Featured Post

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Forgotten Classic: Serenissima----The Winged Lion is the Rarest Beast of All

No, the red car below is not a customized Ferrari 250LM, but if that was your guess it's a pretty decent one.  It's a Serenissima Jet Competizione, and the story of how it got here forms yet another chapter echoing two of our oft-repeated themes.  The first could be called "How to Lose Money by Making Race Cars" (or any cars, really), and the second, perhaps more cheerful, theme would be entitled "People Who Made Their Own Cars After Having a Bad Ferrari Experience." The latter would include people who had trouble with Enzo himself, not just with his four-wheeled products. It's quite a list, and provides the origin stories of ATS*, Iso Rivolta*, Bizzarrini*, Lamborghini*, and our present subject.
In 1961, after spirited disagreements between Ferrari's team manager and Ferrari's wife Laura (she had invested in the enterprise and wanted a say), manager Gardini and engineers Carlo Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini walked out, taking other engineers along with them.  Privateer racer Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata decided to finance a rival operation which would produce Formula 1 racers to challenge Ferrari on the track, and sports cars and sports racers to challenge Ferrari on the road.  This was a tall order, complicated by the fact that Volpi took on two partners who often disagreed (the Count later noted that by modern standards one of the partners might belong in jail). Still, the struggling firm released a couple of unsuccessful 1.5 liter GP cars and at least 8 of the more promising ATS GT and GTS (road racer version) coupes by 1964, when the effort ended.  
Volpi, who could not buy Ferraris for his private racing team after the ATS adventure, decided to supply the Serenissima* competition squad with cars and engines of his own manufacture. When the Jet Competizione appeared in 1965, many assumed it was just a warmed-over ATS.  But Volpi claimed it was a new design, and there's evidence for that. The Chiti-designed ATS GT V8 was a 2.5 liter with a single cam per bank of cylinders. The first Serenissima V8 was a four-cam design of 3 liters featuring 2 spark plugs per cylinder, later expanded to 3.5 liters.  ATS engineer Carlo Chiti had moved to Autodelta at Alfa Romeo, and engineering for the new power plant was by Alberto Massimino, who had worked for Alfa Romeo and Maserati as well as Ferrari.  The project went from design to running prototype in a year...
Bodywork on the coupe was by Carrozzeria Gran Sport, which had also built the first Cobra Daytona coupe.  Serenissima sent the car to Le Mans for practice in 1965, but it did not race that year. The team raced it in Italy before the car disappeared, and now it has been re-engined with a scarce, spare Serenissima V8, and attends hill climbs and car shows under its original coat of paint...
There's some evidence that the first running prototype preceded the coupe featured above, and that it may have been a donor car for subsequent machines.  The tubular chassis for all these was designed by Massimino, along with the engine and gearbox, a heroic amount of work on a tight schedule.  Note that the spyder below features the concave trough for the Serenissima badge (by Nicola Bulgari).  This also appears on the later coupe shown above, but is absent on the 1966 358 Spyder #24 shown below the spyder with the bumpers and road equipment. Note also that the windshields on the spyders don't match, indicating that these photos may show the 2 different spyders which were constructed.     
The winged lion of San Marco, like the Serenissima name, relates to the Serene Republic of Venice, one of the proud city-states that preceded modern Italy by a thousand years.  The cars, however, were anything but serene.  Noisy and temperamental, they were fast when they could be kept running.  A 3-liter Serenissima V8 mounted in a McLaren chassis posted that make's first-ever point in Formula One racing in 1966.
The 358V Spyder Competizione that raced at Le Mans in 1966 had the 3.5 liter engine, and bodywork by Fantuzzi...

