Flame-throwing whatever-it-is and its murky past
In the way that a volcano can unexpectedly erupt, my Ducati 888, in the midst of its six-month winter layoff, suddenly and without provocation became doubly incontinent. Gasoline and radiator fluid drooled out the bottom of the fairing, mixed into a foul cocktail, and squiggled across the garage floor. I cleaned the mess, scattered a pile of clean rags under the bike, and, that night, in a dream had a premonition that flames engulfed my garage, jumped to the house, and razed the neighbourhood. The next day, after collecting sodden rags, and after removing the fairing to commence the blood-letting of the Ducati’s remaining fluids, I realized I’d been looking without seeing.
On the right side of the engine, on the clutch housing next to the oil-filler neck, is a decal from Italian oil firm AGIP advising only the use of “SINT 2000.” Oil-company co-branding deals with manufacturers of oil consuming products are ubiquitous, and unless you’re fearful of making independent decisions (or have a vehicle under warranty) the advice is often ignored—oil company decals merely inhabit space sold to the highest bidder. I’d noticed the decal each oil change, but this time, for the first time, I was struck by the peculiar creature at the heart of the AGIP logo.
The lion-headed, dragon-like beast has six furry legs and horse-like hooves. And despite the scrunched-down tail, the belched flame stretches dangerously close to singeing the fur on its hindquarters. (An imagined re-jigging of the illustration, with the flame exiting the beast’s buttocks, would indicate the aftereffects of dining on vindaloo pork.)
AGIP, swallowed by parent company ENI in the early 2000s, is no more. Rome-based ENI, however, is very much in business and continue to use AGIP’s creature in unadulterated form. In ENI’s words: “It is a logo that immediately relates to the company and its values, telling a story of courage, innovation, and substance that combines loyalty to the past with trust in the future. [It] gives us the possibility of creating greater internal cohesion and, consequently, under the symbol of the six-legged dog, better cultural homogeneity.” It’s difficult to say which is more implausible—that ENI believes in a marketing-gobbledygook-espousing dog or that it thinks it’s a dog.
The illustration is linked to Italian sculptor, designer, painter, and poet Luigi Broggini. Broggini (1908-1980) never admitted authorship of the illustration, though it was popularly attributed to him. After the artist’s death, however, his son claimed the work as his father’s. We can speculate on the son’s motive, but should resist the assumption it was for monetary gain. Licencing artwork to a corporation is a common source of income for artists in the formative years of a career—an act that only becomes problematic if the artist’s reputation swells to the point at which the corporate dalliance becomes an embarrassment.
In AGIP lore, the dog was christened to celebrate Supercortemaggiore gasoline, noteworthy because, at the time, it was the only gasoline produced from the refining of Italian oil. (The oilfield was in the city of Cortemaggiore, in the Piacenza district, about two-thirds of the way to Milan northwest of Bologna on the E35.)
As to the specific meaning(s) of the dog and its relationship to gas and oil, it’s straightforward enough to link the belched flame to the burning of fuel. Another claim, the veracity of which cannot be confirmed (and which sounds suspiciously like fanciful after-the-fact rationalization by an overzealous corporate communications employee) is that the six legs of the dog represent the four wheels of an automobile plus the two legs of the driver.
But the appropriateness of AGIP’s dog is confirmed by observing the actual, non-mythological dog sitting next to the pumps in the reproduced ad. The dog is as offended as the four gas station employees at the necessity of fussing over this woman. The dog, if he could, would belch a flame of worker solidarity over his shoulder at her and her English car, sending the pair of them, in the ensuing inferno, across the autostrada into oblivion. Too fantastic an explanation? More far-fetched than a cultural homogeneity-promoting six-legged hoofed dog with unfathomably treacherous breath? I think not.