Of all the concept cars that have been produced since the dawn of motoring, it is but a rare few that stand out from the many outlandish and wonderful creations that grace the halls of motor shows. Rarer still are the concept cars that run and drive as useable vehicles and finally, the absolute rarest of them all are the concepts that go on to be used daily.
The Alfa Romeo B.A.T. cars, bodied by Bertone, are just such vehicles. Recently, all three went under the auctioneer’s hammer at a widely publicized sale held by RM Sotheby’s. As the hammer fell last night at the auction on a final bid of $14.8 million, it was amongst a sale of contemporary art and sculpture that the trio were sold, which says more about their significance than the price achieved.
The first of the trio, B.A.T. 5 was launched to the world at the Turin Auto Show in 1953. Alfa Romeo had provided the coachbuilder Bertone with a production chassis from its humdrum 1900 saloon and tasked the design house to build something spectacular. The job fell to an intern named Franco Scaglione who, while having only designed one car before this, showed huge promise.
His creation was spectacular. The Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (B.A.T) or Technical Aerodynamic Two-Seater, in English, was a masterpiece of form and function. At the dawn of the jet age, this sleek coupe was designed to cut through the air with minimal drag. Although Scaglione had no wind tunnels at his disposal, the old engineering adage of “if it looks right, it is right” was proven correct.
With fared-in headlights, wheels hidden behind spats and a rounded profile which removed any possible air pockets at speed, this first B.A.T. had a drag coefficient of just 0.23cd. (less than a Tesla Model S in 2020). With a top speed of 120mph, this tiny Italian car found itself among the fastest cars in the world at the time, and it was not even a production model.
The following year, B.A.T. 7 was unveiled at the same show, and created even more of a stir. A development of the previous year, ‘7’ had vastly extravagant fins at the rear that enclosed the back of the car with wings that resembled a Manta Ray. This time, with a drag coefficient of just 0.19cd, the B.A.T. 7 was smoother still, and in a vivid shade of blue, it would catch the eye, if not the air.
The final car of the trio, B.A.T. 9d was unveiled in 1955. In a bid to attract sales for Alfa Romeo, this concept was a far more road-friendly design, in that the designer had lessened the fins to restore visibility, added a slightly higher waistline to the car to aid with accessibility and in a final nod to utility, the car had standard headlights, and an Alfa Romeo bonnet grille.
The three cars were all sold after their debuts, and made their way into various collections, although B.A.T. 9d enjoyed by far the most use of the three. By the early 1960’s it had fallen into disuse on display in a dealership in Michigan, where it was purchased by an enthusiastic 16 year old. The young Gary Kaberle continued to use the car almost daily for the next 28 years.
United as a triptych for the first time at the 1989 Pebble Beach concours, a Japanese collector made three unrefusable offers to the various owners on the spot, after which as they say, the rest is history. With the result achieved for the set yesterday, these cars are sure to continue to bat above average for the foreseeable future.