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The Life of the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. Cars

Few cars manage to preserve the sensory slap they deliver when first clapped eyes on, but I guarantee you these are three cars you couldn’t possibly take your eyes off. The Alfa Romeo B.A.T’s remain today as quite possibly the most important designs of the Italian automotive renaissance. Penned by the master of aeronautical design, Franco Scaglione, the Bertone Bodied B.A.T cars are rolling examples of Alfa Romeo’s study of automotive aerodynamics, the results, these remarkable cars. All three debuted at consecutive Turin Motor Shows, the B.A.T, or Berlinetta Aerodynamica Technica cars drew the attention of every single show-goer. Incredibly radical shapes now, let alone in their days, the B.A.T cars striking designs weren’t just to draw attention to the Alfa Romeo stand, but to be as slippery as possible. some of the most aerodynamic designs even today, the results of Franco Scaglione’s somewhat indescribable talent produced drag coefficients decades ahead of its time, proving it was possible to create beautiful, functional shapes with metal.

Despite the B.A.T cars modern day status as priceless examples of Alfa Romeo’s history, Scaglione’s creations haven’t always been valued as such, some owners not even knowing what they had on their hands. The entire truth of what happened to the B.A.T cars is lost, what remains is merely conjecture, though the truth likely lies within the reported life of these magnificent cars; this is the story of the Alfa Romeo B.A.T’s.

The first of the B.A.T cars, B.A.T 5 was unveiled at the 1953 Turin Motor Show. Scaglione’s fourth collaboration with Alfa Romeo, the B.A.T 5’s dramatic shape stunned everyone in attendance. Featuring just as dramatic a colour scheme at its body, the metallic grey on red perfect complimented the cars radical pontoon fenders, faired in skirted wheels, gorgeous boattail, dramatic slashed air vents and upwards curving wings combining to create one hell of a car. Its namesake coming from Scaglione’s four previous designs which ended up on the cutting room floor, B.A.T 5 is often credited with inspiring many of Harley Earls designs with shades of 1950’s Cadillac and spit window Corvette Stingray all rolled into one package. Placed on an Alfa 1900 chassis the B.A.T 5 was by no means a road going bullet, but the incredibly slippery body combined with a 90 horsepower 4-cylinder power plant, B.A.T 5 was good for 125mph; 20mph more than the standard saloon thanks to the slippery body.

After its unveiling at the Turin Motor Show, an American importer and racer of European cars by the name of Stanley “Wacky” Arnolt struck a deal with Bertone to acquire B.A.T 5 for just $7,650. The car was then shipped to California where “Wacky” Arnolt drove the one off for 32 years. In 1985 Arnolt Sold B.A.T 5 to Steve Pryzak. Another temporary custodian of scaglione’s B.A.T 5, Pryzak dismantled B.A.T 5, employing Rob Shanahan to conduct a restoration of the car. Owning the B.A.T 5 for a much shorter time than Arnolt, Pryzak sold the car to Said Marouf during the late 80’s, B.A.T 5 making its first official public appearance since the 1953 Turin Auto Show at the 1989 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance alongside B.A.T 7 and B.A.T 9, the first time all three cars appeared together.

Whilst the attendees of the 53’ Turin Motor Show were bowled over by the radical B.A.T 5, it was nothing compared to the truly insane B.A.T 7. Probably the most vicious, wild, eye-catching, ravenously pretty automotive designs of all time, Franco Scaglione took his B.A.T 5 and turned it up to 11. Fitted with a lower front end and more pronounced coach lines, the B.A.T 7’s even more elaborate wings curling off into the ether behind the car framed the third central wing sprouting from the bodies split window. Like B.A.T 5, 7 was bodied on the same Alfa 1900 chassis as its predecessor. Producing by far the lowest drag coefficient of the trio, the B.A.T 7’s wings weren’t just there to draw the crowds as it turned on a plinth at the Turin, but to cleave through the air, doing this so well it produced a drag coefficient of just .19; to put that into perspective, around half that of a Lamborghini Countach or Tatra T87. Like B.A.T 5, B.A.T 7 was by no means ever going to be a production reality, but that wasn’t the point, what Franco created was a car which combined artistic principle and purposeful, aerodynamic design, a car which should be given more credit than it gets.

As with B.A.T 5, its successor was also sold to “Wacky” Arnolt, making its way to Palm Springs where (under Arnolt’s ownership or not is unknown) resprayed red and yellow and actually raced. Far from a spritely car even by 1954 standards, the Alfa likely wouldn’t have made a great race car; never designed to be driven hard, the cars rather unrefined, especially at high speed. Having also had the wings chopped off, B.A.T 7 fell into serious disrepair, apparently passing into the hands of an Italian mechanic based in Los Angeles who found the car abandoned in a scrap yard. Planning to restore the B.A.T, his son reportedly sold it without his permission to settle debts. B.A.T 7 then fell into the hands of Lorenzo Zambrano, who during the early 80’s had Steve Tillack restore the B.A.T 7’s wings.

Following the B.A.T 7 was never going to be easy for Scaglione, its successor, B.A.T 9, hardly turning an eye at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, but Franco’s third B.A.T was by far the closest to a production reality. The first of the three to be created in conjunction with Alfa (hence the only of the trio to wear the Alfa Romeo shield), Scaglione compromised the huge wings of B.A.T 9’s predecessors in favour of smaller winglets and a more sensible, yet no less pretty body. Unable to deny B.A.T 9 his trademark flair, Scaglione still penned the car some eye-catching features such as the elaborate fishbowl headlights, a stark red interior and wing mounted rear lights. Showing a distinct likeness with Alfa’s next production sports car, Franco took heavy inspiration from his B.A.T 9 when designing the Giulietta Sprint Speciale.

Completing his collection, “Wacky” Arnolt purchased the third and final B.A.T car after its time in Turin. As with 5 and 9, Arnolt drove B.A.T 9 for a number of years, the car resurfacing as a publicity vehicle for a Plymouth dealership in Michigan where it caught the attention of a 16-year-old Gary kaberle. Though not running, Kaberle saved enough money to buy B.A.T 9 by selling popcorn outside his parent’s gift shop, eventually persuading the dealership to sell him the Alfa in 1963. Putting around 20,000 miles on the B.A.T 9 by its appearance alongside 5 and 7 at the 1989 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance, all three cars were apparently sold to a Japanese collector prior to the 1990’s classic car bubble bursting for $18 million, the three again selling at Coys of Kensington post market crash for just $4 million; we’d all be lining up today.

Restored again in 2005 before being shown at that years Pebble Beach Concours D’Elégance, the trio changed hands again for $8 million to the Blackhawk museum. Having been taken out for an annual jaunt to Pebble Beach most years, all three B.A.T’s have been on display at Blackhawk since their acquisition. The story of Scaglione’s masterpieces ends here with the trio sadly being placed into indefinite storage to make room for newer purchases.

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