It's a proven recipe: German engineering with Italian style; in this case, Studiotorino Moncenisio builds a Porsche Cayman reimagined by Turin-based design industry guru Alfredo Stola. Even though the rich Italian coach-building traditions have been recently hit by a number of crises—the financial downfall of the famous Bertone studio followed by Pininfarina seeking help from Mahindra Investments—Alfredo Stola's star still shines brightly. Since the second half of the '80s, he has grown to the position of the automotive design industry's Eminence grise, building more than 250 stylistic models and concept cars for the world's leading carmakers over the last 25 years. Stola SpA's history dates back to 1919: It was founded by Alfredo's grandfather next to Lancia's premises, the company's first major client for metal bodies. Alfredo Stola took over the business at 17 years old with the help of his uncle. Beautiful cars and design surrounded him from an early age—now, as a successful businessman, he still possesses a collection of valuable classic cars and unparalleled experience in building special cars of various types.
It wasn't always the easy life you might imagine at Stola SpA. As Stola explains, his team had to deal with impossibly short deadlines; sleepless nights and crippling stress was merely a way of life. As he browses through the thick catalogue with photos of his creations, he stops on the page with Stola Dedica, a Fiat Barchetta-based concept car. "This car caused me so much worries, I lost all my hair," he says. You would take it as a joke if you didn't see how Alfredo looks, now completely bald. His great sacrifice transformed this once-small family business into a worldwide conglomerate operating on three continents. The ways of Alfredo Stola and the company named after his family split in 2004, when he decided to sell all of his shares and start a completely new endeavor, a small independent design consulting bureau, Studiotorino, faithful to the original ideals of the Stola company.
For him, this back-to-roots approach was the only way to fulfill his passion. To Alfredo Stola, nothing is more important than his love for cars—it's instantly recognizable from the way he speaks about them, looks at them, and what a great deal of time he still devotes to them. With his wife, Maria Paola Stola, and designer Marco Goffi, Alfredo offers enthusiasts and collectors short batches of unique automobiles based on respected performance cars. Studiotorino changes these cars' bodies and interiors but none of the mechanical parts, continuing the rich and longstanding traditions of Italian "fuoriserie." What sets Studiotorino apart from other small manufacturers is its rare ability to join honest enthusiasm with the expertise of the world's leading automotive-technology partners. The company benefits from a wide network of contacts built throughout Alfredo Stola's long career in Torino—one of the most developed automotive industry hubs in the world.
Surprisingly, despite his Italian origin, one of Stola's biggest automotive passions has always been Porsche, which also happened to be one of his company's clients. The Italians built two evaluation prototypes of the Cayenne in the late 1990s. The relationship between Mr. Stola and the German brand grew from 1994 to 2004, when he worked closely with Harm Lagaay, the legendary Dutch head of "Style Porsche" design department from 1989 to 2004. This affair led to some of Stola's early works at his previous company. First, it was a Boxster-based Stola S82 model in 2001, with its silver paint, low-slung silhouette, and additional air intakes, clearly homage to the Porsche 550 Spyder. In 2003, came GTS: once again based on a Boxster, even if the blue-and-orange livery was a nod to the great Porsche 917 of the past, GTS's closed body foreshadowed the future Cayman.
Eventually, the Italian prototype of Zuffenhausen's compact coupe was penned by Alfredo Stola's dear and respected friend Aldo Brovarone, one of the great personas in the Italian automotive design. At the time of drawing the car, Brovarone was well into his eighties, and GTS was one of the last creations of his remarkably long career, starting at Pininfarina, where he designed some of the finest Ferrari specials and Peugeot's biggest commercial successes, like 504 and 604. The development of the S82's and GTS's concepts continued at Studiotorino, where the design evolved with the introduction of the brand-new 987 Boxster/Cayman. Both cars, named RKspyder and RKcoupe and finished in 2006 and 2008 respectively, were created in cooperation with Alois Ruf. The famous Porsche specialist chose to propel them with the tried and tested 3.8L six-cylinder boxer from his Ruf 3800k model, thanks to the help of his supercharger good for a hearty 440 hp—way more than any sub-911 turbo two-door Porsche.
As the Cayman progressed again into the 981 model, Alfredo Stola reacted with the third iteration of his concept, working on the project from the middle of 2012, just three months after the car's official launch, until the spring of 2014. While the body remained faithful in details to the 987-based RKcoupe, the latest Studiotorino effort follows an approach more in line with the Italian gran turismo traditions. Its name and color commemorate Moncenisio Alpine pass, located just an hour's drive north of Studiotorino's headquarters. It is the home of the Moncenisio lake, known for its extraordinary blue hue mimicked by the car's paint, linked with the mountain pass with a great panoramic route leading all the way from Italy to France through the ancient "Via Francigena." The winding road climbing to 6,834 feet above sea level was used for one of the first hillclimb races in the world, the famous Susa-Moncenisio (still taking place in the area today).
