Back in the 1950s very little was known about automotive aerodynamics. Much was surmised, and several hypotheses were put to the test, but to most designers the art of shaping a car to cheat the wind was still a dark one involving white chalk Baphomets drawn on basement altars from Dearborn to Turin. When Alfa Romeo began unveiling its series of Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica concepts in 1953, they took the design world by shock and awe force.
Nothing like the BAT 5 had ever been seen before the Turin Auto Show in 1953. It combined a relatively staid Alfa 1900 sedan chassis with rakish, bordering on absurdist, coupe bodylines, pontoon fenders, and large tail fins. As with all of the BAT cars, it was designed by Franco Scaglione, who would go on to pen the Alfa 33 Stradale, perhaps the most beautiful car in history.
The 2400 pound lightweight managed to hit 120 miles per hour with just 100 horsepower on tap. Even with limited knowledge of the workings of aerodynamic science, BAT 5 managed to achieve a drag coefficient of just 0.23, which beats a modern Toyota Prius by 0.01. It’s safe to say that much was learned in the process of building BAT 5.
BAT 7, shown the next year, took the design concept to its zenith with even wilder curved tail fins. Nuccio Bertone added his influence to the design, cribbing from his prior experience in the aeronautics industry working on wing profiles. 7’s nose is a bit lower than 5’s, and the headlight pontoons jutted out even further. Everything was smoothed slightly and more emphasis was given to the aerodynamics and weight. Getting the BAT 7 down to 2200 pounds was the easy part. Achieving a Cd of just 0.17, wasn’t the work of a moment, however.
Once the idea had run its course in making things that looked like alien space ships and had wild tail fins that made rearward visibility almost impossible, Alfa and Bertone reined it in for the third BAT car. This time the design brief was to make a BAT that could conceivably be pushed into practical road going use. BAT 9 was the result, first shown in 1955. This time the radical rear fins and wheel spats were jettisoned in favor of rear view and wheel access. And, of course, the Alfa Giulietta grille was fitted to the front of the car to give it brand identity.
The greatest thing about these three concepts is that they are all mechanically a regular Alfa Romeo 1900 sedan underneath with a reasonably simple running gear and fully operational mechanicals. Not only were the BAT cars roadworthy, they were occasionally raced! BAT 9 was purchased from a Michigan dealership by a 16 year old kid with a gym bag full of money and he daily drove the thing while he went to college.
I remember seeing these three at the Detroit Auto Show in 2008 when Alfa and Bertone were touring the 8C Competizione-based BAT 11 concept. They were spectacular and wild and everything a young car fanatic wanted in a car. Reasonable sedan underneath with wild good looks? Why can’t something like that exist now? Imagine it.
Anyway, the three cars have finally been collected in a single auction lot and sold off to the high bidder at Wednesday night RM Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction. The winning bidder got all three cars for just $14.8 million. If I were the kind of conscience-free ghoul that had amassed a fortune, I’d certainly spend my ill-gotten blood money on this trio, and rotate through driving each one of them every day until my death. These are cars that deserve to be seen, not only to be displayed, but also to absolutely blow someone’s tiny mind stopping for a two liter of diet coke at the seven eleven.
It’s likely that these three will be tied up in some poncy art, or car, or art/car, or art car collection for the rest of time, which is a damn shame. A pox upon whoever dares withhold the greatness of Scaglione’s designs from the world. A pox I say!