ATS, or Automobili Turismo e Sport SpA, was an Italian carmaker and racing team that operated briefly between February 1962 and 1965. The nucleus of the new company was comprised of Carlo Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini, who were both involved in the development of the Ferrari GTO and, as refugees from the infamous Ferrari "Palace Revolt" of 1961, intended to mount a direct challenge to their former employer. With the sponsorship of a trio of wealthy industrialists including Count Giovanni Volpi, who founded the well-known Scuderia Serenissima, ATS developed both a road-going sports car and a Grand Prix racing car. The resulting ATS 2500 GT coupe was initially powered by a mid-mounted 2.5-liter V8 engine designed by Chiti, with a light-alloy block and cylinder heads, a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, as well as a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburetors, producing 220 to 250 brake horsepower. Based on a competition-specification braced chrome-molybdenum tubular chassis with a fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, the resulting car was a thinly veiled racing car, capable of 160 mph. The car made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1963, where it created a sensation with its advanced mid-engine layout, shark-like body, and race-inspired specifications. Ultimately, only twelve chassis were built, including eight complete cars. Around 1966, its first owner, Bruce McIntosh, damaged this car in an accident when it was showing fewer than 3,000 kilometers, requiring the replacement of the damaged nose with a factory-built component. The late Norbert McNamara of California, a noted racer and collector, already owned ATS chassis 2001, the Geneva show car, which had been converted to Chevrolet power. As McNamara was in search of an original ATS engine, he purchased 2004 because it was available with a spare engine that originally powered his own car. Eventually, McNamara showed his first ATS, chassis 1001, at the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The current owner successfully negotiated the purchase of the car from the McNamara estate. The car was then shipped to the new owner's shop in Costa Rica, where it underwent a two-year mechanical restoration. Of special note, the body and chassis remained completely rust-free, garaged and covered for more than 35 years in the dry Northern California desert. A set of special transmission gears were fabricated, as the internal gears of the racing-specification 5-speed Colotti gearbox were the Achilles heel of the car. In addition, the car was geared too high, and while it had a potential top speed of 180 mph, it was impossible to climb steep hills from a standing start. This ATS is the last built, one of only two examples with the 300-horsepower ATS 3-liter V8 engine, and one of only five cars to exist out of the eight cars originally built. This is the first time that an ATS has ever been publicly offered for sale at auction.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 ATS 2500 GT 3.0
Number Produced:8 (12 chassis)
Original List Price:n/a
Tune Up Cost:$4,000
Distributor Caps:$750
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on passenger side main chassis tube, beneath front bonnet
Engine Number Location:Raised casting on block
Club Info:Vintage Sports Car Club The Old Post Office Chipping Norton Oxfordshire, UK OX75EL
Alternatives:1964 Alfa Romeo TZ2; 1967 DeTomaso Vallelunga; 1964 Porsche 904
Investment Grade:A

This car sold for $510,017, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Automobiles of London Auction in England, on October 28, 2009.

Almost simultaneously in 1963, less than 40 kilometers apart on either side of Bologna, two Italian firms embarked on the specific task of beating Enzo Ferrari at his own game. Only one, Lamborghini, lasted more than three years and thrives today in the hands of Audi.

The other, ATS, lost its primary financier, Count Giovanni Volpi, practically before the doors opened and lasted not quite four years. It is clear that Ferruccio Lamborghini’s insistence on a “no racing” policy allowed his company to survive; it is also clear that the ill-begotten Formula One program of ATS sank the firm.

Mid-engine chassis years ahead of Ferrari

Certainly the Franco Scaglione-designed 2500 GT was a lovely-looking car and its sophisticated mid-engine chassis was years ahead of Ferrari. ATS guru Winston Goodfellow, who once assembled all five known survivors for a photo shoot, considers the ATS 2500 GT “.the most sophisticated road car of the early 1960s,” and it is hard to argue with his opinion.

But Carlo Chiti and Bizzarrini designed a high-geared racer for the road rather than a practical GT car, as Lamborghini or Ferrari might have produced. Still, when the 2500 GT launched at the 1963 Geneva show, things must have seemed bright for the new company.

The end result was more than sad, with less than a dozen road cars begun, the last four chassis going to Count Volpi for his Serenissima project. This car was built after the closing of the factory and given to noted race mechanic Alf Francis in lieu of payment, along with a spare 2.5-liter engine. Although it wears a Serenissima badge, it is not one of Volpi’s cars.

Owning a car such as this ATS presents a number of challenges. Vehicles like this are very much the province of a “mature” collector. As one of eight made and with five thought to survive, it’s not a car to be used with abandon, as parts would have to be fabricated in case of any over-exuberance.

It’s impressive that the former owner of this car used the 2008 Modena Cento Ore as its post-restoration break-in. In addition to the 1,000 miles on the rally, the ATS was also driven another 900 miles around Europe before being dismantled for a mechanical check. Since it had only covered 1,900 miles from new when he bought it, the 2008 jaunt effectively doubled the mileage.

It takes a brave, rich, crafty owner

The previous owner also finished the development work the factory never got around to by replacing the transmission with one more suitable for the street. To do this takes someone brave, or very wealthy, or who owns a restoration shop. In this case, the former owner, an avid SCMer, was all three. Hopefully the new owner has at least two of these advantages.

The engine’s closest relative is the 2-liter V8 in the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33, also a Chiti design. The only direct spares to be had might be one of the engines in the Serenissima cars, all of which are still owned by the Volpi family and unlikely to be available. It’s not clear how much this car has in common with the Alfa, and chances are that replacement parts will have to be custom-machined. Usefully, this car came with blueprints for both 2.5- and 3-liter engines.

So if you don’t have a personal machine shop and will not be flogging the ATS in rallies or vintage racing, you’ll show it. It appeared at Pebble Beach in 2009 and came with an invitation to the Concorso Villa d’Este for 2010. Chances are good you’ll be accepted at whichever show you fancy-provided the owner of one of the other four ATS cars hasn’t applied.

Valuing a piece such as an ATS is speculative in the extreme. When one of eight somewhat obscure cars changes hands, each sale makes its own market. RM cannot be faulted for assigning a fairly wide £600,000-£1,000,000 ($900k-$1.65m) estimate, as comparables are difficult to find. The $510,017 realized in the no-reserve sale seems in line with cars such as the Alfa Romeo TZ1 or Lamborghini Miura SV, rather than the TZ2 or Ferrari 400 Superamerica valuation zone of the high estimate.

Perhaps if the Le Mans and Targa Florio entries rumored for this car had been documented, or if it came with a spare 3-liter engine, it may have come closer to the estimates. In any event, the new owner has an unusual part of Italian sports car history. Now he must find ways to use it.

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