Carlo Chiti (Top Left), Giotto Bizzarrini (Top Right), Romolo Tavoni (Left)
Fifty years ago, an elite group of Ferrari men decided to depart from the safe road to take a secondary one, uphill all the way. An act of folly in the eyes of many, for others an incredible love story and like all love stories with its ups and downs, marked by burning passion but also crushing goodbyes. But let’s go back to the beginning. We are in Maranello, in the Province of Modena, at the end of October 1961. In Italy it was the era of the Dolce Vita, the economic boom and an urgent yearning for victory in every sphere of life.
From the Palace Coup to the anti-Ferraris.
Eight “bombshells” are carefully placed on the 8 desks of the same number of illustrious employees at the Ferrari headquarters. These are all letters of dismissal from the “Cavaliere” in person. The reason: a presumed “palace coup” silently perpetrated behind his back by his most talented collaborators wishing to set up their own marque.
Among these eminent figures of automobile engineering and mechanics of the times were the engineer Carlo Chiti, responsible for the world-wide success of Ferrari in F1 in 1961, the sporting director of Ferrari Romolo Tavoni and Giotto Bizzarrini, chief engineer at Maranello, responsible, among many other projects, for developing the 250 GT SWB, the Testarossa and the…250 GTO! And, of course, later the creator of the Marque bearing his own name, a shooting star on 4 wheels which, between 1964 and 1969, flew high in the upper echelons of custom-built cars thanks to showpieces such as the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada and the 1900 GT Europa.
Our conspirators, as well as talent and experience, could also count on the “fuel” supplied by three wealthy industrialists of the time, Giorgio Billi, Giovanni Volpi Conte di Misurata (owner of the Scuderia Serenissima) and Jaime Ortiz Patino. With so much know-how, talent and cash what more could the defectors wish for than a brand name and a company in which to pour all this fervent energy? No sooner said than done.
In February 1962 the Bologna phone book listed a new entry answering to the name of ATS-Automobili Turismo e Sport. A few months later, in the presence of the several-times-over world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, the first stone of the futuristic factory at Pontecchio Marconi was laid. Here not only would the single seater Formula One car “Tipo 100” be built (fitted with a factory engine, one more unforgivable slight on the bosses at Ferrari), but also the fabulous 2500 GT, the incredible road-going sports car that has by now entered the “limited editions” Hall of Fame, the legend lives on although the traces may be lost.
ATS F1 Type 100. The ill-fated avenger.
1963 ATS 2500 GT (photo courtesy ATS)
In December 1962 the heroic team of car-creating artists presented not only a single-seater fitted with a factory engine (a V8 with just 1.5 litres) but also the aces who would drive them in the Formula 1 world championship: none other than ex-Ferrari driver and champion Phil Hill and the rising Italian star Giancarlo Baghetti. Right from its debut at the Belgian Grand Prix, the little “avenger” failed to live up to expectations due to transmission problems. Dwindling finances failed to secure a solution to the various mechanical problems for this season or the next which witnessed the final end to the ATS dream as a rival to Ferrari on the track. And so the road remained the only place left on which do battle, in a market as competitive as that of sports cars and GTs in the early ‘60s, dominated by such sacred giants as the E-Type Jaguar, the Aston Martin DB5, the Maserati 3500 GT and the peerless Ferrari 250 GTO.
ATS 2500 GT (1962)
1963 ATS 2500 GT (photo courtesy ATS)
ATS 2500 GT (photo courtesy ATS)
This road coupe engineered by Chiti and Bizzarrini, designed by Franco Scaglione and with coachwork by Michelotti, was available in two versions, both 2-seaters, with a 5-speed gearbox and the engine mounted for the first time in a rear-mid position. The “GT” had steel coachwork and a 2.5 litre V8 engine producing 210 bhp while the “GTS” was a lightweight version (810 kg) with an aluminium body and producing 245 bhp able to power it to 257 km/h (160 mph) with 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.9 s (0-100 km/h 5.1).
Just like its “slimmed down” sister, the Sport 1000, two full-bodied GTs also took part in the prestigious Targa Florio endurance race in 1964. Unfortunately neither finished due to ignition issues.
The downhill road.
Neither the GT road car nor the Type 100 race car achieved the success expected of them: the former in commercial terms and the latter as regards competition. This was not however due to a lack of excellent dynamic qualities or reliability but rather a single not inconsiderable factor: the withdrawal of investment. ATS nevertheless sowed the seed of the rear-mid engine which then, thanks to Chiti, sprouted into a cloverleaf called Autodelta (33 Stradale) at Alfa Romeo, into the Dino 246 GT at Ferrari and into the GT 40 at Ford. Not forgetting of course the achievements of Bizzarrini…
A new dawn, 50 years later.
As did a few obstinate men half a century ago, a courageous auto maker is reviving the ATS brand and has poured all his time and resources into a project as ambitious as it is insane: to bring to life a GT Marque of great prestige and 100% Made in Italy. This will be no mean feat under the current economic climate, but, in a small town in the countryside outside of Milan, Gianluca Gregis, has been working day and night to restore ATS’ well-earned albeit controversial fame. We give a full report on this extraordinary “second chance,” with photos of the prototypes being prepared and the rendering of a “barchetta” and a mighty GT to be launched in the coming months. History repeats itself, a broken dream kick-starts its motor once more.
On Monday we will bring you our exclusive interview with the courageous car maker who took over the ATS brand.