Today, one-off or ultra-limited supercars are becoming sort of the norm. But back in the 1950s and 1960s (and even more pre-WWII), the concept of serially produced high-end sportscar was… Well, it didn’t really exist. Ferrari, Bugatti, Bentley, Hispano-Suiza and many other car manufacturers were tightly linked with coachbuilders to actually “dress” their cars (understand here a chassis and engine). But back in the days, even the more “mainstream” manufacturers relied on these designers and carrozzerias to create unique, usually totally crazy prototypes and unique models. For instance… Alfa Romeo – think of names like Bertone or Touring, and cars like Disco Volante or B.A.Ts.
Bertone x Alfa B.A.T or the holy trinity of car design
Now what you’ll see is the perfect definition of over-the-top… Bertone, one of Italy’s most famed car designers, wasn’t shy of creating impressively modern cars, dressing up some of the best models available around. The Carrozzeria Bertone is behind some of the most glorious Italian (or not) cars, such as the Lamborghini Miura, the ISO Rivolta, the Alfa Romeo GTV, the Maserati 5000GT but also some concept cars based on the Aston Martin DB4 or the Ferrari 250GT.
Back in the 1950s, under the pen of Franco Scaglione (one of Bertone’s design-team members), the simply mesmerizing Alfa Romeo B.A.T trilogy came to life, cars that would become the undisputed icons of twentieth-century design. Bold, disruptive, provocative, futuristic… You can add dozens of adjectives to these cars when looking at them today. But imagine the reaction of people attending the 1953 Turin Motor Show and arriving in front of Bertone’s stand! Sitting there was a car christened Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica 5 – or B.A.T. 5 for short. “The astounding show car was built on the chassis of the baroque Alfa Romeo 1900 SS saloon but featured a futuristic and voluptuously sculpted steel body, an aeroplane-style nose flanked by large air intakes, sweeping side flanks that concealed the wheels and an impressive pair of curved rear wings.”
B.A.T. 5 was followed by two further concept cars, B.A.T. 7 and B.A.T. 9, which were unveiled at the Turin Motor Shows in 1954 and 1955, respectively, taking the initial idea to the next level.
You can see all three cars reunited here, fully explained by classicdriver.com. Photos: Tom Shaxson for Phillips / Classic©2019
The ATL Alfa Romeo 1900 – A Coachbuilt Rarity
Now we move into the underground world… Miles away from the big names Pininfarina, Bertone or Zagato. Here’s another Italian motoring treasure, a workshop operated by Autotecnica del Lario (ATL), founded by Ercole Zuccoli in the 1960s. ATL produced very limited series (often one-offs) of hand-shaped bodies for sports cars, until the late 1970s when the company was disbanded.
One of (if not the most) beautiful car to ever leave ATL’s workshop is again based on an Alfa Romeo 1900 SS, and the result is simply stunning. The lines, which somehow evoke some other contemporary productions, such as the Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM and Touring’s Disco Volante Coupe, are that of a true 1960s Berlinetta, with that long hood and the typical fastback rear-end.
“The ATL car pictured here was reportedly built without specific sketches or mockups: the construction method is more similar to a sculpture than a precise mechanical instrument, and isn’t this where so much of the stereotypical Italian car charm comes from?” This car, reportedly built in no more than eight examples, is probably one of the few that remain from that already rare batch. And being the work of a lesser-known coachbuilder, it certainly is unique in its own way.
More details and stunning pictures to be found here, at petrolicious.com. Photography by Rosario Liberti.
Driving the Alfa Romeo Touring Disco Volante
Recently, we’ve somehow a reminiscence of coach-built cars, with multiple Zagato x Aston Martin models, one-off cars built by Pininfarina or Italdesign (ex-Giugiaro). One of the non-official cars that brought back this trend is the result of work done by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, and a tribute to one of Alfa Romeo’s greatest cars, the so-called Disco-Volante.
Back in 2012, Touring presented a concept car based on the mighty 2007 Alfa Romeo 8C (objectively one of the best sounding modern cars) that echoed the 1952 Alfa Romeo 1900 C52, and was nicknamed Disco Volante (“Flying Saucer” in English) due to its streamlined, wind-tunnel-tested bodywork.
The modern car retains the technical base of the 8C Competizione, meaning a Ferrari/Maserati-based V8 engine, and adds to the package a custom-built bodywork that adds an incredible charm to the already superb 8C.
And topgear.com tells you how it feels to drive it here.