1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero

Some companies can survive long after their founder has left the building, while others are so centered around the identity of one individual that everything unravels in their absence. And there's arguably no place that can be seen more clearly than in the Italian automobile industry.

Companies like Ferrari and Lamborghini have thrived even after the passing of the founder for which they're named, whether or not that founder's family remains involved in the business. Other names like De Tomaso and Isotta Fraschini have disappeared from the scene in the absence of their namesake founders. And the same can be seen in the coachbuilding and design scene. Pininfarina remains a fixture of the industry even after Battista "Pinin" Farina, Sergio Pininfarina and Andrea Pininfarina all passed. As has Zagato since the passing of Ugo Zagato. Things have not gone so well for Bertone, however.

The carrozzeria founded by Giovanni Bertone thrived under the leadership of his son Nuccio, but after the latter's passing in 1997, it all started falling apart. Fighting broke out between Nuccio's widow Lilli and other people closely involved with the company, and the business began to fragment. Now there are so many splinters of the once-great Gruppo Bertone that it's hard to keep track of them all. But arguably the most important of them is Stile Bertone. Or, we should say "was" Stile Bertone, because that outfit has gone bankrupt more times than we can count, and now seems destined to stay there.

With its final dissolution looming, debts skyrocketing and no savior in sight, it looks like Stile Bertone is about to fall of the map (unless a major automaker swoops in to save it like Volkswagen did with Italdesign Giugiaro, like Ford rescued Ghia or like Ferrari absorbed Scaglietti). But what will happen to its assets once it's gone? Well, whatever can be liquidated will be in order to pay off its debtors. But there may not actually be that much that can be sold. The factory at Grugliasco was sold to Fiat, which is using it to manufacture the latest Maserati Ghibli and Quattroporte. The Bertone name and logo are licensed to it by Lilli's holding company Bertone Cento. And even its reportedly extensive concept car collection might not be so easy to offload.

That's because the collection, according to WardsAuto, is classified as an item of "historic national heritage" in Italy, which means that it can only be sold as a whole, in its entirety, and cannot be split into individual lots like the ones (pictured above) that RM Auctions sold off at Villa d'Este three years ago. What exactly made those examples eligible for liquidation and the remaining collection not, we don't know. Nor do we know which cars are currently in Stile Bertone's possession and if they were to be sold, whether they would be allowed to leave Italy or Europe. But we're looking into it, so watch this space for more.