Auction Of The Century: All 3 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. Cars!

When he showed the three Alfa-Romeo B.A.T. cars together at the Frist Museum in Nashville four years ago, curator Ken Gross called them “three of the most memorable concept cars in automobile history.” I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibit and found the swoopy trio breathtaking. Now the B.A.T. Alfas are to be auctioned as a collection on October 28 by RM Sotheby’s, which estimates they’ll bring between $14 and $20 million. It’s “an automotive triptych of unparalleled significance,” Sotheby’s says, and that’s not hyperbole.

The cars—B.A.T. 5, 7 and 9, introduced in 1953, 1954, and 1955 respectively—were based on the Alfa 1900, with styling by Franco Scaglione at Carrozzeria Bertone. B.A.T. stands for Berlina Aerodinamica Technica, and aerodynamic they indeed are. But the basic idea was not simple efficiency, it was to “embody the sculptural potential of the automotive form,” the auctioneer said. Scaglione had a background in aeronautics, which combined with interests in science and mathematics to produce these rolling sculptures—with many design variations between them. The first two are pure exercises in futurism, but the third—my favorite—is at least recognizably an Alfa-Romeo.

These were show cars. B.A.T. 5 wowed the international press at Turin in 1953. That car was sold to legendary importer “Wacky” Arnolt, who drove it around in Indiana before selling it to a friend in South Bend—who hung it from the rafters of his specialty shop for 30 years. It was finally taken down in 1987 and won a class award at Pebble Beach in 1988.

B.A.T. 7 was shown in Italy, and then came to the U.S. for the New York and Chicago shows in 1954.

It was actually raced at Palm Springs in 1955, and a later owner cut off its flamboyant fins (since reinstalled) for better rear visibility. A two-year full restoration started in 1986.

B.A.T. 9 has the best story. Meeting the company’s desire for a B.A.T. that was recognizably an Alfa, it was shown at Turin in 1955, then shipped to the U.S., where Chicago dealer Harry Woodnorth came across it in the parking lot of the Sebring endurance race in 1956. After Woodnorth, owner Ed Beseler of Lansing, Michigan painted the car red, then sold it to Michigan Dodge dealer Arlen Regis, who displayed it his Chapin Motors in Greenville. While it was on the lot, a 16-year-old high school student named Gary Kaberle spotted it and—after dumping a gym bag full of cash on Regis’ desk—bought the car in 1962. He kept it for 28 years. I love the idea of a kid driving a car as outlandish as B.A.T. 9 to high school, then dentistry school. Kaberle finally repainted the again car in 1987, at which time it was displayed at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance.

Most recently, the three cars were shown together at Pebble Beach in 1989, after which a private collector made separate deals to buy them. They were displayed as a unit at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California for a decade, and they went back to Pebble in 2009. Have you ever seen cars as gorgeous as these? And three of them, c’mon. This is the auction of the century. And the photos are by Ron Kimball/RM Sotheby’s.

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Comments

  1. MattR Member

    I saw these at the Blackhawk museum in the early 2000’s. They were easily my favorite cars in a museum of absolutely stunning cars… they just stood out. And I recall them being quite low to the ground, lower than they appear in these photos.

    I encourage everyone to go to the Blackhawk, just look at these cars:
    https://www.blackhawkmuseum.org/galleries/classic-car-collection/

    Like 6
    • GBA47

      I saw them there in 2011. I was fascinated.

      Like 1
  2. Moncton(was Winnipeg)carnut Member

    I wonder how Bring a Trailer feels about not getting to auction the B.A.T. cars.

    Like 28
  3. RayT Member

    I’ve seen them, and don’t believe photos — even as superb as these — do them justice. They must be seen in person.

    Unfortunately, the driving experience doesn’t quite match the wonderful looks. These were, if I remember correctly, based on the Alfa 1900 chassis, which was a bit agricultural…. Anyone expecting these to be as rev-happy and nimble as, say, a Giulietta, will be disappointed.

