Gilberto Colombo: the man and the inventor

In both his private and professional life, Gilberto Colombo was a deeply humane and highly cultured individual, who left wonderful memories and impressions in all those who knew him. Self-effacing and always generous, he donated to friends and acquaintances numerous original designs that he developed purely out of passion.

For a portrayal of Gilberto Colombo the man, see these reminiscences written by his children:


DOWNLOAD >  "In ricordo di mio padre / remembering my father Gilberto"

by Marco Colombo 


DOWNLOAD >  "In ricordo di mio padre / Remembering my father Gilberto"  

by Roberta Colombo 


Gilco is an acronym of Gilberto Colombo’s name, with which he signed all his drawings since childhood, and which he later used as a brand name for his remarkable inventions and designs. Born in 1921, at just 17 years of age he began working at his father’s drawing mill (Trafileria A.L. Colombo) located in Via Tanzi in Milan, which specialized in cold-drawn steel tubing for aeronautics and was already famous in the 1930s for producing bicycle frames and tubular furniture under the brand name Columbus (which is still flourishing today). At 21, while still a university student of engineering, Gilberto became production manager at his father’s factory, in charge of the industrial machinery and of the technical aspects of special products, such as reinforced steel tubing, which were manufactured in the factory’s department directed by his uncle Carlo Colombo. Ever since, his life was an uninterrupted creative adventure.

In 1940, as an engineering student at Milan’s Polytechnic, Colombo met Mario Speluzzi, a professor who was also an engine designer active in the automotive industry, and who inspired him to apply his engineering and designing skills in this sector.
The meeting with Enzo Ferrari in 1946, in Modena, marked the beginning of their life-long friendship and of Gilberto Colombo’s collaboration with the historic Italian automaker, which became increasingly assiduous during the 1950s. Colombo delved into frame designs for Ferrari racing cars, establishing a chassis department within the A.L. Colombo drawing mill named GC, dedicated to special applications for the automotive sector.
In 1947 he also established the company Gilco Autelai, which produced its first chassis for an improved Formula One Maserati for the Ruggeri brothers’ racing team Scuderia Milan. In May, Ferrari made its Formula One debut with the 125 model, and in the autumn of the same year introduced the more powerful Ferrari 159. Gilco Autotelai grew quickly, delivering 25-30 chassis per trimester, and completing each chassis in an average of 15 days.

The highly successful collaboration with Ferrari continued throughout the first half of the decade, but in June 1955 a catastrophic crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans shocked the entire world and led to a six-month stop to motor races. As a consequence, the entire motor racing sector suffered. The disaster affected Gilberto Colombo deeply, and he increasingly directed his activity towards touring cars, and in the following years shifted away from production and towards design, expanding to new fields of interest.

As Gilco increasingly reduced its chassis production, Colombo began directing his interest towards architectural and nautical design. It was during this period that he designed and built his two family homes on Lake Como, and developed ideas for improving the design of the Star class racing keelboat. Relying on the manual skills of a former carpenter, he set up a small yard in Lierna, where the first Star modified according to his technical designs – named Roberta, after his daughter – was completed in 1965. The small yard continued its activity until 1975, producing about twenty custom-made Stars.
In 1966, Colombo acquired the drawing mill Trafiltubi, located in the outskirts of Milan and still active today. Under his guidance, the factory began specializing in the production of high-precision steel tubing in a wide array of cross-sections for special applications. The Gilco brand thus began operating in synergy with a production facility that could provide the most sophisticated technological solutions.

In addition to his regular activities, during this period Colombo devised several cold drawing machines exclusively for Trafiltubi, among these the extraordinary trafile a tamburo that could draw several tubes simultaneously. In addition, the small shipyard on Lake Como was receiving more orders than it could satisfy, and he began collaborating as a consultant for both the Folli and Lillia shipyards. His Star Roberta II placed second at the Italian Championships in 1972 and won the title on the following year sailed by Marco Colombo (Gilberto’s son) and Davide Sigurtà. In 1975 the same team repeated as Italian champions with the newly-built Roberta III

Throughout the 1980s the Stars designed by Colombo and built by Folli or Lillia garnered a string of successes at international regattas, including the 1982 and 1983 Star class World Championship title obtained by Antonio Gorostegui on a Star from the Folli shipyard.
In the early 1980s Gilberto Colombo created a special applications department (RAS, Reparto Applicazioni Speciali) within Trafiltubi, to produce exclusive tubing conceived for racing and track bicycles. Among the innovations he introduced in this period was a special oleo-dynamic cold-drawing machine that could impress different thicknesses on the same tube, and other novel solutions that revolutionized the history of bicycle manufacturing. Dating back to 1983, for example, is the famous Gilco “star section” S4 tube, featuring four distinct symmetrical flutes through the central section, and the designs for the Master frame made for Colnago.

Meanwhile, Colombo studied track frame designs that brought the back wheel closer to the centre, lowered the handlebar’s position, and employed varying tube profiles to improve performance. His research led him to the design of Laser Nuova Evoluzione for Cinelli, which received the Compasso d’Oro award in 1991, and to the patent of the MS (Multishape) tube, which was used in the MS frame design for Columbus. The Master tube was also employed for the frame of a track bicycle.

At the same time, Colombo and his son Marco began studies to adapt Trafiltubi’s tubes to lamp technology, and devised extremely resistant and thin tubing that in 1985 was used for the famous Dove lamp. The lamp became a cult design object and is still being produced today (after re- engineering by Nemo Lighting).
At the 1986 Star World Championships, ten sailboats built in the Folli and Lillia shipyards placed in the first eleven.
In 1987 the Master tube is used in the manufacture of the Dual (or Delta) frame, featuring a double diagonal tube.

In the midst of an intensely creative period, Gilberto Colombo died suddenly, aged 67. Today Trafiltubi continues to preserve and develop his technical legacy, animated by the same passion as its founder.


Registro Gilco CAR BADGE



Distintivo Registro Gilco


Il Sito utilizza cookies proprietari di tipo tecnico e cookies di tipo Analitico ( Google Analytics ) per migliorare la navigazione. Cliccando sul pulsante Accetto dai il tuo consenso e permetti al sito di salvare questi dati sul tuo computer.  Clicca qui per maggiori informazioni [INFORMATIVA ESTESA]