Three of the most-stunning concept cars of all time, the sculptural Alfa Romeo B.A.T. designs penned by Franco Scaglione and produced by Carrozzeria Bertone, will be offered as a single lot by RM Sotheby’s, in cooperation with Sotheby’s fine-arts division, during the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, livestreamed October 28 from New York.
The Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica cars, created for the Turin auto salons of 1953, 1954 and 1955, are world-renowned for their artful approach to aerodynamics and aesthetics, and are just as astonishing today as they were in the 1950s, remaining instantly recognizable to generations of automotive and design enthusiasts.
Coming out of single long-term ownership, the B.A.T. trio is being offered to the public for the first time, according to an RM Sotheby’s news release. The sale of these iconic concept cars is a monumental event sure to attract global attention.
“The three cars were more than just design studies and a showcase of what world’s best panel beaters and craftsmen could create; they were also an incredibly effective demonstration of forward-thinking design engineering and advanced aerodynamics,” the news release says. “Although designed around modest Alfa Romeo road car chassis, the cars stunned the public with a hitherto unseen blend of sculpture and efficiency, and with more than just a hint of fantasy and science-fiction resonating from each of the three designs.”
The Contemporary Art auction venue seems entirely appropriate for what are considered to be among the finest of automotive masterpieces. The estimated value for the three B.A.T. concept cars is $14 million to $20 million.
The cars are named with consecutive odd numbers starting with B.A.T. 5, Scaglione’s first effort to create a visual language that maximizes airflow and, in the process, produce a dramatic design that was fresh and memorable. Show-goers at the 1953 Turin show were starstruck by the spectacular shape, but the beauty was more than skin deep.
“As with its successors, the running gear was sourced from the Alfa Romeo 1900, but it is a notable fact that the automaker would remain relatively uninvolved with the design process until the final design, the B.A.T. 9,” according to the release. “Output from this four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, was approximately 90 horsepower, yet the wind-cheating lines afforded the car a top speed approaching 125 mph.
“This remarkable performance was thanks to its drag coefficient, calculated at an incredibly low 0.23 Cd – impressive even by today’s standards. Its pontoon fenders, nose vents, wraparound glass cockpit, tapering tailfins and wheel skirts, all combined to produce both aerodynamic efficiency and a design considered to be, almost literally, ‘out of this world’.”
After the triumphant debut of B.A.T. 5, Scaglione began working on B.A.T. 7, an update of the original design that was revealed in 1954 in Turin with much acclaim.
“Given the first car’s success, Scaglione was encouraged to emphasize various characteristics of the original, and he obliged by narrowing the front air intakes, lowering the hood by over two inches, and lengthening the tailfins while adding increased angular pitch to the extremities,” the release continues. “The rear-wheel skirts and pronounced side vents remained.
“The resulting design’s coefficient of drag was, at 0.19 Cd, even more remarkable than its predecessor. This figure is lower than many 21st century super car designs, and this was achieved in 1954 without wind-tunnel testing or computer-aided design. A remarkable feat.”
For the 1955 Turin show came B.A.T. 9, the final concept, in which Alfa Romeo took a greater role in making it not only visually exciting but with greater practicality as a road car.
“For B.A.T. 9, Scaglione explored a roadworthy gran turismo interpretation of the theme with the fins reduced in size to improve rear visibility, and the rear wheel skirts eliminated,” RM Sotheby’s said. “A new pronounced beltline was added toward the rear, while a standard production triangular Giulietta grille, including the famed Milano crest, was fitted to the front grille, highlighting the car’s identity as an Alfa Romeo.
“Despite this more practical approach to the design, the result proved to be the crescendo of the design iteration and was much admired for its jet-age design that perfectly combined both form and function.”
The three B.A.T. cars were never shown together in period and were each sold off after their show tours. The first time they were united was in 1989 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance, where they were presented by Nuccio Bertone, who oversaw their commission and construction.
Shortly after the concours, the current owner acquired each car individually and had them restored, maintained and kept together ever since. The B.A.T. concepts have made some public appearances during the past 30 years, RM Sotheby’s notes, “and the cars are undoubtedly one of the most important single collections of vehicles in existence.”
“To be able to offer the Alfa Romeo B.A.T cars as a single lot triptych at auction is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Rob Myers, chairman of RM Sotheby’s. “To do so in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening sale only adds further validation to the global significance of the B.A.T cars.
“The importance of the offering of these cars cannot be underestimated either within the automotive or within the art, sculpture and design world.”
These are not the first automobiles offered at Sotheby’s evening art auction, with a Ferrari Formula 1 car driven by Michael Schumacher sold at the sale in November 2017, noted David Galperin, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auctions in New York.
“Designed and executed in the early 1950s, the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. automobiles represent the great creative ingenuity that marks post-war Italy and the European avant-garde at this period in history,” Galperin said. “Presented in the context of our Contemporary Art Evening Sale, alongside works by titans of post-war Italian art and design such as Lucio Fontana and Carlo Mollino, the sheer radicality, sculptural brilliance, and unique artistic vision of these automotive icons will be ever more magnified.”
For more information about the B.A.T. cars and the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, visit the auction website.