Alfa Romeo B.A.T. concept cars sell for $14.84 million at fine-art auction

The 3 landmark aerodynamic designs were presented by Sotheby’s in New York

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The three Alfa Romeo B.A.T. concept cars were sold as a single lot | Darin Schnabel/RM Sotheby's

The three dazzling Alfa Romeo B.A.T. concept cars from the 1950s, presented at a Sotheby’s contemporary-art auction amidst modern paintings and sculpture, sold as a single lot for $14.84 million (all results include auction fees) during the October 28 sale in New York City. 

The combined sale of the Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica trio took place at the Contemporary Art Evening Auction, with RM Sotheby’s joining Sotheby’s Fine Art Division to bring the landmark aerodynamic cars to the art-world stage. 

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The 1953 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 5 concept car

The sale of the B.A.T. 5, B.A.T. 7 and B.A.T. 9 cars was the top result of the contemporary art auction, which had a $142.8 million total and a 95.1 percent sales rate.  Sotheby’s also held its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, which achieved $141.1 million with a 100 percent sell-through rate, for a combined total for both auctions of $283.9 million.

Fleurs dans un verre by Vincent van Gogh

Putting the Alfa sale in some kind of perspective, the highest seller for the Impressionist and Modern Art auction was a 1947 sculpture by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, entitled Femme Leoni, that sold for $25.9 million. Other auction highlights include a Vincent van Gogh painting, Fleurs dans un verre, which sold for $16,235,100, and René Magritte’s L’ovation, sold for $14,052,000.

The Alfa Romeo concept cars, penned by Franco Scaglione and produced by Carrozzeria Bertone of Turin, Italy, are rightfully considered masterpieces of modern design.  They were created for the Turin auto salons of 1953, 1954 and 1955, respectively, and are world-renowned for their artful approach to aerodynamics and aesthetics. They remain instantly recognizable today for generations of automotive and design enthusiasts.

Coming out of single long-term ownership, the B.A.T. cars were offered to the public for the first time, according to an RM Sotheby’s news release. Only once before has an automobile been sold at the Sotheby’s art auction, when a Michael Schumacher Formula 1 race car crossed the block in 2017.

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From left, B.A.T. 7, 5 and 9

“The sale of the B.A.T. concept cars during Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale represents the second time RM Sotheby’s has offered a motor car as part of a Sotheby’s art sale – the first time being when we sold the Michael Schumacher Ferrari F2001 Formula 1 race car in 2017,” said Ian Kelleher, chief marketing officer for RM Sotheby’s.

“No other organization in the world has a client base as far-reaching as Sotheby’s and since we have worked so closely and successfully with them in the past, working with them again on the sale of the B.A.T. trio made perfect sense.”

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The gracefully sculpted tailfins of B.A.T. 7 | Ron Kinball/RM Sotheby’s

While the result for the three Alfas – hammered at $13,250,00 – is impressive, it fell slightly short against the pre-auction estimated value of $14 million to $20 million, leaving analysts to wonder whether they might have done better at one of the high-end collector car auctions, such as those held by RM Sotheby’s.

The Sotheby’s auctions also were clouded by controversy after the Baltimore Museum of Art pulled high-profile art consignments from the sale when museum donors objected to the sale and threatened to pull funding from the museum.

Nearly one million viewers tuned in to Sotheby’s live-streamed art auctions, with strong bidder activity for the Alfa B.A.T. lot, RM Sotheby’s said, “which comes as no surprise given the rarity and desirability of the beautifully designed and sculptural examples of automotive art.”

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Makes me wonder what all the dynamics behind this sale could be. Cars at a fine art auction is a different approach, but given that these and many more specially created vehicles certainly are “fine art” I can understand why they are placed in that arena. Of course, Don Williams and the Blackhawk Museum are recognized as members of fine art typically displayed in museum settings.

  2. I have seen other auctions where vehicles were figured in with art. Let’s face it; they are art and I seriously doubt that they were acquired by someone for that purpose. Plenty of Alfa enthusiasts and collectors knew this sale was coming up and probably bid. The bold move was to sell as a collection. He probably would have realized more by individual sales .

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