If you visit the private car collection of Beretta in Italy, this is why you’ll find a perfectly pristine 1989 Chevrolet Beretta GTU Coupe amidst a one-off car made by Beretta and a handful of motorcycles.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit the Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta in Gardone Val Trompia in Northern Italy you might be lucky enough to tour Beretta’s Private Museum including the gun maker’s car collection. Parked next to Beretta’s one-off prototype dubbed the BBC is a black 1989 Chevrolet Beretta GTU Coupe. This rad era car was part of a symbolic trade back in 1989 where General Motors got a pair of long guns from Beretta in exchange for the aforementioned Coupe as part of a greater settlement to avoid an international trademark infringement lawsuit.
Here’s a couple of photos of this blast from the past Chevrolet in the middle of Italy below. These photos come courtesy of XR1200Owners.com member Rick Kaiser who was stationed in Italy at the time shared with his permission.
Prior to the lawsuit
How this Chevrolet ended up in Italy is an interesting story in corporate politics that stretches four years. Prior to Beretta filling a lawsuit, Beretta already explicitly warned General Motors that using the Bertteta name for their sporty coupe was a violation of their trademark of the same name filed 32 years prior.
In order to avoid a lawsuit altogether, Beretta and GM opened a dialogue over a year and a half period where, at one point, Beretta said GM could use their name only if GM explicitly took out advertising differentiating between the car and gun.
GM, already in full production and selling several hundred thousand Berettas/Corsicas, didn’t accept their advertising compromise. In a piece by USA Today around the time news of this potential lawsuit started going around GM contended that “the name was from picked from a list by its marketing executives, and was a “clear winner” in consumer focus groups.”
The Chevrolet Beretta, and its sedan brother the Corsica, were both important cars for Chevrolet in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Around this time, the Big 3 were being pummeled by foreign competition, particularly the Japanese and their FWD products. GM’s FWD cars played second fiddle to the more popular imports despite cheaper pricing.
The Beretta and Corsica were successors to GM’s X-platform, the first mass-produced FWD Chevrolet’s ever so Chevrolet was counting on the success of Beretta and Corsica even if it meant keeping a focus group winning name despite what a gunmaker in Italy said.
With talks between the two not working, Beretta had only one other option in their disposal, a lawsuit.
Beretta fires back
It was a recall, among other recalls and reasons, that really got Beretta’s fired up to file a lawsuit, particularly an NHTSA recall that affected more than 280,000 Beretta’s and Corsica’s on the road where
The Secondary hood latch assembly may not have been properly adjusted resulting in latch becoming bent.
If the secondary latch does not close the hood properly, a hood could fly open while you’re driving potentially causing injury or even death in the ensuing potential accident.
Beretta fired a preemptive strike in the latter end of July 1988 with a lawsuit claiming that continued use of the Beretta name could damage their gun’s reputation.
If you imagine the scenario from Beretta’s perspective, here you are, a 400-year-old company whose name bears lots of weight as the some of the best guns in the world.
In a quote from Michael Cornman, then NY Lawyer representing Beretta published in the SF Chronicle,
“A very, very famous name is being put on a middle-line automobile. Beretta guns are the Rolls-Royces of their field,” said Michael Cornman”
As far as business in the United States was concerned, in a report by the Deseret News,
The U.S. Army signed an $80 million contract for 315,000 Beretta pistols in 1985, but has been forced by Congress to hold a new competition among pistol companies for its next order.
Beretta had a reputation to uphold and would not have its name sullied by a, in their eyes, inferior mid-sized car.
Local news had a field day with headlines for potential legal fight of epic proportions. Here are a handful I found online from the time, when witty titles mattered in for newspapers.
- Beretta Sticks to its guns, Sues GM- USA Today
- Beretta Fires shot at Chevy– St. Louis Post- Dispatch
- Warning shot, famous gunmaker draws bead on GM– SJ Mercury News
- GM and gun maker in shootout over name– St. Petersburg Times
Beretta wanted both punitive and actual damages on top of a court order barring GM from “trademark infringement, trade name dilution, and unfair competition.”
The amount they came up with, $250 Million or roughly over half a billion in 2019 (inflation.)
Car and Driver pokes fun, compares the 1989 Beretta GTU Coupe to a 9mm Beretta.
In a stroke of genius, for their January 1989 issue, Car and Driver really compared a Chevrolet Car with a gun in a quite satirical yet journalistically written four-page comparison.
Just like their car comparisons, Car and Driver listed out consumer relevant details like weight, top speed, and price.
- “Curb weight: Beretta, the pistol, 2.5 pounds; Beretta, the Chevy, 2,847 pounds.”
- “Top speed: Beretta, the gun, 878 mph (at the barrel end); Beretta, the sedan, 114 mph.”
- “Price, as tested: Beretta, the semiautomatic, $596; Beretta, the car with an automatic transmission, $15,428.”
Then, there were some real gems written by New York contributing editor Bruce McCall like,
″We liked the solid heft and natural feel of the Italian lightweight. It falls easily to hand. … No such provision is designed into the five-speed Getrag shifter fitted to our U.S. test sample, perhaps because while the Italian aims to be on the hip of everybody in uniform, the American aims only to be uniform among everybody hip.”
I can only imagine both Beretta and GM appreciated the levity this article provided if only for a moment.
Seven months after Beretta filed their lawsuit against GM, Beretta unofficially announced that a settlement was reached between the two. I say unofficial because when word got around to GM that this matter was behind them, GM’s director of corporate media relations stated that
‘Beretta’s announcement of a settlement is premature,’ Crellin said in a statement. ‘We have not signed a settlement agreement with them.
His statement didn’t carry much weight because three months later, both GM and Beretta spelled out their terms of the settlement, the same as when they were announced in February.
- GM donates $500,000 to Beretta’s Cancer Foundation
- A signed agreement allowing GM to use the Beretta name for their line of sports cars given GM disclose that Beretta is being used by permission in their catalogs and in the owner’s manual.
- A symbolic exchange of gifts, Beretta receives from GM a 1989 Beretta GTU Coupe and in return, Beretta gives GM a shotgun and hunting rifle.
The GTU Coupe was the top of the line Beretta of the time with a 2.8L V6 that output a respectable 130 HP and 160 lb-ft paired to a five-speed with performance suspension on all four corners.
True to their word GM shipped a 1989 Chevrolet Beretta GTU Coupe to Italy and, in a signing ceremony between Pier Giuseppe Beretta and GM CEO Roger Smith, Beretta got the car and Smith got two guns.
As far as I know, that Beretta hasn’t moved from their collection ever since.
I’ve reached out to both Beretta and GM’s Heritage center for the current conditions of the Coupe and the two long guns but haven’t heard anything back from either. I will update this post as soon as I do hear about anything.