“Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica”

The Three B.A.T.s Offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale

On October 28, 2020

In a Friday Surprise, on October 16 RM Sotheby’s circulated a press release announcing that the three B.A.T. design concepts would be offered as a single lot as part of Sotheby’s regular Contemporary Art Evening Auction on October 28, just twelve days later.

1953 Alfa Romeo 1900 Bertone B.A.T. 5

The B.A.T.s were concepts undertaken by the coachbuilder Bertone and exhibited at the Turin Motor Show in 1953, 1954 and 1955. Designed by Franco Scaglione for Bertone using the Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis as a base, they were Scaglione’s freehand concept of aerodynamic efficiency. There were no wind tunnel studies beforehand, just aerodynamicist Scaglione’s intuition and experience.

They were revolutionary in the early Fifties, and almost seventy years later remain brilliant, rare objects of form following function.

Scaglione’s understanding of aerodynamics and Nuccio Bertone’s intuition in converting the concepts to actual running, driving form are a legend of great design. Even by modern standards of rigorously computer designed and wind tunnel tested automobile design the 0.23 and 0.19 drag coefficients of B.A.T. 5 and 7 are benchmarks.

1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Bertone B.A.T. 7

Part of a single owner’s collection for many years, they have surfaced intermittently including at the 1989 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, at the World Classic auction in Pleasanton, California in 1993 where they were offered for private sale, and most recently on display at RM’s 40th Anniversary Celebration in Chatham, Ontario in 2019.

The sudden addition of this non-traditional but still appropriate example of contemporary art in this auction is curious. The B.A.T.s are well-known, but their ownership the last thirty years is not a mystery. Why add them at the last minute?

It has the scent of a deal already done. If so, we’ll see on October 28.

1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 Bertone B.A.T. 9

But remember that RM Sotheby’s has already struck gold in Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Evening Auction setting. In 2017 they sold an ex-Michael Schumacher Formula One winner for $6.7 million hammer ($7,504,000 all-in), destroying its pre-sale $5.5 million estimate.

Its buyer was a new client, previously unknown to either Sotheby’s or RM, which set up an interesting dynamic.

The numbering (5, 7, 9) has always aroused surmise. What happened to B.A.T. 1 and 3?

In 2003 Christie’s sold the Bertone-bodied, Franco Scaglione-designed 1952 Abarth 1500 Biposto from long term ownership, a car with many of the design motifs of the B.A.T.s. Dry stored with little attention to preservation it was estimated at $80,000-$100,000 but hammered sold for $260,000, $293,500 with commission. Ever since I wrote its Christie’s catalog description (and pulled it out of its garage a few miles from my home) I have long maintained it is B.A.T. 1, the first berlina aerodinamica technica exercise from Bertone and Scaglione.

It won the Gran Turismo Award at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

What is B.A.T. 3? I don’t know but the history is worth pursuing, particularly for a deep-pocketed buyer willing to pony up to the B.A.T. 5, 7 and 9 group lot’s estimate of $14-20 million.

And it is encouraging to see great automobile design slowly infiltrating its way into the contemporary art conversation.

The 2003 Christie’s description of the Abarth 1500 Biposto can be read here.

Its subsequent history is here.

Photos are © 2020 and courtesy RM Sotheby’s. Studio shots are by Ron Kimball; outside shots are by Darin Schnabel.

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