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This car is a stunning styling statement, a jet-age objet d’art very much of its time that has also proven timeless

2011-04ETC


One of Ghia’s most famous designs, the Supersonic was not merely a brilliant fashion statement; it was, in many ways, the result of economic necessity. The two-seat sports car featured stylized, streamlined forms, subtle tail fins, a delicate use of brightwork and a taut, swept-back roofline.

During the fall of 1953, Luigi Serge traveled to Detroit to meet with Chrysler executives, including stylist Virgil Exner. Also present at the meeting was a gentleman by the name of Paul Farago, a designer and engineer who was very much involved in Chrysler’s styling department and later, in the development of the Dual-Ghia cars. With full support from Exner, Paul Farago placed the first order for a Ghia-bodied Fiat 8V Supersonic.

It is his car that we have the great honor of presenting here today. During the early 1950s, Paul Lazaros worked for Paul Farago as an engineer and machinist. With a background in automobiles and a keen eye for design, it is understandable that he would be attracted to the bespoke Italian sports car. In 1955, after admiring the car for some time, Lazaros struck a deal with Farago and purchased the car.

It is safe to say the Supersonic has led an unusually protected and secluded life during the past 55 years in Mr. Lazaros’ care. At the time of cataloging, the odometer displayed a mere 26,700 kilometers, just under 17,000 miles. This astonishing figure is corroborated by the car’s highly original condition, minimal use and airtight provenance. The paint appears to be 80% original and possesses a lovely uniform appearance, showing only the wonderful visual traces that come with decades of continuous use and interaction with its long-term caretaker.

The Supersonic is, quite literally, original down to the wheels and tires. The Borrani knockoffs still wear the factory-installed Pirelli Cinturato tires, and the unique polished wheel discs are the only set that is known to have survived intact. The car’s interior is as complete and original as the exterior and remains in fine order throughout. The leather upholstery wears its age beautifully and has a wonderfully inviting feel. In addition, the carpets, headliner, rubber and hardware have a consistent patina.

Almost every component of the car, from the Securit glass to the Marchal lamps, was fitted at the factory and remains undisturbed. The engine bay is largely untouched and is consistent with the low mileage. The engine is the original, matching-numbers unit and is topped with twin Weber DCZ3 carburetors as well as a unique air-intake system.

Elsewhere, one finds the factory-delivered data plates, Marelli equipment, original fasteners and correct factory finishes. As would be expected of such a well-kept automobile, all the important accessories are present, including the original key and spare tire, as well as the tool kit and jack stowed in the factory-delivered canvas pouches. After spending time in the presence of this car, it is hard not to be captivated by its extraordinary appearance, magnificent patina and impeccable history. Each and every detail exudes character and speaks to the single-minded dedication that has helped to preserve this car in its remarkable state. When Paul Lazaros recalls the moment when he first set eyes on the Supersonic, he describes the feeling as “love at first sight.” For collectors with a deep appreciation for extraordinary automobiles and the history behind them, it must be difficult not to feel the same way about this one-of-a-kind car.

{analysis}{auto}2965{/auto}This car, Lot 157, sold for $1,705,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company Scottsdale, AZ, auction on January 23, 2011.

I will begin with a conclusion and work my way back. This world-record sale of a Fiat 8V, the third-highest sale of all the cars during the January 2011 Arizona auctions, may have been a surprise to some but not to me. I became acquainted with this car in late November 2009, and from the moment I saw it in December of that year, I knew it was something extraordinary. As my friends from the U.K. might say, this one “ticked all the boxes.”

Design? The Supersonic is a stunning styling statement, a jet-age objet d’art very much of its time but which has also proven timeless. Performance? The Zagato versions of the 8V proved the model’s competition chops, and, even with the heavier Ghia body, the Supersonic was no slouch.

Provenance, condition and originality? Here’s where this car begins to really shine. How about two registered owners from new? The allure of the “barn find”—not to mention its far-sexier sister, the “preserved time capsule”—has never been stronger. We have here, in its shiny original paint, a 1953 high-performance car still wearing its first set of tires, with supple leather seats, still having its original canvas tool roll and still taking shelter under the hand-sewn cover placed over it for its voyage to America in 1953.