Scuderia Serenissima brought the Jet and another coupe prototype called the Jungla to Le Mans in 1966, but the only car to compete there was the 3.5 liter spyder shown above. Two Frenchmen, Jean-Claude Sauer and Jean de Mortemart, handled driving duties.  They retired the car after five hours with transmission trouble.  That was the last time it raced, and Count Volpi kept it during all the years since, in as-raced condition, dents and all...
Until the Artcurial auction during the Paris Retromobile in February of this year, when the non-running car crossed the auction block with two siblings, the 1967 Agena GT and the 1968 Ghia GT...

The overall design resembled the Ferrari competition cars of the period, with the integrated rollover bar and spoiler at the trailing edge of the engine lid.
This photo shows the twin-plug, four-cam V8 and the dust accumulated during years of storage. The photo below shows the spartan interior with the narrow seats accessed by climbing over the wide bulkheads covering the tubular chassis.  Though it was not running and had never compiled a successful race history  the Serenissima 358V Spyder was sold at roughly twice the top estimate, at 4,218,800 Euros, around $4.75 million dollars.  One hopes the new owner will be able to get it running.
In 1967 Piero Drogo designed the body for the road-going Agena GT based upon the same engine as the spyder above, but with the chassis modified to provide a bit more comfort and space. Count Volpi kept this car in his collection when testing was complete, and the car accumulated few miles over the years.  It was offered for sale in near-original condition, much fresher than its spyder sister...
Body design draws inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from the Ford GT40-like nose to the flush sides and flat tail, recalling Giugiaro's  contemporary work on DeTomaso and Maserati. Still, the car manages to look tough and purposeful, and not like a copy of anything else.  It sold at auction for over 400,000 Euros.
Along with the Serenissima-engined McLaren GP car, there was a sports racer that Jonathan Williams tested and raced.  It featured gull-wing doors and a 3 liter V8 in a modified McLaren M1B chassis.  Despite some stability issues that Williams put down to unstudied aerodynamics, he finished 2nd to Jo Siffert's Porsche 910 at Enna, Italy in 1968. Next year the team would try a different chassis design with a wedge-shaped car called the 168. The gull-wing car is shown below at Enna... 
Also in 1968, Volpi gave some attention to the idea of building a serious GT car, this time with the help of Ghia Studios, which had turned over design duties to American Tom Tjaarda after the departure of Giorgetto Giugiaro.  The resulting car reflected Giugiaro influences, especially in the sharp crease linking the wheels and the glassy cabin, but the proportions reflected more of a focus on passenger comfort than on the De Tomaso Mangusta, the car with which it is most often compared...

The rear aspect recalls the Mangusta in the shape of the flat tail panel.  The tail light units are specific to this car, though they had been lost by the time Count Volpi offered this mysterious one-off GT at this year's Paris auction.  Everything about the form and detailing shows the kind of effort that would be expected on a prototype intended for production.
The engine in the car was replaced while it was still on the auto show circuit with a completely new design with 3 valves per cylinder, still at 3.5 liters.  Design consultants were said to be Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy of Jaguar fame. During this time Alf Francis, former chief mechanic for Stirling Moss, was working with Serenissima. The presence of the English consultants later caused some to wonder if this was a rejected Jaguar prototype engine.  It was not, but it was, like the Colotti-Francis transaxle, evidence of a dedicated (and expensive) effort to engineer a mid-engined road car that might have provided a more user-friendly alternative to Lamborghini's Miura.  The expense part of the equation deterred Volpi from proceeding with production, and when the car was finished with the auto show circuit (including a trip to New York) he used it to commute to road races*.

The gray blue interior probably would better offset the metallic yellow green of the original paint. The flat, businesslike instrument panel and seats echo the layout of the De Tomaso Mangusta, but provides more foot room.
Designer Tom Tjaarda repeated this "drilled for lightness" B-pillar design (which looks like a roll bar, but here lacks a cross piece) on his Lancia Fulvia 1600 Competizione* coupe, also built by Ghia.  Like this Serenissima Ghia GT, it was suggested for production but remained one of one...

