dodgem’s license? Absolutely no, for this was a bona fide early postwar Italian super compact, done in order to offer Italian would-be motorists of the time an alternative to bikes and still relatively novel scooters. In the end, it didn’t meet the expected success, and while it is nowadays easy to understand why, back then it looked like a sensible and wise proposition. Despite its ridiculously small configuration, this “auto” was supposed to grant space for two adults (Italians were smaller back then), and in order to move them along, a simple one cylinder air cooled engine was used, with an “impressive” 1/8-liter capacity, like many econo bikes of the time. The total output of this superb example of miniaturized engineering? 5 horsepower (yes, five ). Top speed is supposed to be in the whereabouts of 35 to 40 miles per hour, and at least it’s got four proper drum brakes, albeit the wheelbarrow wheels (3,50 x 8 their size) seem quite diminutive also for such a machine. As expected, fuel mileage was phenomenal.

The Volugrafo. Wanna play with this toy.

Arguably one of the quirkiest machine ever, the Volugrafo offers the quite rare combination of independent rear suspension and front live axle…thus making the old Fords suspension arrangement not strange nor outdated in any way.

This auto is also notable because it lacks some things, evidently considered needless : things like a differential (the engine transmitted its power directly to the left rear wheel), things like doors (there is a small lid on driver’s side so to permit accessibility to engine), things like windshield wipers (at least there is the windshield itself; in case , also a proper canvas-type top was available); it also lacks things like proper shocks (here is an even more crude solution than what devised for early Crosleys, for the featherweight of the Volugrafo apparently made needless such a frivolous arrangement ), so this car is the right place where you can experiment some serious bouncing. And it also lacks a reverse gear. In case you did need the latter one, you had to step up the road and turn the car.

Against all odds, this strange affair (which on the other hand could boast of a really advanced all-envelope body, incidentally making it look like a relative to another star of the early postwar Atlas Obscura of automobiles, the American made Cubster) enjoyed some sort of production career, although their numbers are limited to no more than some dozens.

Together with cars named Volpe, Lucertola, Lupetta, Cita, Mitzi, the Volugrafo is a fascinating representative of those Italian microcars which predate both the Iso Isetta and the far larger and still quite economical Fiat Nuova 500. And unlike some of them, which didn’t pass the prototype stage or became downrights scams (yeah, scams, just what Volpe became famous for), sometimes, here and there, precious few examples of this tiny affair still resurface, so to show us how distant in tastes and needs the early postwar years were when compare with our days.

I know what you are thinking: the Volugrafo seems a perfect candidate for a story of its own, but here we must take a look at other subjects, especially if they have the Blue Oval on their hoods. It’s about time to describe some of the other Fords collected by Paolo.

Speaking of proper “blue ovals”, actually I didn’t spot them in droves, because most of the Fords presented here and gathered together by Paolo Gratton during his activity as a renowned dealer for the marque were built in the period when the famous Ford script had been superseded in favor of other badges. Among them, one of the most important and famous was “Taunus”, and here in Gorizia there are quite a noteworthy amount of some of the Cologne’ Finests.

Taunuses are here mostly because, in the Sixties, they were the bread and butter autos of Gratton’s sales organization: they enjoyed more than decent success in Italy, despite Italians as a whole still favored Italian-made autos above everything else.

However, the good qualities of the Badewanne Taunus, and the noteworthy novelty of the front wheel drive 12 M and 15 M models, coupled with the sterling reputation Mr. Gratton was creating around his figure, were potent and evidently irresistible propositions for hundreds of Gorizia citizens.

But what made his salesman’ career even more incredible was the vast array of promotional stunts concocted through a deft use of his own skills in engineering and inventive applications of technique. These stunts attracted lots of people toward his offerings, and in a most effective manner, given the continued success of his brand. In the Sixties and Seventies, Gratton name was synonymous with daredevil efforts or truly remarkable stints at promoting, selling and servicing Fords of all types.

