Supercortemaggiore: the iconic petrol pump of the Italian economic boom

During the early 1960s, Nizzoli and Olivieri embarked on a remarkable journey to design the renowned petrol pump for Enrico Mattei’s oil company Eni. This masterpiece became a symbol of a revolutionary era of mobility.

In 1958, Italy had a modest fleet of slightly over 400,000 private cars on its roads. By 1963, the number skyrocketed to over 5 million. During the five years of the Italian economic boom, private motorization exploded. As the number of cars increased exponentially, it became essential to provide the road and highway network with sufficient petrol stations.

This is how the new Supercortemaggiore petrol pump, built by Agip and designed by Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Olivieri, was born. Conceived in 1958, it was unveiled on the road in 1963. It can rightly be called a true child of the Italian economic boom. The pump’s internal mechanics, crafted by Nuovo Pignone, a subsidiary of Eni at the time, were licensed from the prestigious German company Schwelm. Enrico Mattei, the visionary President of Eni, personally advocated for retaining the German mechanics while giving the pump a more graceful and modern appearance.

Nizzoli and Olivieri, whose long-standing collaboration dates back to 1948, when Olivieri joined Nizzoli’s studio as a designer and craftsman, embarked on a journey that would endure until the 1960s. Breaking away from the prevailing refrigerator paneling style found in pumps of the 1950s, they embraced angular and minimalist forms that would come to define the aesthetic of the following decade.

The two designers ingeniously divided the pump’s body into two sections, facilitating inspection and maintenance. They also worked tirelessly on the proportions, meticulously adding or subtracting centimeters to achieve optimal harmony and minimize machining waste. The resulting pump took the shape of two overlapping parallelepipeds, each with its distinct size. The body was made of porcelain enamel, the sides boasted a fiery red hue, while the white and yellow “façade” featured a captivating emblem: a black six-legged dog exhaling a vibrant red flame from its mouth. Designed by Luigi Broggini, this iconic symbol would later become the logo of Eni and its associated companies. The choice of the six-legged dog was the result of a competition of ideas launched by Enrico Mattei in the 1950s and announced in the pages of Domus magazine.

The competition announcement in the pages of Domus 270, May 1952

The response from Italian society to Mattei’s call was impressive, with over 4,000 sketches submitted. Esteemed figures such as Armano Testa, Marcello Nizzoli, and Fortunato Depero participated in this creative endeavor. The rigorous selection process, which included esteemed jury members such as Mario Sironi and Gio Ponti, required no fewer than 14 meetings to select the winner.

In the end, the black dog by sculptor Luigi Broggini triumphed, capturing the hearts of all. Interestingly, Broggini chose to participate under the pseudonym of Giuseppe Guzzi, fearing that being associated with a commercial and advertising creation might tarnish his esteemed artistic reputation. The Black Dog quickly became ultra-popular.

Credit must also be given to the extensive advertising campaign orchestrated by Eni for Supercortemaggiore gasoline (“la potente benzina italiana!” – “the powerful Italian gasoline!”). Eni collaborated with director Luciano Emmer, who created a captivating series of Caroselli commercials starring famous personalities such as Maria Teresa Vianello, Dario Fo, Franca Valeri, and Gabriele Ferzetti.

The distributor’s name, Supercortemaggiore, comes from the town of Cortemaggiore in the province of Piacenza, where an oil field was discovered in 1949. Although the size of the deposit was relatively small, the discovery was of great symbolic importance and reinforced the need for an independent energy policy within the Italian political sphere. Sadly, Enrico Mattei passed away in a plane crash in 1962 before the petrol pump was put on the road. The circumstances surrounding the crash remain unclear to this day.

Opening image: Courtesy Archivio Eni 

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