The chassis plate signifies what may be the most unique classic car of the postwar period. Alone even among the one-off creations of Italian carrozzeria*, the Ghia bodywork is home to an engine completely different in schematic and detail design from those powering its scarce siblings. Considering that its new owner paid around a tenth of the price of the non-running spyder with its Le Mans race history, it can be seen as a kind of bargain.
That it was produced by a small team of dedicated engineers and mechanics in an obscure workshop, and then hidden away for four and a half decades with two of its cousins, is one of the things that makes the world of old cars the intriguing place it is.  In the photo below, the Serenissima crew relaxes in front of a half dozen of the estimated eight (8) cars they built...  
If you tend to think that for a car maker to be considered a truly independent car builder, they need to make their own engine, then you have to concede that Serenissima Automobili qualified twice, with two different engine designs.  Count Volpi's previous partnership, ATS, had built eight road cars and at least two Formula 1 racers.  This total production makes ATS one the rarest makes, but the scarcity of ATS cars is exceeded by Serenissima.  With no more than eight cars sent out onto the roads and race tracks of Europe, the winged lion turned out to be the rarest beast of all.

Footnotes:  In alphabetical order, photo essays on marques started by disillusioned Ferrari customers and employees appeared in our Archives as follows:
A.T.S. (Automobili Turismo e Sport):  "Forgotten Classic Revival Show: ATS" appeared on November 11, 2018.
Bizzarrini:  "The Etceterini Files Part 17:  Bizzarrini 1900GT Europa" appeared on Feb. 14, 2019, while Part 18 featured the Bizzarrini P538 on Feb. 27, 2019.
Iso Rivolta:  "Born From Refrigerators:  Iso Rivolta" was posted for Sept. 20, 2018.
Lamborghini:  The Lamborghini Miura was reviewed on July 11, 2017 in "Lamborghini Miura: Mini Cooper's 2nd Cousin".  
Finally, Tom Tjaarda's bracingly clean design for the Lancia Fulvia 1600 Competizione is pictured in "Hi-Fi: Racing Red Elephants from Lancia" from October 3, 2016, and the Serenissima Ghia GT appeared was back on September 7, 2015 in "One of One: A Brief History of Singular Cars."

Photo Credits:
Top thru 5th from top:  formulapassion.it
6th: amazon.com
7th:  enwheelsage.org
8th: motorious.com
9th thru 15th:  artcurial.com
16th: pinterest.com
17th & 18th:  Ghia Studios
19th thru 25th:  artcurial.com
26th:  Automobili Serenissima

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Etceterini Files Part 19—Zagato, Old and New: Fiats & Diattos