Thanks to his valiant experiences, Gratton made a name for himself also as a bona fide inventor, sort of Thomas Alva specialized in sales tricks and marketing techniques: the results were quite useful and intriguing methods to promote and advertise Cologne and Dagenham machines.

One of the most attractive pieces in the Gratton’s collection are , in effect, some deft examples of Cologne models modified as promotional autos, all of them full of quite surprising features.

Among them, the most visually imposing one is the Taunus P7B (painted in the ever-so-charismatic gold/bronze so typical of this kind of Fords) which was used as a carrier for another Ford model, unusually placed in vertical position on the mama car ‘ own trunk; while this did nothing to spare some metal and structural fatigue to this old Cologne flagship (to be precise, it is a ’71 20M with the 2 liter V6 motor), at least it made for one impressive combination, quite effective in sending the message Gratton wished to transmit to his faithful Blue Oval followers: among the aforementioned advertising stunts promoted by Gratton, the double packed car was one of the most effective. One can only imagine the effect of seeing this quirky two-car combo on Gorizia roads. The Escort, by the way, is a Mexico version.

The 1971 20 M which carries the Escort Mexico.

Sadly, tight space in the museum means that this Cologne Ford and its cargo (a MK I Escort) are somewhat hidden, but once close to them, they sure make for one impressive , and unique (yeah, unique is totally right here) item.

An inside look at the surprising trunk of this Taunus.

An impressive item of attraction is another member of the Taunus P7B family, a 17M built in 1970, faithful replica of one of the most stunning “promotional” autos used by Paolo in the Sixties and Seventies to lure patrons into his dealership. It is apparently stock-looking, except for a cumbersome speaker-cum-camera ensemble perched atop its roof. But once its trunk is opened, there appears an astonishing surprise: a steering wheel , a TV set, and some sort of levers. Oh, and a cushion. All this because Mr. Gratton transformed this car’ luggage locker in a “convenient” driver’s seat! The roof-mounted camera and the TV set gave visual support to let Mr. Gratton to drive this nice German cruiser while being locked in the trunk, out of people sights, so to make one think that nobody was effectively piloting the car (or, at least making onlookers suspect that it was driven via remote control). A newspaper article which describe it, dating from the era when this impossible stunt was performed (in December 1968, and for once not in Gorizia neighborhoods but, of all places, in downtown Turin…), reveals further details about Paolo’s activity: he was not only dealer for a “renowned automaker”, but he also serviced Philips radio and TV apparatus, one nod to his inclination for electricity application and one explanation why the Dutch firm “furnished” both the camera and the TV-in-trunk set ( The car now visible in the collection is, as said, a replica: this explain also why the TV set is a more modern unit, but the result is exactly like the original, and in fully working condition, like any other auto and most of the items visible in his collection !).

The most awesome of all the “stunt cars” used in the Sixties to promote Fords before an ever amazed public is also in fully functioning condition: this is an innocent looking 15M belonging to the P6 family, second generation of the famous front wheel drive “small” members of the Cologne lineup, complete with road legal license plate. Seemingly a stock looking auto. If you look carefully, however, you will see that there is something wrong about its profile, like if there is an evident mismatch between front and rear passenger compartment sections, just where front and rear doors mate, and it’s not confined to the side creases only. That’s a little weird and in effect, a closer inspection reveals a neat cut which envelopes the whole roof , exactly in the center of the passenger compartment . Yes, the car is effectively cut in half, with the two pieces coupled at the B-pillars level. Why this arrangement ? Well, this was done so Mr. Gratton could literally divide this car while in motion, so the rear portion swinged in parallel motion with the front one ! This was that kind of “offsetting operation” also performed (albeit in a more radical way) by that famous piece of Sixties pop culture, the Love Bug, in the first movie of that famous series. Mr Gratton could perform this ultimate stunt thanks to a motorized lever system, and so he could literally open up the 15 M, both exposing to elements brave rear seat passengers and showing one clear advantage of the front wheel drive: even with your car sliced in half, you could still “safely” drive the 15M . In effect, I wonder whether this system was inspirational enough for Remi Julienne and his team in order to conceive that famous two-wheeled Renault 11 stunt in Paris, maybe the most impressive scene of A View To A Kill Bond movie, incidentally obtaining one of the cleverest Bond flick of them all. Often, this sliced 15M had a structure between its portion, sort of pedestal where a pair of characters staged some sort of comedic road show !