Taking inspiration from such a place would indicate a greater focus on performance, but Studiotorino followed the steps of Bertone with its 1966 Porsche 911 Roadster, Pininfarina with 911 B17 or Zagato with the Carrera GTZ, rather than Abarth with its 356B Carrera GTL, Zagato with 356A/1600 Speedster, or the Stola-Ruf that preceded it. Moncenisio is nothing more than an aesthetics exercise without any kind of tuning involved. To tell the truth, there wasn't really any need to improve the mechanical components—Stola was lucky enough to base his creation on one of the sweetest handling cars in the world, the 2013 Cayman S. Moncenisio is as perfectly balanced as the original, putting a smile on the driver's face thanks to the same blend of mechanical roar of the 3.4L 325hp boxer, relentless pace boosted by the PDK gearbox, and an occasional tail slide on the sun-dried Piedmontese asphalt.
The interior is based on the Porsche's original design, though its character was altered significantly by the new bold color combination. Looking at the Moncenisio Pass landscapes, it's not difficult to guess where Maria Paola Stola took her inspiration from—the refreshing mix of azure, light green, and olive brings an interesting effect to the cabin usually associated with much more toned-down shades, adding some extravagant one-of-a-kind spirit to the interior. Moncenisio distinguishes itself from Cayman by the addition of some cabin equipment unique to Studiotorino, like a numbered commemorative plaque engraved with the name of the owner or the delightful factory-designed tea set consisting of a vacuum flask and two mugs packed in a box upholstered with the same materials as the car's interior. It's this kind of detail that makes Moncenisio look like a high-quality product coming from a full-grown manufacturer who brings together the best Italian style and craftsmanship.
And how can the Italian sprezzatura manifest itself better than in the car's body. The latest Studiotorino model is the work of Daniele Gaglione, currently head of JAC design studio, who made his name by designing Alfa Romeo 8C in both Coupe and Spider forms at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo. Gaglione created the initial sketch of Moncenisio on a transatlantic flight over Greenland, but many months of further adjustments on the exclusively blue drawings were still pending. As is often the case with the higher forms of art, Moncenisio's design needs some introduction to its creator's intentions and the historical context. Gaglione's aim was to inject a new spirit to the Cayman's body, reimaging it with the clearly Italian flair, while still maintaining Porsche's mind-set. The result is a sentimental GT merging the motifs coming from both the south of Europe and Zuffenhausen, while maintaining the design language set by Aldo Brovarone with Moncenisio's predecessors. At first glance, the body may look as if it were only briefly retouched, but in fact save for the doors and the roof, the rest of the body is new. Most of it is now built from carbon fiber and Kevlar, so the driver has to watch out not to scratch these priceless bumpers, as Alfredo Stola got rid of the parking sensors, along with some other conveniences, dismissing them as gimmicks unbecoming of a raw sports car.
Using the same mounting points, the Cayman's body was given new proportions thanks to some length in the new shape of the bumpers, which make the whole car seem to be optically wider as well (and more aerodynamically efficient). The most dramatic change concerned the greenhouse: The rear side windows have been covered and the rear glass shifted vertically. Together with the longer roof and side support pillars, it evokes the feeling of a 21st century Porsche 904. That famous race car proves a recognizable and desirable car from Zuffenhausen doesn't always have to be 911. Another dramatic change came at the sides of the car, as the air intakes were reduced in size but are big on style. They were also relocated to the bottom, leaving the whole surface cleaner and crisper.
The makeover is completed with some fine custom details. The filler cap has been moved from the front fender to another historically meaningful place, the middle of the hood. It's a beautiful aluminum sculpture made by the Italian metal specialists Bennato e Figli. Another treat comes at the rear, where the usual Porsche exhaust tip is replaced with a much more special metal outlet. Pirelli designed and built tailor-made tires with the treads in the shape of the model's name, but after the car's premiere they had to be changed for the road use for homologation reasons. The unique, Studiotorino-specific 20-inch forged aluminum wheels stayed though, thankfully. Each detail all the way down to the handmade metal logos and laser-cut names speaks volumes about Stola's great ability to bring the best names in the industry together to make the highest-quality product, still using the traditional methods of "scuola Turinese," as the Italian romantically puts it. All in all, around a hundred specialists of various types were engaged in the project. Most of them are known by name, as the car bears their signatures on the underside of the hood.
The first Moncenisio was completed and presented at a grand party at Turin's National Automobile Museum. Mr. Stola dedicated this car to the memory of his late father, Francesco Stola, which is indicated by its special code name: S.F. 1/1. It's a charming car full of Italian sentiment reflecting the owner's personality, but it isn't a one-off. Studiotorino plans a production run of up to 19 cars. To have your Moncenisio, first you have to buy a Cayman and bring it to Turin, along with $155,000 before tax. For that money, the company will make a car far more unique and personally adjusted than any currently offered Porsche, let alone a Cayman.