For a long time, Fiat's 8V* (Otto Vu) was a mostly-forgotten detour on the company's road to the kind of mass market success that eventually led to their takeover of Chrysler.  Called Otto Vu because Fiat mistakenly thought Ford had copyrighted "V8", the two seater was introduced in 1952 as an offshoot of engineer Dante Giacosa's project for a two-liter luxury sedan. After some success in road racing and hill climbs, the Fiat 8V coupes, bodied by coachbuilders like Zagato (below), Ghia and Vignale, languished in obscurity, and could be bought for a song from the pages of Hemmings Motor News, along with their sister car, the Siata 208S. That is, when you saw them for sale at all; parts availability was not helped by the fact that only 114 Otto Vu Fiats were built over 3 years...
Zagato's 8V Fiats were among the lightest and the most successful in road racing.  There were two basic types, the ultimate version shown above being a shapely coupe with soon-to-be-trademark twin-hump roof topping a glassy cabin with side windows curved in section over a continuous arc of fender with a shallow indent linking the wheels.  It was tidy, unified and expensive, about the same price as a Lancia Aurelia.
Zagato's earlier design, like the gray car shown here, was an attempt to update Fabio Luigi Rapi's original design for the Otto Vu. Zagato kept Rapi's doors and the fender forms with their separate arcs, but cleaned up the grille from Rapi's fussy Art Deco scheme*, and adopted a glassy cabin with flat side glass topped by the double bubble roof. This car was called the Elaborata, as it was a variation on Fiat's in-house design.  But it, like the other 8Vs and their Siata sisters, was largely forgotten until the late 20th century classic sports car boom ignited by vintage racing and possibly by the computer-generated sameness of modern cars...
But the 8V wasn't ever as thoroughly forgotten as the unfortunate Diatto brand. Beginning with licensed production of  French ClĂ©ment-Bayard cars in 1905, its 70th year, the Italian carriage company was ready to introduce cars of its own design by 1909.  Diatto also built chassis frames for early Bugattis, and was a pioneer in offering 4-wheel brakes and 4-speed transmissions. Successful race cars were engineered under the guidance of Alfieri Maserati, but Maserati* left in 1926. Three years later, Diatto closed its doors.
At the 2007 Geneva Show, however, Zagato showed something called the Diatto Otto Vu, recalling their special Fifties Fiats, and for anyone who hadn't somehow missed the auto show circuit in 1921, an early try at an aerodynamic body they'd built on a Diatto chassis. The idea was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Diatto as a carmaker, but the production team apparently missed by two years.  No matter, the finished cars were lookers...
Did you notice the plural there?  Yes, apparently there were at least two Diatto enthusiasts left in the world by 2007, and they commissioned Zagato to design and build the green example above as well as the blue specimen below.  Note the different treatments of grille and air intakes. The green car's convex oval opening with bright metal grillwork recalls some Fifties cars, while the blue example contents itself with a simple central air intake flanked by two smaller ones, and at the expense of a little character, integrates all openings a bit better into the overall form.  
The view below shows off the careful massing and the way the rounded roof form nestles between the deftly rounded fenders.  Unlike many modern cars, the lights fore and aft are simple shapes that harmonize with, rather than compete with, the overall form. The shaping of the side windows and the horizontal blisters over the wheel arches recalls another 8V Fiat, but by one of Zagato's competitors…the Supersonic* coupe by Ghia.  Bodies on the Diatto revival cars were formed in aluminum, and the power plant announced by Zagato  was a 4.6 liter Ford unit, a V8 of course.
Back in 2007, there was discussion of plans to produce this tasty design in a larger series, but a recession followed the release of these first two examples, and while the talk was revived again a few years later, it seems that this duo of curvy coupes is the only revival Diatto is ever going to get.

Footnote:   Fiat's 8V and Siata's sister car, the 208S, can be found in our blog archives for November 13, 2016 under the title "The Etceterini Files Part 10: Siata 208S & Fiat 8V."  This piece includes photos of the Ghia Supersonic, as well as bodies by Pinin Farina, Vignale and Zagato. The saga of the Maserati brothers is summarized in the essay from April 20, 2016 entitled "The Etceterini Files Part 7—Almost Famous: OSCA."

Photo Credits:
Top:  the author
2nd:  bonhams.com
3rd:   wikimedia
4th thru 7th:  Zagato Gallery

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Etceterini Files Part 18: Bizzarrini P538