The most peculiar feature of this quirky 15M, as seen today and in action in its heydays.

The 15Ms were also used for another of the Gratton’s entertaining on-the-road performance, with a pair of them connected together (in a Janus-like mode) but with only one being properly piloted, while the other one “followed” the main car’ driving operation. Call it some sort of Octoauto of the Sixties, complete with 4 wheel steering system. Once again, the structure used during the sliced 15M performances also came in handy during these sessions, arguably to take full advantage of this further extroverted example of bravery.

Another performance where two autos behaved in a clever way while being coupled together had Capris as the main stars: here we can see two of them coupled together, this time side-by-side; just like in the previous case, only one was the proper operational vehicle, where the pilot normally sit, while the other one worked in co-operation via the usual ingenious leverage system, obviously devised by Gratton! Needless to say, all of them were true attention-getters, real talk of the town attractions performed during well known Italian traditional festivities (like the so-called Befana Del Vigile on Epiphany day, or during Carnival days): they worked really fine to lure lots of patrons into Gratton’s sales department. And lots of them bought Fords indeed. The old Henry’s “Watch The Fords Go By” catchphrase surely worked in a sterling manner when those Fords were piloted by Paolo Gratton in Gorizia and nearby locales !

The airplane-carrier Badewanne in two door format.

The Badewanne Taunus in typical four door format.

Anyway, there are also normal everyday Taunuses, in any case interesting because what was a familiar sight to Italian motorists of yesteryear is now a rare vision. So, a trip to Gorizia is nonetheless a good occasion to see two nice Badewanne 17/Ms of the P3 family , in other words those with the large and charismatic oval headlamps, curved side windows and general proportions closer to the Falcon than one might expect: the Tudor has an interesting load atop its roof, while the Fordor still has its original GO license.

The Taunus P5 in four door sedan formula.

The rare Taunus P7A Turnier.

Naturally, also later Taunuses are part of this collection, with one example for each of the subsequent rear wheel drive variants of this watershed German Ford auto: a Fordor in P5 guise and a very rare (for Italy) Turnier in the one-year-only P7 format. Compare the later’ front end and bodyside detailing with the younger siblings of the P7 family, also in the collection, and you’ll see more differences than expected between the variants of this generation.

The Ford OSI 20 M TS.

Another interesting Gratton’s auto is the OSI-built 20 M TS: it is always interesting to look at this Sergio Sartorelli-designed, Italian-built sporty variant of the large Taunus family, a rare auto by any standard (for the record, it was the second one I saw in recent times, but this doesn’t detract from the mere fact that it is still not exactly a cherished coachbuilt car, appreciated in the same way as an Aurelia by PF or a Flaminia Touring and under target by speculators. An occasion, provided you can find one).

An early front wheel drive 12M (of the P4 family, to be precise) is also placed in quite a special position, so to provide a supporting role to whichever stunt Gratton wished to perform: “supporting” is in effect an apt term, because thanks to a pedestal which sustains it, it is placed in an almost vertical position, quite a sight even in the middle of a crowded square or boulevard.

Another vertical Ford, this one a 12 M with its peculiar pedestal.

Thanks to this very peculiar arrangement, it affords people to inspection its underbelly modern features. Another trick devised so people could observe the inner qualities of the first puller made under the Ford badge: other Fords were subjected to this unusual “suspended” status during on-the-road exhibitions, always performed by the indomitable Gratton – and naturally that’s the same method also implemented on that two-car combo previously described, with an Escort instead of this 12 M.

