Automobile

The Twisty History of Alfa Romeo’s B.A.T. 7 and How It Slipped through One Man’s Fingers

In the early 1950s, Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone’s design house paired up with a then-unknown Franco Scaglione for Alfa Romeo. Together, they penned a series of cars they called “Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica,” or BATs for short. Each was built on an Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis and featured fanciful, futuristic aviation-inspired bodies.

Of the trio they handmade in a few short years–BAT 5, BAT 7, and BAT 9–the BAT 7 has the most intriguing history of ownership. Sit right there and I’ll tell you a tale about innovative art, cross-continental multi-million-dollar exchanges, and heartbreak.

Bertone and Scaglione created Alfa Romeo BAT 5 first, so named because Scaglione created four full-size models before switching to metalwork for the fifth. Incredibly, the car was pushed from concept to creation in less than a year. And in May of 1953, it premiered at the Turin Auto Salon and caused a major ripple through the industry. That spurred them to follow up with the BAT 7 in 1954 and finally, the BAT 9 in 1955.

On a recent plane ride, I enjoyed Ford Vs. Ferrari for a third time, paying special attention to the scene during which Ken Miles drives the car with pieces of wool taped all over it to determine where it wasn’t achieving optimal aerodynamics. Working side by side with Alfa Romeo project manufacturing chief Ezio Cingolani, Scaglione photographed his design at speed with a similar set of wool markers. Clearly, they didn’t align with Enzo Ferrari’s philosophy that “aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines.”

Designed with ambitious wings and long, Roman noses, the BAT 7 improved upon the BAT 5, achieving an incredible drag coefficient of 0.19. (For comparison purposes, a new Porsche Taycan has the best drag coefficient of all current Porsche models at 0.22.) Bertone and Scaglione worked so hard on this car they ran out of time to ship it to Turin for its reveal in April of 1954, and they had to drive it themselves on the wings of efficient aerodynamics to the show at the last minute.

After its debut, the BAT 7 changed hands a few times, and last year the trio of BAT cars were sold as one lot for nearly $15 million by Sotheby’s auction house. Along the way, Al Williams was one of the first owners of the BAT 7 and had the side fins removed (ack!) because they restricted visibility on the road. According to the site Secret Classics, Colonel James Sorrell owned the car in the early 60s and brought the BAT 7 to the Van Nuys-based shop of Salvatore di Natale, renowned for high-quality work on Italian cars, to restore it.

Once Di Natale finished the work, Col. Sorrell didn’t pay for what he had commissioned and he never came back to collect his car. In 1969, di Natale took ownership and kept it for 17 years. According to a commenter on a YouTube video of a younger Jeremy Clarkson driving the BAT cars, the BAT 7 was sold right out from under di Natale by an unexpected party: his own son.

Eric Fischer says back in the mid-90s, he lived in California and owned a 1988 Milano Verde and a 1986 GTV6. He spent a lot of time at di Natale’s shop.

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