The term etceterini usually calls to mind tiny, lightweight road racers from Italian specialists, often with Fiat-based drivetrains.  Exceptions included a couple of Siatas powered by Ford and DeSoto V8s in the early 1950s, and these may have inspired Giotto Bizzarrini when he decided to design his front-engined chassis for the Iso concern around the small-block Chevy V8.  By the time he had split from Iso to form his own car-building atelier, he had turned his eyes toward a mid-engined racer using the same engine.  Inboard disc brakes, front and rear, provided stopping power...
The P538 (5.3 liters, 8 cylinders) contested the 1966 running of Le Mans with Chevy power, but retired after three hours with cooling problems.  An American customer then ordered a P538 powered by a 3.5 liter Lamborghini V12; this made it, ironically, the first Bizzarrini to be powered by an engine of Bizzarrini's design.  The car pictured above at the San Diego Automotive Museum is the most original P538 remaining, and is one of two extant V12 models and two V8s from the original production run.  As with other Bizzarrini efforts, total production figures are a cloudy subject, made even more obscure by the engineer's subsequent production of "continuation" cars. 
A P538 chassis formed the basis of the Bizzzarrini Manta show car from 1968.  The first concept car designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro for his fledgling Italdesign venture, it failed to have the impact of some of the maestro's subsequent efforts...
The steep windshield slope merges with the hood, echoing the unified form of contemporary show cars like Bertone's Alfa Romeo Carabo. Other details, such as the "drilled for lightness" rocker panels and the red deck vents contrasting with the medicinal green paint, undercut the overall simplicity of form.  
The rear fenders and engine lid could be raised in one piece for easy access to the mid-mounted Chevy V8.  At one point the car was repainted in silver, Giugiaro's favorite color for show cars, and this unified the form visually. The next Bizzarrini project was plagued by problems of a budgetary, rather than visual, nature... 
Bizzarrini's P538 chassis design formed a rigid, sturdy basis for the American Motors AMX 3 shown above, which appeared in spring of 1970 with styling by Richard Teague on a wheelbase 6 inches longer than the 538's 99 inches.  Powered by AMC's 390 V8, it would have provided a somewhat more practical, but also more expensive, alternative to the Ford-sponsored DeTomaso Pantera which appeared a day later.  AMC management cancelled the project after something like half a dozen cars had been built.  As with nearly all Bizzarrini projects, production figures are subject to debate, as record-keeping was sketchy at the Livorno firm. One fact that's not contested is that the 5300GT Strada coupe shown below, with "front mid-engine" placement and De Dion rear suspension, remains their most popular car, with over 130 examples produced.
*Footnotes:  The AMX 3 saga is recounted our post "Italian Jobs from the Heartland, Part 2: AMX Vignale and AMX 3 Bizzarrini" from November 29, 2016. Bizzarrini-designed Iso cars are reviewed in "Born from Refrigerators: Iso Rivolta" from September 20, 2018.

Photo Credits:  
Top:  the author
2nd:  imcdb.org 
3rd:  wikimedia
4th:  en.wheelsage.org
5th & 6th:  wikimedia

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Streamliners from Mitteleuropa: Steyr and Steyr Puch