Just like other cars in the collection, also the various Taunuses are mostly preserved examples, with conservative restorations, thus explaining also why some of them look like barn-finds rather than concourse gems: however, they are fully working pieces, and the deflated tires only need a vigorous pumping to make every cars as efficient as ever (well, almost every one: those Fords with those loads over them likely need some close inspection to their body; anyway, most of the cars here appear in decent “as is” condition, something not always connected to the notion of a private amassment of cars).

Despite the cobwebs, this is definitely one Cortina for action.

What a pair of (almost) twins !

Just when you think that Model Ts and Taunuses are more than enough to keep an enthusiast satisfied, here are more jewels, which make it clear, to begin with, that our man collected also serious examples of British-built Fords: so, there are autos like a trio of Cortina, all in neat conditions despite the cobwebs wrapped around their underbelly ( a nod to the fact that his owner cannot use them as wished because of his age). Cobwebs or not, this doesn’t detract from the fact that they are in great original conditions: by the way, one of them is a rare Lotus variant in ready-for-road livery, something not so common after so many of these thoroughbreds were converted to modern-day classic tin top racing’ stars, while the others are a nice duo of lookalike early four doors, one a GT.

The Anglia Torino. Compare it with the nearby British standard 105E.

Paolo also owns a pair of Anglias, including one of those rare Italian-manufactured Torino. Yes, before the name Torino became common to fans of North American midsize Fords, it had already adorned a Blue Oval product, this being the sanitized variant of the British 105E, with a conventional rear door appearance and a truncated rear end. Paolo chose to park them side-by-side, so to offer a first-hand occasion to see the differences between the Italian variant and its Dagenham sibling.

In the Sixties, the various restyled features found on the Anglia Torino outer body were more than enough to make it a fairly distinct derivative of the original “Breezeway-Like” Anglia, a thing which remains true even after 50 years. What’s more, the whole rear portion speaks a lot about who effectively penned it: guess who ? Yeah, you’re right, Giovanni Michelotti, the most prolific designer ever (arguably…), and it is easy to see a bit of Dafs or some degrees of Triumphs in this Anglia. Anyway, a witness of a period when custom tariffs and taxes kept many foreign autos out of certain European countries (certain= almost every Western Europe country). Not until mid-to-late Sixties things began to change a bit, and the vast amount of Fords peddled by Mr. Gratton in those days speaks a lot about his ability and success. In any case, together with the GT-like 20 M TS, this was another Ford built by Officine Stampaggi Industriali, and under some circumstances one can argue that it is even more rare than its larger and sportier relative. In sum, under the same roof, Mr.Gratton hosts two of the rarest European Fords of them all. Great!

The nifty British Ford Y.

The always charming Prefect.

One of the most interesting Sixties British ford products, the Corsair.

Among other Dagenham products, there are also a fabulous Y, always noteworthy because of its looks (an effective miniaturization of the contemporary American model) and because of its status as the first Ford specifically built for foreign countries (in this case, European nations, like France, Germany and, obviously, UK), a Zephyr Mk II, a nice Prefect with original Milan number plates and something rarer than hen’ teeth in Italy: a Corsair, superb example of deft engineering and styling sharing; would you guess that it uses many Cortina body and structural parts, mated to one of the most effective uses of Bullet Bird frontal look ever? I too remained surprised to see it, and even more so because it is more beautiful in real life format than in photo. This car is quite remarkable because it shows German and British Ford branches went to great lengths in order to stylistically differentiate their respective products. Starting with the Escort and Capris, this strange tactic which roughly translated in all-out reciprocal competition on the European market, at least in certain price segments, was completely superseded in favor of a more logic integration in styling (and, after a while, in the engine offerings too). The results became clear once the new generation Cortina Mk III and Taunus TC debuted, and it was completed with the 1972 birth of the Consul/Granada models. But for a while, the independence between the two remaining Ford European-based operations gave birth to a long list of specific and distinct models, often quite original and with strong individual looks.

