Massimo Delbo must have felt like Indiana Jones when he finally found the Ark of the Covenant or Ben Gates when, at long last, he broke into the National Treasure trove. Except for Delbo, it was a warehouse in northern Italy that he entered into a couple of months ago, and this was no movie set, though the story is worthy of big-screen play.
“That was an amazing day,” Delbo said in an interview with the ClassicCars.com Journal. “Like a dream. And to be the first one (inside).”
The warehouse housed the previously — well, not unknown but likely forgotten or at least overlooked — archives of Bertone Stile, the design company that traces back to 1912 when Giovanni Bertone open a shop that specialized in fashioning bodywork for a budding motorcar industry.
In 1934, Bertone’s 20-year-old son, named Giuseppe but better known as Nuccio, joined the firm, as did a young designer, Count Mario Revelli de Beaumont. Revelli would be followed by an amazing series of designers — Nuccio wasn’t much of designer himself, but man, could he identify talent in others — and the carrozzeria and styling studio began producing a now historic string of exotic rolling sculptures.
But Nuccio died in 1997, making his younger wife promise she would keep the company going at least through a 100th anniversary. She did, but it would mean bankruptcy and court-ordered sales of assets in 2011 and 2014. All that would be left of the once-important carrozzeria would be a design studio doing occasional work for anyone who needed something designed. But there wasn’t enough business and thus yet another bankruptcy.
It was in the process of that bankruptcy that a court in Torino discovered the warehouse with the archives, which will be sold at two auctions, the first on May 23 at the ACI race track on Via Juan Manual Fangio, near the Alfa Romeo Museum in Milan. The other sale will take place in Torino, sometime in October or November. Or, if Delbo had his way, in three years from now, because that’s how long he says it would take to properly catalog all the items. But the court won’t be nearly so patient.
Aste Bolaffi is an Italian auction house with history dating to 1890, when Alberto Bolaffi opened a stamp-collecting business in Torino. It was a century later that the company entered the auction business and just recently that it decided to add a classic motor vehicles department.
The plan was to stage its first automotive sale in late May with a docket comprising around 50 cars and 10 motorcycles. But then the bankruptcy court turned to the Aste Bolaffi to handle the sale of the Bertone archives. In turn, Aste Bolaffi turned to Delbo, a well-known automotive journalist and historian, to help with the project and thus, under close court supervision, Delbo first entered the warehouse in February.
Among the treasures he discovered were two concept cars that will be offered for sale at the May auction. They are the Alfa Romeo Pandion from 2010, created by Bertone to celebrate Alfa’s centennial, and the Bertone Nuccio, a celebration of Bertone’s centennial and based on the mechanicals of a Ferrari 430 F1.
Delbo said the two concepts will be sold along with all related artifacts, from a leather jacket and extra cloth used to make the outfits worn by auto show models who appeared beside the cars to all the parts removed from the 430 F1 that weren’t used in the Bertone conversion.
Also on the docket, though from regular consignments and not part of the Bertone Stile bankruptcy trove, will be vehicles such as a Gangloff-bodied 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, a 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7, 1975 Alfa Romeo Spider 1300 with interior by Garage Italia, 1953 Lancia Aurelia B15, and 1954 Iso Isetta.
The docket also will include several items selected to provide a preview of the Bertone trove that will go on the block at the fall auction. Delbo said the warehouse includes “hundreds” of scale models, designer sketches, finishing paintings of cars, various mechanical spare parts, and photographs. The warehouse was constructed in 1972 and basically houses the company’s archives since then.
Among the particular treasurers Delbo already has identified is an unusual drawing desk with a mechanical device to help create proper perspectives. The only person who used such a desk, he said, was Marcello Gandini, whose work at Bertone ranged from the Lamborghini Miura P400 to the Alfa Romeo Montreal, Lamborghini Countach, Lancia Stratos and a variety of concepts.
Delbo said that each of the oversized drawers designed to protect sketches and other artwork has a code, but no cipher has been found, and thus a surprise awaits as he opens each of the drawers.