Wandering through the fall concours at the LeMay Museum in Tacoma some years back, I encountered the Glaser-bodied Steyr 220 Sport pictured below.  It was the first Steyr I'd ever seen, despite quite a few years of attending car shows. The Steyr, built in Austria, sometimes gets shoved out of the spotlight by other Mitteleuropean machinery, like the big Austro-Daimlers designed between the wars by Ferdinand Porsche, and the rear-engined Tatras designed by the even more iconoclastic Hans Ledwinka*. The Tatras were generally no bigger than the Steyrs, but it's not easy to ignore a teardrop-shaped car with three headlights and a central dorsal fin.  The charms of the Steyr were a bit more subtle... 
Here was a car with stylistic connections to contemporary work by Graber* in Switzerland, echoing the same restrained approach to streamlining, with none of the chrome-laden excess of the heavier, late-1930s roadsters from Mercedes and Horch... 
The 220 was indeed lighter than those cars, powered by an inline, OHV six of just under 2.3 liters. Front suspension was independent and rear suspension was by swing axles.  The two-passenger Sport Roadster shown was one of six bodied in this style by Glaser in Dresden. There was also a five-passenger cabriolet and a more common sedan. The basic engine made 55 horsepower; the subject car makes 85 with dual carbs and dual exhausts.
Overall, around 5,900 of the 220 series were built.  There was also a 2 liter six called the 120 and a 2.1 liter called the 125, both using the same basic chassis layout.  In addition, there were similar models using four cylinder engines, called (illogically) the 100 and 200.  A 200 series sedan is shown below...
The sedans were not without charm, with fastback lines and center-opening doors without a "B" pillar, as on Lancias from this period. In June 1942, a Steyr 220 sedan was the vehicle used in a harrowing escape from the Auschwitz death camp by four prisoners who had stolen Nazi SS uniforms and weapons. The prisoners had also stolen the Steyr from the camp commandant, and they were never re-captured...
The 220 shown below is a 5-passenger cabriolet; these were somewhat more common than the Sport Roadster.  Various two-tone color schemes were available on all the Steyr models.
In 1934, Steyr merged with Austro-Daimler and Puch. One of the first products to appear after the merger was the 1936 Steyr Type 50, also known as the Baby.  The Baby featured a front-mounted four cylinder boxer engine with thermosiphon water cooling and about 22 hp driving the rear wheels through a 4-speed gearbox. Advantages over the VW prototypes which appeared during this era included hydraulic brakes and greater space efficiency. Production of the Baby, including the Type 55 with longer wheelbase and more power, amounted to about 13,000 units before car fabrication stopped in 1940.  
The Baby proved predictive of the path that Steyr would take after World War 2, when postwar austerity and material shortages emphasized the value of small, economical cars. This led to a Steyr-Daimler-Puch alliance with Fiat and eventually to a successful rear-engined Steyr Puch minicar, but first Steyr tried mounting its own 2 liter engine in bodies made by Fiat for their 1400 and 1900 series cars. These conventional front-engined cars, shown below, have been eclipsed in the public memory by the much more successful Steyr-engined versions of Fiat's Nuova 500 from 1957.
With their version of the rear-engined Fiat 500, Steyr Puch hit upon a successful formula. They saved tooling costs for bodywork by using the Fiat body shells, but replaced the inline two-cylinder air-cooled Fiat engine of 500cc (30 cubic inches) with their own horizontally-opposed, air-cooled twin. It was a much smoother engine, and similar power units were employed in the all-wheel drive Steyr Puch Haflinger off-road vehicles.  As with the Fiat version, the early Steyr Puch 500 had rear-hinged "suicide" doors giving access to four seats... 
A 650cc version of this car won the European Rally Championship in 1966, and other rally successes followed. The little car gained enough of a following that Steyr kept it in production from 1957 to 1975.  Note that the faux grille features Steyr and Puch insignia, and even mentions Fiat in tiny script, but fails to mention Daimler, which was still perhaps associated only with large cars in the minds of middle Europeans...
This being basically a Fiat chassis design, there had to be a 2 passenger sports version, and it had a name bigger than the car, as noted on the commemorative Austrian stamp below. It carried a larger version of the trusty Steyr Puch opposed twin, while a 500cc variant won its class at the Nurburgring. That "Imp" business has nothing to do with the British car of the same name.  It refers to the manufacturer who built 21 of these handsome alloy-bodied coupes: Intermeccanica. Really, the car is a Steyr Puch Intermeccanica 700GT, and it qualifies, like Intermeccanica, as a chapter in the etceterini saga involving Americans, Italians and Austrians. But that's a story for another day... 

*Footnotes: Czechoslovakia's Tatra automobiles can be found in our post for November 27, 2016 entitled "Cars & Ethics: A Word or Two on VW", in "Rolling Sculpture at the North Carolina Museum of Art" for Decemver 31, 2016, and in "When Mobile Homes Really Were Mobile" from July 30, 2017.  Bodies by Hermann Graber on Alvis, Duesenberg and Talbot chassis are reviewed in "Forgotten Classic: The Graber Alvis" from January 22, 2016.

Photo Credits:
Top thru 3rd from top: the author
4th thru 7th:  wikimedia
8th:  Steyr Daiimler Puch advertising, reprinted at autoalmanach.ch
9th & 10th:  wikimedia
11th:  onlineshop.post.at