The Gratton’s selection of fine European Fords ends, maybe not by chance, with one of those new wave integrated looks models, a Capri. These machines still had a certain British or German flavor of their own, caused by the distinct and specific motors, but from the outside it became quite difficult to tell a Dagenham auto from a Cologne one.

And other American Fords ? Did Paolo Gratton collect some more of them, or did he limit himself to T’ cause only?

The Mustang. It’s Paolo in person on the far left !

Thankfully for us Italians, Mr. Gratton also collected some more vintage Ford products, and so who visits his collection can see a Mustang with old Italian plates. In effect, this Mustang is quite the very first auto met by whoever enters through the museum’ main doors, and it is an interesting auto by itself: it is in a nice preserved status, and it’s got some modifications, made to meet Italian rules for front and rear taillights.

The Ford A, the same also seen in the 1969 photos with Henry and Paolo.

Mustang aside, there are other non-Ts American Ford products, and we’ve already met one of them: the neat Ford A is in fact the very car which was shown to Henry Ford II by Paolo during that unforgettable 1969 Rome meeting, so it is one rather special auto for our Italian hero. Oh, and take a look at the GO 50001 number plate: this is one clear sign about how Paolo was passionate about his cars since a long ago. In fact, obtaining such a number plate in late Sixties Italy was quite difficult, for there were, like today for that matter, no personalized plates; if you wanted special combos, like this one, you had to book for them – sort of – and then wait for the desired selection of numbers until it became available. In addition, this also explain that the A is road legal in Italy for almost 50 years: a great achievement for a collector car of any kind.

The fascinating early V8.

It is complemented by an always interesting early V8 and they are astutely placed one after each other, so to let us see the dimensional and stylistic difference between them. Surely they are a nice complement for all those Ts, showing in detail the evolution (and the revolution).

The ’53 Capri, with the usual modifications to lights in conformity to Italian rules.

While this collection focuses mostly on vintage Fords of lore, it also hosts a neat representative of Fifties Americana, a magnificent ’53 Capri, a brilliant and relatively late addition to Gratton’s fabulous array. This car is a superb choice as a representative of a typical North American Ford product of the time: glamorous looking yet conservative, flashy yet sober, large but not disproportioned, the Mid Century Lincolns show how restrained and tasteful FoMoCo autos were at the time, even if they still retained the typical touches of then dominating mantra. Their often agile mix of flash and balance often helped the Ford cause more than once in following years, and in spite of some excess, circa 1958, Lincolns were key elements of this phenomenon for most of their life. Mr. Gratton couldn’t make a better choice for his mandatory addition of a typical Fifties Dearborn auto to his selection.

Despite being parked in a relatively tight space, this wonder machine still exudes great amounts of elegance and prestige and makes for a nice contrast with the far boxier and quite divergent lines of the various Ts placed just a few feet away.

The glorious Fiat 18 P.

Of all the Gratton’s machines, the Lincoln is arguably the largest and most physically imposing, even if it is one of the lowest of the lot. However, our hero also collected some memorable military relics, so there is something bulky enough to beat the Lincoln as far as sheer size is concerned . And I am not referring exclusively to another impressive suspended item, that fighter which made for a really original ceiling looming above the German and British Fords. No, I am referring to some ex WWI and WWII army trucks, with the oldest among them being a glorious Fiat 18 P, one of the most famous and most revered of its kind. This glorious old soldier saw field action during the Great War, and it was one of the greatest contribution given to Regio Esercito by Italian industry. This Big Fiat (the P in its nomenclature effectively means Pesante, the Italian term for heavyweight) was produced in the years between 1915 and 1920, and it became (together with its 18 family’ siblings) the backbone of the Italian Army logistics. Interestingly, despite being among the largest of its type, it was equipped with the smallest engine of the lot: however, the engine, despite being a 4,4 liter inline four, still cranked out 40 healthy horses, which came in handy to afford this truck to overpass impervious mountain paths and trails – the pulling power didn’t translate by default in fast trips of any kind, because the average 15 mph top speed isn’t exactly exciting.

