Courtesy of Bonhams

The pedigree of every one of the 15 Ghia 8V Supersonic automobiles is unequivocal. However, this example comes with a celebrated history and provenance, rendering it ultimately rare.

Conceived as the sports car for the elite, chassis 0043 was completed alongside its stablemate, 0039, by Ghia in 1953. Car 0039 was painted ivory, while 0043 was finished in white with red leather, a front grille with additional lights and no bumpers. The two Supersonics were shipped from Genoa, Italy, to the United States by “Dutch” Darrin — founder of the coachbuilder Hibbard & Darrin and co-designer of the Kaiser Darrin marque.

At the 1954 World Motor Sports Show in New York City, Briggs Swift Cunningham struck a deal with Darrin to buy chassis 0043. Cunningham gave the car to his wife, Lucie, who drove it throughout 1954 until her husband sold it to a dealer in Hartford, CT.

In 1959 the 8V was purchased by Dr. Webb of California. In 1963 the Supersonic was acquired by Bruce Pierce, who had the original transmission and engine replaced with a Chevrolet V8 and drivetrain. Some 20 years later, in 1981, the Supersonic was purchased by Jarl de Boer, who retained the car until 2001, when ownership was transferred to Paul Sable of Pennsylvania.

In 2012, the 8V Supersonic was purchased by a rare-car collector in Belgium — who recognized the prestige of this rare sports car and commissioned a superb nut-and-bolt restoration back to its original specification. The car was fitted with its original engine and transmission. Displayed at the Salon Rétromobile in February 2018 in Paris at the Portes de Versailles, it was acquired by the consignor — a U.K.-based collector.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia
Years Produced:1953–55
Number Produced:15 (114 total 8Vs)
Original List Price:$11,000 (approximate)
SCM Valuation:$1,705,500
Tune Up Cost:$1,200
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on firewall as well as on chassis plate
Engine Number Location:Stamped on cylinder block, distributor side on boss
Alternatives:1954 Maserati A6G2000 coupe, 1953 Siata 200CS coupe, 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900SZ, 1953 Ferrari 340 America Vignale coupe
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 128, sold for $1,625,000 at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel Valley, CA, on August 16, 2019.

I’ll start this profile with my conclusion, so that the impatient can run off to another page if they’re so inclined.

This Fiat 8V Supersonic was well bought at $1,625,000. Why? Because if a collector wants a Fiat 8V, there were only 114 built.

Spread across that small number are a wide variety of styles, from the delightfully Art Deco feel of the factory Fabio Luigi Rapi-designed models to a handful of Vignale examples to a few singles built at various carrozzerie. The most sought-after Fiat 8V cars are the sleek Zagato-bodied cars — with or without “double bubble” roofs — and the Ghia Supersonic. For quite some time, the Zagatos and Supersonics have brought the highest prices.

All appeal to different collectors for varying reasons.

As a dyed-in-the-wool 8V-ist, I’d not turn any of them down, but I do have my favorites. And surprisingly for some, they are the Rapi coupes and the Supersonic. They are worlds apart — the former quite functional, designed to be as efficient at their job as sports racing cars as the factory could make them, while the latter are the epitome of in-your-face glamour. As such, the ones most seen driven hard tend to be Rapi coupes.

A brilliant design engineer

Giovanni Savonuzzi is one of the most brilliant design engineers — note, not “stylists” — the world has ever known, and it’s quite surprising that more people don’t know about his work.

Shameless plug alert: In my 2016 book Stile Transatlantico / Transatlantic Style, I point out that what Battista Pinin Farina achieved with the landmark Cisitalia 202 coupe was marvelous. That car was at its base a variant of the original design by Savonuzzi for the Cisitalia 202 MM Aerodinamica coupe.

Savonuzzi, whose career began in the Fiat aircraft division and at the Turin Polytechnic before World War II and continued through Cisitalia, Ghia, Chrysler, back to Fiat and the Polytechnic until the late 1970s, approached automotive design with architect Louis Sullivan’s “Form ever follows function” dictum.

However, here is one of the few times Savonuzzi seemed to depart from his disciplined approach. The first of the Supersonic-bodied cars, an Alfa Romeo 1900 with Conrero preparation, crashed out of the 1953 Mille Miglia. This may well have been the last time a Supersonic was raced.

Iconic 1950s style

Fiat itself was rather alarmed at the attention the Supersonic 8V received in the United States, where it was seen as an ultimate object of style and fashion, a super-chic racing car for the street.

This car certainly screams “jet fighter plane cleared for low flying over Mulholland Drive and cleared for landing at the Beverly Hills Hotel.”

As a statement of all that the early 1950s most cherished, the Supersonic can hardly be matched.

It was likely a trial for these style setters to own when new, as Fiat did not, could not and would not supply mechanical support for the 8V in America.

A polarizing shade

When RM Sotheby’s sold the late Orin Smith’s collection in March 2017, included in the collection was his 8V Supersonic. Smith had purchased his car in August 2015 at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge sale. Smith, a real gentleman with exquisite taste, paid $1,815,000 for it. In the sale after his death two years later, it went to its new owner for $1,375,000 with buyer’s commission. I wrote a profile of that sale in the July 2017 issue of SCM (Etceterini Profile, p. 70). In that piece, I mentioned that the stunning — but perhaps polarizing — bright teal metallic paint might have been a factor in holding the price down.

The pre-sale estimate on our subject 8V was $1.75m to $1.95m, which is not wildly out of line with some previous sales — but the market has changed.

I overheard a few discussions on the color of our subject car during the preview. While some were positive, others — not so much. In my opinion, Savonuzzi’s Supersonic form is actually one of the few that appeals to me in white — although it is likely that the original shade may have been different from the one it now wears.

A blast to drive

It doesn’t hurt that Briggs Cunningham once owned this particular 8V. Cunningham was running some pretty impressive race cars finished in a nice soft white when he bought our subject car.

I’ve written in these pages not long ago about my most recent encounter behind the wheel of an 8V (October 2019, “Unconventional Wisdom,” p. 46). I found it extraordinary.

A well-sorted example with all the sensitive and sensible engine developments carried out is a blast to drive. The Siata-developed suspension gives a ride and handling leagues ahead of just about any other sports or GT car of the period — from any country.

The catalog mentioned that this car would be welcome in leading historic race events, but that’s not likely where it will be seen.

As a concours entrant and for spirited vintage-tour driving, I can’t imagine a finer companion than this car. A still-sharp restoration presents well and can be freshened for future concours trophy consideration.

The car has an interesting provenance, and it will always turn heads — while also providing experiential gratification for its owner. At this price, there are few other cars that combine this level of rarity, beauty and pleasure. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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