Angus McKenzie, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
The last of four Abarth 205 competition chassis to be constructed, the car offered here is the only example to use an engine and transmission developed from the new Fiat 1100-103, as well as the only example bodied by Ghia. Believed to have been designed by Giovanni Michelotti, it was constructed concurrently with the Ghia-bodied Chryslers of the same period. The Abarth echoed the Chryslers’ broad oval grille opening, wide low stance and canopy-like roof element — but with a delightful smaller scale. Ghia exhibited the car on its stand at the 1953 Turin Salon, the same show at which the 1100-103 made its debut, thus emphasizing the abilities of Abarth and Ghia to maximize the performance and style of the new model. Aldo Farinelli, in his report for the Italian magazine Motor Italia, described the car as “A Masterpiece of Design.” Abarth sold the car to American Bill Vaughn, who exhibited it at the 1954 New York Auto Show as the Vaughn SS Wildcat, with “the first overhead camshaft V-8 in the USA.” If Vaughn did indeed repower the car with a V8, no photos of the installation survive, and the car never saw the limited production run that he envisioned. After that, the car was lost in time until 1982, when Russ Baer discovered it in a barn in Ashton, MD. Longtime beloved enthusiast Pat Braden ended up saving the car. Both of the men helped to preserve the car and contributed to its history. An interesting clue to its earlier history is a parking sticker in the rear window reading “Litton Industries Maryland Division 1958.” This rare Abarth passed through the hands of two additional collectors before the consignor purchased it in 2010. The consignor spent the next five years on a thorough and correct restoration. As a dedicated enthusiast working for the love of the car, he painstakingly researched the authenticity and accuracy of every component. Included in the car’s history file are high-resolution color photographs taken at Turin, as well as other period articles and documentation from throughout the Abarth’s fascinating past. After completion of the restoration, the Abarth was exhibited at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it won its class and was nominated for Best of Show, a remarkable achievement for a post-war automobile. Not shown, photographed or published since being shown at Pebble Beach, it remains a remarkable performance masterpiece in the Italian style, ready for further concours successes or driving events.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1952 Abarth 1100 Sport coupe
Years Produced:1953
Number Produced:One
Original List Price:Unknown
SCM Valuation:$891,000 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$500
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on front chassis arm
Engine Number Location:Stamped on the right side of the block
Alternatives:1956 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SVZ, 1951 Abarth 205 Vignale Berlinetta, 1950 Cisitalia 202 SC
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 151, sold for $891,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, CA, on August 18, 2017.

When I received the assignment to write a profile of this car, I accepted with great enthusiasm. This happens to be one of my favorite cars on the planet.

I am often asked why I go to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance every year. The answer is quite simple: For 27 years I have — each time — seen a car I have never seen before or only glimpsed in a fuzzy black-and-white photo.

In my line of work, it’s easy to become jaded. “Oh yawn, not another McLaren F1” or “Now, which chassis number is that 250 GTO?” Being confronted with something unexpected, wonderful or both renews me and reminds me that I am first and foremost an enthusiast — one who has been blessed to make old cars my living because I spent so much time around them for so long.

A lost car found

When I stepped onto the field at Pebble in August 2015, I saw many cars I liked. However, spotting this particular car literally stopped me in my tracks. This is a car that I have seen in reference books and period magazines for years. I had assumed that it had been lost long ago, as have so many others. I was captivated by its look. I am completely obsessed with mid-century automotive design, especially of the Italian kind, so this car pushed many of my buttons.

A wider audience has begun discovering the world of the small-displacement “fuoriserie” or custom-bodied Italian car.

The undisputed masters of design and the leading coachbuilders of the age were no longer limited to the most-expensive chassis after World War II. In fact, while coachbuilders in the U.K., France, Germany and the United States were either struggling or already out of business, Italian shops were busier than ever — and creating some of their greatest masterpieces.

That these Italian coachbuilders almost effortlessly turned from big Alfas and Lancias to small Fiats and the specials based on them was the key to keeping the doors open. From sporting cars meant to run in the Mille Miglia to ultra-luxury miniature GT coupes and cabriolets meant for the fancy-dress world of the concorso d’eleganza and nights at the opera, there was something for every well-heeled Italian who wanted to impress — but not be too flashy while doing so.

