Featured: This Fiat Bartoletti Tipo 306/2 Transporter Served Motorsport Teams And Film Productions For Decades

This Fiat Bartoletti Tipo 306/2 Transporter Served Motorsport Teams And Film Productions For Decades

By Máté Boér
July 17, 2019

It was once viewed as any other transporter—earning double takes only because of the precious cargo stacked on its double-decker beds—but today the Fiat Bartoletti Tipo 306/2 is a gravity well of attention at any classic car event it attends, whether in the paddocks of Laguna Seca or the Nürburgring, where I got a chance to view it in detail both on and off track.

Also known as the Scarab or the Shelby Transporter, this custom-built hauler was eyewitness to several significant moments in motorsport history. Being active for almost three decades from the beginning of the 1960s to the end of the ‘80s has left this transporter with a very unique history in the sport that it never directly participated in.

In 1959 the British-born American playboy Lance Reventlow commissioned the transporter from the well-known Italian coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Bartoletti, to haul his Scarab F1 cars in Europe. In recent years some sources, including a few renowned ones that are otherwise quite accurate, advertised it as the ex-Maserati works truck, which for example took Fangio’s 250F to his last race in Reims—but it’s not true.  The race car transporter’s already very exciting history was often embellished with incorrect additions, but, now in cooperation with the current owners, the aim is to fill in the whole picture.

The history of the Bartoletti company can be traced back to 1873, when Ermenegildo Bartoletti founded a workshop to build carriages and chariots. The small operation grew into a factory, which was then completely destroyed during WWII, and then later became a big player in the commercial vehicles market with the support of the state. In the paddocks of the post-war era, Carozzeria Bartoletti became known by the transporters it built for Ferrari and Maserati in the late 1950s. At its peak, almost 1,000 people worked in the factory only about an hour’s drive away from Modena, in Forli.

Some sources mention that the Bartoletti designed for Scarab is a sister to the Ferrari and Maserati transporters, but are based on truck undercarriages and mechanicals, while the Scarab hauler is based on Fiat’s Tipo 306/2 “alpine” bus chassis, which was launched in 1959 as the second generation of the Tipo 306.

Scarab was the first all-American Formula One team, but they only ran one season in 1960 with their front-engined cars, which were fast but constantly suffered from engine failures, leaving the team to collect exactly zero points in five events. After Lance Reventlow’s Scarab F1 program failed midseason, the transporter was used by the rapidly developing Team Lotus for the rest of 1960. Over the course of the next four years, the transporter’s historical record has some gaps, but sometime during this period it was returned to Forli to be prepared for another American racing team, the America Camoradi.

The originally two-axle transporter got its third axle installed during these years to be able to carry the bigger and heavier sportscars of the era. Camoradi faced financial problems and couldn’t pay for the modified transporter though, which reappeared again in 1964, dressed in Ford’s Princess Blue, and carrying the Cobras and the Daytona coupes in Europe.

Between 1965 and 1967, Alan Mann Racing supported Ford’s European GT activities and they used the Bartoletti to carry GT40s and Cobras, this time wearing a new shade of blue called, Guardsmen Blue. After Ford’s failed attempt to purchase Ferrari, they weren’t too keen on having Italian vehicle of any kind in their fleet, and thus the bus was sold to John Woolfe Racing. Woolfe had many issues with the rig and said he was “Happy to see the back of it,” when his compatriot David Piper bought it in early 1970. Piper painted it in his signature green hue, and used it only for one season. He then loaned the Bartoletti for McQueen’s legendary Le Mans film, in which it had multiple roles in various colors, the latest in red as Scuderia Ferrari’s support vehicle. This last color scheme fit in perfectly with Anthony Bamford’s racing team, JCB Historic, which acquired the transporter when filming was wrapped. JCB used it mainly for historic car transports and rented GTC Mirages for Le Mans campaigns between 1976 and 1982. 

In 1982, the 306/2 landed on American soil for the first time when Michael Shoen, author of Cobra-Ferrari Wars: 1963-1965 acquired it from Bamford. He also used it for historic motorsport events in a Ferrari livery, until an intricate family situation led the noteworthy bus to the desert in Arizona. This is where Scarab-collector Don Orosco found the neglected Bartoletti in 2006 and restored it to concours standard, spending two years, 8,000 hours and 600,000 dollars on the project. Anyone who’s ever restored a car can imagine the amount of work that a nine-meter-long double-decker might need to achieve the condition it’s presented in today.

On top of all the usual challenges, Orosco and his team found that Bartoletti had produced many of the parts itself—this was a real custom build in every sense, and all of these unique accessories had to be fabricated from scratch. Only the Leyland six-cylinder turbo diesel engine isn’t matched to the transporter’s 1960 state (it originally used a  Fiat horizontal six-cylinder diesel), but it has been there since sometime in the late 1960s, so is still quite correct on the whole.

Thus the Scarab transporter celebrated the beginning of its second life as a classic vehicle standing on its own merits in 2008 at the historic festival in Laguna Seca during Monterey Car Week.  Faithful to its history of trading hands frequently, the list of owners has grown since then, but the Bartoletti is still in the immaculate condition today.

I finally had the chance to meet the famous 306/2 in person at this year’s Nürburgring Classic, which invited a group of vintage race transporters for a reunion of sorts. Looking at the big blue bus, I loved to picture how it would have looked in period, what life in the paddock might’ve been like when rigs like this were considered cutting edge instead of the boring boxes that today’s teams employ. Digging into its history, I was amazed at the list of cars and legendary drivers that it served, and despite how we view it now, it was never intended to be anything to ogle. It was built with a functional purpose, but the coachbuilders still succeeded in adding a bit of elegance and a hint of playfulness in the design. You don’t need to look further than the grill to see what I mean. 

Thanks to the event organizers at the Nürburgring Classic and to ChromeCars, the current custodians of the Bartoletti, on Saturday evening when the track became silent, we took the transporter out for a ride under the sunset on the Grand Prix circuit. It was a different assignment than I’m used to, and a new experience that I hope to have more of—I’ve never guided and positioned such a huge subject in an automotive photoshoot to date. It was a memorable moment for me, spending uninterrupted time with such a magnificent piece of motorsport history in the famed Eifel mountains on an infamous track.

The Bartoletti is heading back to Germany now after its recent trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, but should you find yourself wanting to see it in person, it will appear during the first weekend in August at the Classic Days in Schloss Dyck.

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4 years ago

What an amazing story about an amazing vehicle. Super cool, thanks.

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