All three Alfa Romeo B.A.T. Concept cars will be auctioned off as one lot
Three legends, one auction...
I can't imagine anyone trying to argue that these iconic concept cars from Alfa Romeo are among the most beautiful automotive designs of all time. Incredibly, RM Sotheby's will auction off all three B.A.T. cars in one lot, in one auction, during October 28th's Contemporary Art Evening Auction. These three cars are some of the most important concepts in the history of the automobile, helping to usher in the space-age era of automotive design, plus emphasizing the significance of aerodynamics for decades to follow.
In 1951, Alfa Romeo hired Franco Scaglione, who was only just beginning to make a name for himself in the post-war Italian coach-building scene, to work on a study of aerodynamics. Scaglione was incredibly interested in how cars moved through the air, releasing his own study detailing how 85% of an automobile's efficiency could be attributed to its aerodynamics. His first concept debuted in 1953, dubbed the B.A.T. 5, which stands for "Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica". The "5" gets tagged on the end thanks to the four prototypes built before the fifth car as the final design. Scaglione did the designing and Nuccio Bertone of Carrozzeria Bertone handbuilt the cars. The slippery coupe achieved an aerodynamic drag coefficient of just 0.23 while travelling at 94mph. The car was able to hit a top speed 124mph, which was incredible not only for the time, but because it was powered by an inline 4-cylinder engine found in the Alfa 1900 that only produced 43 horses.
Scaglione's design was nothing short of groundbreaking. The B.A.T. 5 featured hideaway headlights that receded into the pontoon front fenders, rear wheel skirts, a boat-tail rear window, and exotic tail-fins. The car wasn't just for looking at either, as it was as comfortable to drive as anything else Alfa Romeo offered at the time. It was a fully operational, drivable car that had a cabin built for cruising. After touring the auto show circuit, Alfa sold the B.A.T. 5 to an American exporter, who later sold it to a gentleman that hung the car from the rafters of his showroom for more than 30 years. It wasn't until 1987 that the car traded hands once more, and was treated to a concours quality restoration. The B.A.T. 5 won its class at Pebble Beach in 1988.
Work on Scaglione's sophomore follow-up, the B.A.T. 7, began in 1953 almost immediately after the B.A.T. 5 was shipped off to the auto shows. This car was even more exotic looking, with a sexier and slimmer front nose that was two inches lower than its predecessor. Its tailfins were even crazier, which extended upward and inward towards the center of the rear of the car. It even weighed 200 pounds less than the B.A.T. 5, allowing it to achieve an even lower drag coefficient of 0.19! RM Sotheby's press release on the auction points out that even the Prius and Model S, which are regarded as aerodynamic and technological marvels today, only scored 0.24.
B.A.T. 7's history is almost as wild as its looks. Alfa Romeo shipped it to America to show the car off at the New York and Chicago auto shows, and was eventually sold to a collector in San Francisco. The car spent a short stint racing, if you can even imagine seeing this thing fly around a track at full speed. It also served as the centerpiece of a Ferrari sales office in LA for a short time. Another owner chopped off the rear wings (GASP!) to increase rearward visibility for daily driving and displayed the car at the 1958 Pebble Beach Concours. It was sold once more, but abandoned at an Italian automotive specialist shop during a restoration. The mechanic took possession of the car through a lien, and kept the car until 1986. Finally, that caretaker restored the tail fins and the rest of the car to its former glory.
The final concept car, the B.A.T. 9d is probably the most recognizable of the trio. I think I even have a Hot Wheels car of this one lying around somewhere. The iconic Alfa Romeo grille was finally slapped on the front and it wore more sensible headlamps, lost the rear fender skirts, and had a much more subdued pair of tailfins than the previous B.A.T. 7. Obviously, Alfa wanted Scaglione to make the B.A.T. 9d as road-going as possible. Even though it was another massive hit at auto shows around the globe, Alfa never produced this car for the public. The car was sold to a collector in the US and like it predecessors, exchanged hands a bunch of times. It was even painted red at one point. Eventually, it wound up at a dealership where a 16 year old Gary Kaberle convinced the manager to sell him the car with a duffle bag full of cash; true story. Kaberle owned the car for 28 years, and displayed the car for the public at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in 1987. He was a dental surgeon by then, and refinished the car in its original silver paint job.
Believe it or not, 35 years would pass since the first unveiling of the original B.A.T. 5 before all three vehicles would meet in the same place at the same time. The year was 1989, and Nuccio Bertone was about to receive an honorary degree from California’s Art Center College of Design. The Pebble Beach Concours took advantage of the timing and invited all three B.A.T.'s to the show to celebrate. All three concept cars were finally displayed together on the 18th green that August. After that, a car collector successfully separated the B.A.T.'s from each of their respective owners and kept all three cars under one roof in the early 90's. All three toured Europe for a bit before winding up at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California. I had the honor of witnessing these Alfa's in person when I took a trip in 2014. The B.A.T.'s were sent to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee in 2016. Fast forward to today: RM Sotheby's will be auctioning these magnificent automobiles as one lot on October 28th. What a history.
My terrible cell phone pics from by 2014 visit to the Blackhawk Museum
I can't even begin to imagine how exciting this opportunity is for some wealthy automobile collector! It is literally a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy such legends with one click of a button. RM Sotheby's estimates between $14 and $20 million to become the new owner of all three. Of course, you would then have to try to pickup the 8C based B.A.T. 11 concept that Alfa Romeo built in 2008, if you are a true completionist! This is going to be a very exciting auction to watch.