Seats and carburetors

The introduction in 1953 of the Fiat 1100 Nuova, the 1100/103, truly inspired the coachbuilders. Practically every one showed a custom-bodied limited-production prototype or one-off special based on either the chassis or the powertrain of the new small family car at the 1953 Turin Auto Show. Not all 1100s were created equal however, and it’s important to note how our subject car is not to be confused with its cousins.

There is a definite hierarchy in Italian limited-production cars of the 1940s and 1950s, whether they are Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, OSCA or Ferrari. Simply put, the shortcut to the top of the heap is the number of seats you take out and the number of carburetors you put in. Add to the equation a lightweight, specially built chassis and you have all it takes to ring the bell. This is a very special car, built on a dedicated Abarth chassis, not the standard Fiat platform. It has twin carburetors, giving it rather more urge than most 1100s and, one presumes, a hotter camshaft as well.

Perfect scale and imaginative details

Our subject car is so wonderfully Jet Age and Transatlantic. You can’t look at it and not be reminded, in a very good way, of the 1949 Ford, a classic and simple post-war icon. The jet intake bullet in the grille just adds to the appeal. That it shares the greenhouse with the Chrysler Ghia Special doesn’t hurt either. But it’s probably the combination of perfect scale and imaginative but restrained details that really sets this car apart.

In one of the more frequently reproduced images of the Abarth on the Ghia stand at the Turin Show, a man in a dark suit is seen standing behind the car. It gives a very clear indication of the diminutive nature of the 1100 Sport.

Other shots, however, give no clue whether the car is the size of the Chrysler Special or a Topolino. That’s perfect design. I, and talented designers whom I admire and trust, believe that it’s always a greater challenge to achieve balance and attractiveness on a small car than a large one.

This car is a masterpiece.

This is for me also a human story, one that is as important and dramatic as the car itself. For a first-time Pebble Beach entrant to not only win a class but also see his car as one of the three final choices for Best in Show, as this car was, is remarkable. This is truly the thing of Hollywood legend. But in order to be a Hollywood story, it would have to be some backwoods lumberjack who upsets the tuxedoed swells. This isn’t quite that.

Enter Grant Kinzel

The seller of this car was the fellow who restored it: Grant Kinzel of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

While it is true that Kinzel restored this Abarth in his own garage, he’s hardly the hayseed many thought him to be. His former employer and great friend, Calgary-based collector Fred Phillips, tells of Kinzel’s great qualities of uncommon humility and skill.

For many years, Grant Kinzel worked for Phillips’ company. Kinzel then went on to manage and encourage Phillips’ collecting and collection. Kinzel is a rabid enthusiast of all things fun, fast, vintage and Italian.

Described as “talented at everything and absolutely tenacious and determined,” Kinzel has devoted equal energy and focus to his Moretti Sportiva, Fiat Abarth 750 GT or Alfa Romeo SZ as he did to this rare jewel.

And jewel it is. The level of detail in this restoration is astounding. And, as is often the case, luck played a big part. How Kinzel dealt with the car’s missing taillights is a good example of this.

Kinzel discovered that the taillights on Rob Walton’s Ghia-bodied Fiat 8V appeared identical to the taillights that were once installed on our subject car. He was put in touch with Walton’s collection manager, and an arrangement was made to remove one of the units for scanning in order to create a template for the production of new lights for the Abarth. This is just one of the examples of the level of research and diligence Kinzel put into this work.

That’s a story of collectors helping collectors revive history.

But the discovery of the missing windshield from a decade’s storage — moments before a new one was to be created at considerable expense — was an extraordinary stroke of luck, one indicative of what was to come in this car’s story. Even though the romantic notion of a “Fred in a Shed” coming close to winning the top prize at the world’s most prestigious concours is a stirring one, the reality is that Grant Kinzel did do something few have ever approached.

A truly devoted, talented enthusiast took an extraordinary car and restored it to a superb and correct level. That’s what collecting, connoisseurship and stewardship are all about.

Hitting the target

I am not at all surprised with the sale result realized at the auction. I was asked shortly after the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance what my thoughts were on the market value of the car.

To give a figure is by definition an appraisal, according to the rules of both USPAP and the American Society of Appraisers, but I can state that I replied that a figure in the range of $750,000 to $800,000 would be appropriate. I wasn’t wrong, and the new owner bought the car exactly where I thought it would reach.

For the seller, it was simply recovery for the emotion and effort joyfully expended. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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