In any case, a worthy military vehicle, all the more remarkable because it can be found exactly where some of the most grueling World War I battles took place.

Parked beside it, a typical WC truck is something quite more familiar, albeit it wears Canadian flags: so, this seems a Fargo, rather than a genuine Dodge. In any case, a perfect complement for this collection . Equally intriguing is another piece of WWII history, this one a Canadian-built Ford CMP with towing equipment, coupled to a trailer and with some serious looking radios placed on its bed.

The Canadian Military Pattern truck in Ford-made format.

Made by both Ford and Chevy, working in an unusual co-operative fashion rarely seen before, the Canadian Military Pattern trucks were some of the most versatile vehicles of their kind, and they were widely used in Italy by Allies during World War Two, so it’s no surprise to know that many survivors were later converted to civilian purposes after the conflict ended. However, this one is quite close to its military original specs, and it makes for an interesting item also because of its trailer .

Speaking of co-operative efforts where the giant Ford industrial strength could be quite useful, we cannot forget that definitive example of what a military auto should look like, the Jeep. Thanks to Ford’ contribution, the Willys vehicle became the most successful and most ubiquitous of its kind, giving an immense and invaluable contribution to the cause for final victory; Ford’ role during the epic Arsenal Of Democracy’ days was absolutely crucial, and what better than a Jeep to show how essential were Ford’ workforces and plants in supporting the fight for freedom ? In other words, could a Jeep miss from the exhaustive selection of fine autos collected by Paolo year after year ? No, that’s obvious, after all its presence is almost mandatory, considering his owner’ WWII-related intense juvenile life.

Just to show how complete is Paolo’s passion for anything Ford, he not only collected tons of autos made in Detroit, Cologne and Dagenham, plus some important examples of Blue Oval trucks: he also is the proud owner of a Fordson, the glorious tractor devised as the “T for country working life”, a famous but anyway rare item in Italy.

So, we’ve seen that this collection encompass quite a veritable amount of four-wheeled vehicles, ranging from horseless carriages to flashy Fities boats, from Great War relics to Sixties flagships, from people carriers to auto carriers, from rudimentary microcars to sophisticated stunt cars. However, car-related paraphernalia visible in this museum is almost endless, with one more Model T frame visible as a display item (thanks to its wall-attached status, like a true work of art ), a cutaway real life exhibit of a 390-equipped Mustang engine-and-transmission assembly, various engines on display (including the engine which equipped the ’33 British Y model)

Left to right, another T frame on display, cutaway 390-cum-automatic Mustang drivetrain, small Y four.

In addition, if you look closely at the walls, you’ll see lots of historical photos depicting most prewar Ford models(and some Fifties icons too), and parts: parts everywhere. Carbs, crankshafts, pistons, heads, some blocks, valvegears, steering wheels, gauges, lamps of various age, complete dashes and instrument panels, handles, you name what you wish to see and chances are Mr. Gratton finds your desired piece or component out of a wide choice placed on some tables and displays scattered around the museum walls.

Two noteworthy bikes, a Frera (left) and the Indian Powerplus (right).

But in case you are somewhat tired of what is related to automobiles, yet you still crave for transportation items, Mr. Gratton has again something ready to be discovered: a nice array of vintage bicycles and bikes, including a suggestive old Italian-made Frera, one of the most glorious of its kind, and a really interesting Indian Powerplus in a quite interesting shade of green – not the typical color of a typical Indian, yet full of patina and charm. The Frera’ placing in the collection is also interesting, because this affords me to introduce you to the second portion of the museum displays, those expressly made for radios, TVs, and workshops accessories, with the later ones being a splendid background for the Frera itself .

To be honest, it’s by no coincidence that I also spent a few words about what are mostly spare parts; albeit this may sound like a quite common practice –how many times were we introduced to some friend’s collection, also full of spare and parts which were treated like proper jewelry ? – in Paolo Gratton’s experience they are more than simple soulless pieces, they are a substantial portion of his lifelong passion for technology and veritable mankind achievements.

