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HomeThe MarketRear view: No. 10 - B.A.T. cars sold

Rear view: No. 10 – B.A.T. cars sold

Concept car trio sells for millions, but not at collector car auction — at contemporary art sale

Year in Review

Yes, even with the coronavirus pandemic and the disruption it caused in the collector car auction space, there were outstanding vehicles offered and some sold at record prices. However, none of the cars offered at auction anywhere in 2020 were more interesting that the trio of Alfa Romeo B.A.T. cars that sold on October 28. 

A fascinating note was that these show cars were not offered at a collector car auction, but instead at Sotheby’s annual Contemporary Art Evening Auction.

Some may have found this a strange venue, but I have seen these cars a number of times in person and feel these phenomenal one-off Alfa Romeos transcend just being cars and are, indeed, works of art.

My first exposure to these cars was as a freshman in high school when I stumbled upon them in Joe Benson’s book, Illustrated Alfa Romeo Buyers Guide. I was stunned at seeing the cars. Even the black-and-white pictures in the book showed cars that looked more like 1950s spaceship drawings than some earthly automobiles. 

For me, these immediately became some of the most important cars in the world because of their out-of-this-world styling and their obvious rarity.

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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 Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica cars — B.A.T. 5, B.A.T. 7, and B.A.T. 9 — were concepts undertaken by Bertone and exhibited at the Turin Motor Show in 1953, 1954 and 1955, respectively. They were all designed by Franco Scaglione and constructed on chassis from Alfa Romeo. 

Scaglione designed the cars without the benefit of a wind tunnel, they simply were his ideas of what would be aerodynamically efficient. It was a seat-of-the-pants and gut-level styling exercise — and nothing short of breathtaking in execution. 

What is most amazing is that the coefficient of drag figures for these cars was as little as 0.19, a staggering figure since they were done by intuition, not with modern fluid dynamics technology.

The three cars were part of a single owner’s collection for many years and most thought they would never be seen on the market. So it was a surprise when Sotheby’s announced their inclusion in the contemporary art sale just a few days before the auction was scheduled.

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The gracefully sculpted tailfins of B.A.T. 7

When I received the press release, I called every collector I knew and asked what they thought the three cars, offered as a single lot, would bring at the auction. Those knowledgeable estimates varied between $18 million and $25 million. I thought they would sell somewhere around $20 million. 

Thus my surprise when the cars sold for $14,840,000. That might sound like a lot of money for a trio of vehicles based on the Alfa Romeo 1900 platform, but if you view them as art, this was a tremendous deal.

These three extraordinary examples of art in motion, and the new owner should be thrilled with buying these iconic collector vehicles at such a reasonable price. 

Art that you can actually drive; how do you beat that?

Year in Review Series

Looking back at the most influential automotive stories and events of 2020.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

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