Except for being repainted at some point in its life, this amazing one-off was totally untouched from new
This Bertone-bodied Abarth 1500 Biposto coupe is one of the most important barn finds in recent motoring history. It is among the earliest, if not the first, of the Fiat-based Abarths. It is Franco Scaglione's first design for Bertone and the centerpiece of Bertone's exhibit at the 1952 Turin Motor Show.
In retrospect, Nuccio Bertone and Franco Scaglione could not have known that this car would be the seminal exercise of an immortal series. They would have found it incongruous if not presumptuous to call it the first of anything. A year later, however, the strength of the concept was manifest in Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica 5. This pioneer Abarth's primacy was implicitly recognized in B.A.T. 5's sequence and the subsequent odd numbering system adopted for B.A.T. 7 and B.A.T. 9. With the benefit of hindsight, recognizing this Abarth as "B.A.T. 1" is no presumption at all.
After the Turin Show, Packard purchased the Abarth to demonstrate some new styling possibilities for the U.S. firm. Meanwhile, James C. Nance was hired from appliance manufacturer Hotpoint to give the struggling independent carmaker a renewed direction. Fortune magazine ran a profile of Nance and his Packard plans in the November 1952 issue. Written by Richard A. Smith, it reported Nance's lukewarm enthusiasm for the Abarth, which was described in the magazine as "lunar asparagus." Ironically, after Packard was finished with the car, Nance gave it to Smith in exchange for the suggestion of a new advertising slogan. Smith kept the Abarth in active use for many years until it was finally put away in the family garage in southeastern Connecticut. There it slumbered until early this year when Mr. Smith's heirs contacted Christie's and offered the well-preserved and very solid Abarth for sale at auction.
The condition of the engine is unknown. The brakes are stiff and the tires are aged Goodyears which still hold air. Richard Smith kept comprehensive records of his Abarth, including correspondence from Packard, which accompanies the lot.
Neat and remarkable details abound, like the marker lights under the projecting front fenders, the inset "machine gun" taillights and the thin dorsal fin down the center of the rear window. The greenhouse-with its delicately split wraparound windshield, large rear light and thin pillars-is light and predicts design elements in vogue today. The scooped fender wells, lined here with formed and polished aluminum, are distinctive features that reappear in Scaglione's subsequent designs for Bertone's Arnolt-Bristol and Aston Martin custom bodies.
Most distinctive of all are the subtly curving rear fender fins that accurately foreshadow the extravagant empennage of the later B.A.T.s. Their gentle compound curves are marvels of Scaglione's sensitivity to airflow and the craftsmanship of Bertone's artisans. This Abarth is a singular discovery and opportunity.
|Vehicle:||1952 Abarth 1500|
|Original List Price:||N/A|
|Tune Up Cost:||$300-$400|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on firewall|
|Club Info:||The Abarth Register USA Inc., 54 School St, Ste. 102, Westbury, NY 11590 Phone 516.876.8754|
|Alternatives:||Alfa Romeo B.A.T. coupe, 1992 Ford Mustang Mach III Concept, 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special|
This Abarth 1500 Biposto Coupe sold for $296,500, including buyer’s premium, at the Christie’s Rockefeller Center auction on June 5, 2003.
Talk about your fabulous barn finds! Except for being repainted at some point in its life, this amazing one-off was totally untouched from new. Just as important, it was the pioneer effort by the largely unsung design genius Franco Scaglione, whose work on this car led to the sensational trio of Alfa Romeo B.A.T. coupes which hit the automotive world like a Texas tornado a year later. The B.A.T.s were seminal studies in aerodynamics; B.A.T. 5 could do a stable 116 mph, though only fitted with a 100-hp motor.
The Abarth’s dramatic style and state of preservation was wonderful to behold and, wisely enough, Christie’s didn’t tidy it up for the auction. All the barn dust was left in place but, alas, most of it washed off onto the expensive Rockefeller Center red carpet as the rain came down nearly without stop for two days.
It’s interesting to speculate on just what this car’s value might have been if a more exotic chassis-for instance, an Alfa 1900 like the B.A.T. 5-had been chosen to carry the coachwork rather than the workaday Fiat underpinnings. I’d reckon an Alfa or Lancia base might have brought another $150,000 to the selling price-a price that already was, with premium included, more than double the high estimate.
We might also wonder what direction Packard would have taken had the Abarth’s style been adopted for these great American luxury cars that, in 1952, were beginning to make their inexorable slide into automotive oblivion. Would a sports-type line of cars have helped save the grand old marque? Or would its traditional customers have abandoned it with even more alacrity than when Packards turned into ill-disguised Studebakers in their final years of 1957-58?
Regardless, this Abarth Coupe is all about style and the new owner should enjoy a very warm reception at every concours and Italian-car gathering on the planet, from Pebble Beach to Villa d’Este and back again via Bagatelle and Amelia Island. The pivotal question is whether the car should be restored. I would think it would detail out extremely well despite the second paint job, and if it were mine I’d leave it alone after the big clean-up. Restored cars of all years, makes, shapes and sizes are commonplace, but where else can you see a pure design exercise of great influence still in nearly the same condition it was over a half-century ago?-Dave Brownell