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.