Shock and awe

There’s no question, it was hard to imagine that this Fiat wouldn’t spark excitement. But how much was the mystery. Back in 2009, I received a call from Xavier Maignan of the American Concours Foundation, telling me that the Foundation had a car for sale which was “…right up your alley.” He said the car was a Fiat 8V with Supersonic coachwork, and it was an unbelievably preserved example. I, of course, asked, “Do you mean ‘preserved’ or ‘barn find’? There’s a big difference!” I was assured it was the former and photos were sent. What I saw seemed unbelievable.

I flew to Detroit from Connecticut on a day so stormy that it took nearly six hours to get from Connecticut to Michigan, all the while thinking, “I hope this is worth it....” It’s truly difficult to put down in words what I felt when I saw the Supersonic sitting in a nondescript suburban two-car attached garage. I had never before experienced, nor do I expect to again soon, the particular combination of wonder and incredulity of that moment. Shock and awe indeed, of a kind unimaginable by generals.

A 55-year love affair

At first the owner, Mr. Lazaros, was a bit wary, but gradually warmed to me as he began to feel my true enthusiasm for both the 8V in general and his car specifically. Much in the manner of a master gemologist presenting an extraordinary diamond, he took me on a tour around the car, pointing out each feature, explaining the source of every mark and paint fade and reliving the time when he first saw the car and the intense pleasure he felt when he was able to buy it 54 years before.

I spent the next two months attempting to match the car with people I knew, to no avail—for a variety of reasons, among them the car’s status as a non-runner since 1978 and a substantial asking price, but in the end, mainly because Mr. Lazaros was not yet ready to part with his treasure.

In July of 2010, when I arrived to fulfill my commitment as a judge at the Concours of America at Meadow Brook, I came out of the Dodge mansion and found myself in the presence of three old friends—the 8V, now dusted and gleaming in the dappled sunlight, and Paul Lazaros and his lovely wife standing beside it. We chatted for a few minutes, during which time he confirmed that he really “…didn’t want to sell the car, and it was great to give it some attention and take it out.”

As the car was still not running, I presumed he would have the Fiat for the rest of his life.

The next thing I heard about the Supersonic was when I was told by a representative of Gooding & Company a few months later that it was cataloged for sale in Scottsdale. With the car now running for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in the White House, everyone with whom I spoke was confident it would sell—but identifying the right number seemed to be difficult.

In the end, the $1.55m hammer price—$150k above high estimate—was a result consistent with the car’s appeal to a number of hot segments of the current market, custom coachwork of the 1950s, and of course, preservation.

A Supersonic market impact?

As a contrast, it will be interesting to observe what the next restored 8V Supersonic will bring at auction; the last seen was chassis 39, which was sold in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Sportscar Auction in October 7, 2006, and profiled in the March 2007 issue of SCM. It brought $452,800—equal to what the more common, popular and competitively successful Zagato-bodied Fiat 8Vs were then commanding.

At the time, some viewed it as slightly unusual that the “decorative” Supersonic would bring the price of a “useable” Zagato. No one has ever denied the eye appeal of the Supersonic body, whether as an Alfa, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Fiat or even a Cobra.

This Fiat, while shown in static special display at Meadow Brook last summer, is obviously welcome at any concours on the planet and would be one of the most compelling preservation-class entries imaginable. It is not completely original—some minor touch-up has been done to areas of paint scratched, nicked and dinged during its long storage, several finishes in the engine compartment have been renewed and it rolls on only three of the original four tires.

It is, however, a supreme example of what the Italians call conservato—literally, “conserved,” but that word doesn’t fully express the Italian, which instead means a vehicle which has led its life and been carefully and appropriately used and cared for. While Mr. Lazaros certainly didn’t use his Supersonic very much, it’s absolutely clear he cared for it.

I would dare say that even at $1.7m, it might be considered well bought, as there’s no way it could be duplicated and none of the unrestored 8V Supersonic cars that still exist have this measure of preserved originality. I hope that the new guardian of this car gives it the same level of protection as would be appropriate for any irreplaceable work of art, and most importantly, shares the 8V with the world so everyone can experience what Paul Lazaros and I both felt on first setting eyes on it.{/analysis}

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