    Not that anyone who can lay out the kind of money these will command is going to be particularly hot to rack up lots of miles. The days when a Gary Kaberle would do so are, alas, long gone. I suspect the next owner will spend a lot of time just looking at them and savoring Scaglione’s work. Who wouldn’t?

    Oh, for a spare 20 million bucks!

    Like 13
  4. Dual Jetfire

    FINALLY! A car whose styling is almost as continental as the 1954 Nash Ambassador!

    Like 6
  5. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Quick, Robin, to the B.A.T.mobiles!

    Like 19
  6. Skorzeny

    In some ways they are gorgeous and worth the money, but my least favorite design aspect EVER is wheels that are covered. It really ruins these cars for me.

    Like 3
  7. Gunner

    Absolutely stunning works of art that just happens to be classed as automobiles. Never knew of them. The golden age of styling in its purest form. Would love to see them in person. Simply breathtaking.

    Like 9
  8. Ike Onick

    Buddy of mine had one. He modified the back window. Said it was too hard to see out of. Bet he’s sorry now.

    Like 5
  9. JoeNYWF64

    Back then, partially covering A L L the wheels was(& still is IMO) very futuristic.
    Even more so with the 3 NY World’s fair futurama cars …
    http://www.carstyling.ru/en/car/1964_gm_firebird_iv/images/26987/
    4 doors & huge wheels & BIG plastic covered headlights & wipers – be gone!!! lol

    Like 4
  10. ccrvtt

    I’ve known about these for a long time, being slightly older than they are. Jim Motavalli’s writeup was excellent and given the limited space it was packed with good information. Who would have guessed the remarkable chains of ownership?

    These cars define the term “iconic”.

    Like 4
  11. Shawn Fox Firth

    More Sting Ray than a Corvette .

    Like 8
  12. Marco

    I had the honor of seeing one of these cars up close and meeting Gary many years ago when he brought the car to an Alfa convention. This will be an interesting auction to watch. The should really go the Alfa museum but I doubt they can afford it. Hopefully they do not disappear into someones collection never to be seen again for years.

    Like 7
  13. Kinmont Willy

    Were GM designers were so impressed with the dramatic rear view of these cars, that 10 years later they appropriated the identical split rear window design for the 63 Corvette. A feature that made the 63 Corvette a true classic and stand out as a collectors favorite.

    Like 1
    • triumph1954

      Geez! I wonder if Alfa Romeo offered a rear window conversion to get rid of the split rear window on these? Like we always hear about when a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette split window comes up for sale on Barn Finds, LOL..

      Like 2
  14. Joe Haska

    I couldn’t agree more with the majority of the comments, even as a low life,old Hot Rodder, who knows nothing of the real world these are beyond explanation and description, truely appreciate your article. Also, I consider Ken Gross a good friend and I am not about to argue his expetise.

    Like 3
  15. t-bone bob

    What a treat it would be to see all three together.

    Like 3
  16. Robert Eddins

    How do you take the wheels off? Remove those wheel covers, or back off one lug
    nut at a time or what? Just
    wonderin.

    Like 2
  17. Phlathead Phil

    Stunning & elegant! Whaaaaay ahead of their time!

    Like 2
  18. John

    Interesting article about how Gary Kaberle’s life was changed by his ownership of one of the B.A.T. cars: https://michigantoday.umich.edu/2015/06/16/the-real-batman/

    Like 1
  19. David Miraglia

    Three Italian Bat mobiles, awesome…

    Like 1
  20. chrlsful

    the space age wuz a great time to grow up in. These things were everywhere, city concepts, industrial arts/design, economy tickin…
    Sompin like this needs the pic Jim shows us – head on, 3/4, all 4 sides (wish there were top’n bottom too).
    The ($ supported) innovations (weird) rubs off on the common just like fed $ to R&D created puters, interstate roads & Covid vac. Lets bring back the common good again~

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