So important are those kinds of collectible items for him, so deep is his passion toward such minutiae, he felt the urge to collect an impressive amount of devices, and for the most not exactly logical to be seen alongside an exhaustive cars collection: to be precise, they are devices like radios, TVs, and all kind of communication instruments. That’s no coincidence not only because of Gratton’s early working experiences, but also because of a genuine love for two methods of communications, the automobile and the radio, that are both powerful symbols of the 20th Century: marrying them under the same roof as valuable exhibition items was a great idea, one which we must thank Paolo for.

So, after having admired the cars and the trucks, whoever comes in Gratton’s museum must now indulge in the scrutiny of literally hundreds of notable pieces, ranging from the minuscule to the monumental, from the antique to the quasi modern, ranging from Morse code receivers and transmitters (including a reproduction of original early Samuel’s device) to gramophones, from teletypewriters to portable typewriters, from a complete ham radio station to WWII-era “straight keys”, from air raid sirens to submarine-mounted equipment. Naturally, considering the background of their owner, it is no surprise at all to see some memorable military pieces (like a superb American radiogoniometer) close to some tape recorders of very civilian use . There are also interesting examples of wire recorders, always an interesting item for who is not familiar with this type of device, like me. To the contrary, Mr. Gratton reveals a great mastership regarding practically every single item in his collection, the result of decades of unmatched devotion to his job (which also consisted in servicing and selling Philips radios and TV sets of various kind) and another hint at the extraordinary talent regarding all things technical (as seen while staring in admiration beside his “promotional” autos)

A composite photo showing some of the most intriguing items in Gratton’s selection of ancient communication devices.

In sum, once looking at the Gratton collection, enthusiasts can find almost every conceivable kind of equipment in use in Europe during the past 90 years, and this is quite remarkable because some items weren’t exactly a common sights some decades ago: if it is no surprise to see jobs built in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Great Britain and the good ol’ U.S. of A., it is likely quite rare being able to find a Soviet era submarine radio equipment, collected when the Iron Curtain was alive and well.

In addition to all this heaven for radio fans, in the collection there are also some Guglielmo Marconi’s memorabilia, including some items rescued from his yacht before dismantling operations and a replica of his first 1896 transmitter. To add a further fascinating touch of 20th Century history (or, to be precise, History), there is also the faithful reproduction of tragically famous Umberto Nobile’s Red Tent, where survivors of the ill-fated Italia airship polar expedition awaited reliefs.

So, it is about time to salute Mr. Gratton, thanking him for his lifelong devotion to collect whereas others junked, to preserve whereas others dilapidated, to create whereas other destroyed, to remember whereas others forgot…His passion, his skills grant a well deserved place in automotive and communications History, because it is always important for our passion the very existence of men like Paolo: without them, our memory just cannot work fine, for there would be no ready reference while studying important chapters of past decades history. Men like Paolo afford us to take advantage of a close inspection of such references, whether they are autos, trucks, cycles, bikes, radios, tapewriters and the likes….No matter what you like to gaze upon, in the Gratton Collection you may find something quite perfect for you, no matter what your first love is!

The Fiat G91 fighter.

Oh, and in case I didn’t say before, the large vintage jet looming above Taunuses (and their admirers’ heads) is a Fiat G91. Yes, you can say what you want about Fiat and the old Fix It Again Tony adage, but this Fiat jet was quite an effective weapon in its heyday. Didn’t you expect it, did you ? Neither me, for that matter, although the glorious old Italian fighter is a nod to an era when automakers could easily build also avant-garde airplanes. Do you know some other examples ? Examples, like a certain Ford tri-engined job, which might have been quite at home in Paolo Gratton’s hangar…

After the doors closed behind me, a last look at the façade let me give a last tribute and salute to this fantastic laical temple , and before accompanying him home, a last and well deserved thanksgiving to Paolo himself.

What a great and marvelous way to spend some hours, while learning a lot about Fords, radios, and one of the most ingenious and most enterprising Italians of modern time. Thanks again, Paolo!