Bertone's BAT concept cars review

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Bertone's BAT concept cars Bertone's BAT concept cars Bertone's BAT concept cars
Bertone's BAT concept cars Bertone's BAT concept cars Bertone's BAT concept cars

The important role of aerodynamics was strikingly displayed on Bertone’s BAT concept cars.

Bertone's BAT concept cars review
Bertone's BAT concept cars

 

Bertone's BAT concept cars

The evolution of the car is marked by development spurts generated by the arrival of parallel technology. For example, the invention of the electric motor and its subsequent miniaturisation delivered the starter motor and a new dimension of convenience. Onboard electric motors then went on to power fans, wipers, washers, windows, seats, retractable headlights, fuel pumps, power steering and now water pumps... and there’s still no end in sight.

Just when the car seemed overwhelmed by emissions and safety regulations, the silicon chip arrived. But perhaps the development that made the most visible difference to the car was the emergence of a new level of "heavier than air" aviation and missile technology including the jet engine that was the legacy of World War II.

After the Art Deco period gave the world the fully-enclosed body which encouraged manufacturers such as Tatra, Chrysler and Cord to exploit the outer-skin for better aerodynamics, these developments were suspended by hostilities in 1939.

The high-water mark at this point was Porsche’s aerodynamic coupe Type 60K10 version of the Volkswagen built for the 1939 Berlin-Rome road race. Even if the outbreak of war made it redundant, its focus on curved windows, enclosed wheels, integrated cockpit and streamlined flush panels instead of a bigger engine marked a major shift in agenda ready for war’s end in 1945.

The next milestone was the Cisitalia Aerodynamica, conceived by inspired Fiat designer Dante Giacosa for the Italian company which would later draw Porsche engineering expertise into its fold. This breathtaking study which actually delivered results on racetracks across Europe seemed to combine the advances of the ’39 Porsche design with the latest aviation developments. Post-war fuel rationing also made it relevant.

Before the war, Giacosa had been captivated by aerodynamics after he discovered that a Fiat 500 van was quicker than the sedan; then spent every spare moment since working out why. This is an important distinction when the Cisitalia’s aerodynamic fins left the Aerodynamica with a van-like side profile. Giacosa’s work set the scene for a halcyon period in Italian design consumed with aerodynamic detail. Enter the Alfa BAT cars.

Unrelated to Batman and his four-wheel steed, these were the product of the Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica project. 

After Fiat cut its expensive coachbuilding and concept commissions, Nuccio Bertone was forced to re-invent his father’s company as a design house and boutique body fabricator. He chose aerodynamic performance as the signature for the reborn Carozzeria Bertone. It was an inspired strategy.

The primitive MG T-series in 1952 seemed a good place to start when the before and after story couldn’t be more dramatic. He developed a coupe and cabriolet range on specifications based on the old MG for the Turin Show.

It succeeded on both a design and production level when US MG dealer Wacky Arnolt identified a market for the cars and commissioned Bertone to build 100 of each style. In what soon became a well-worn trail for several Italian studios, bare chassis would be dispatched from the UK, bodied in Italy, then shipped to the US.

Bertone also developed an aerodynamic concept for Abarth for the 1952 Paris show. There is some speculation that this might have been an earlier BAT study when the centre-nose section of the BAT 5 was not only present in the Abarth but filled with a third headlight. There were also signs of the wrap-over rear fins.

The MGs were followed by the Bertone-bodied Arnolt-Bristol which reflected some BAT influence but was a far more traditional shape. The Abarth concept along with Arnolt’s vision and success in the US which ultimately absorbed 460 Bertone bodies, finally caught the attention of Alfa Romeo.

The Italian manufacturer, on a roll from Touring’s stunning Disco Volante "Flying Saucer" sports car (which much later evolved into the first Duetto roadster) was ready to up the ante. Bertone’s response was the BAT cars under the talented Franco Scaglione who had studied aeronautical engineering.  

BAT 5

After BAT 1-4 designated projects were never revealed by Bertone, BAT 5 was the first to emerge as a full-scale runner in 1953. It was based on Alfa Romeo’s pedestrian 1900 range, deliberately chosen for its relatively modest performance in standard form. The 1900 underpinnings were to be a constant to highlight any gains made over the course of the BAT study.

BAT 5’s shark nose pre-dated Ferrari’s open wheelers and sports racers by several years. Along with the retractable headlights, its front styling also pre-empted Pontiac’s later efforts by several decades. The rear window would make an appearance in the first production Corvette Stingray.

Hence it was stunning for a shape that arrived in the same year as the FJ Holden, and the radically curved glass would find its way into production cars across the globe within two years. Yet the aerodynamic advances which delivered a Cd of just 0.23 seemed to cocoon the car without quite becoming a part of it. Although the seats and dash design were years ahead of their time, cabin space was too tight as a result.

Turning circle? There wasn’t one. The enclosed front wheels restricted steering to around a quarter-turn in either direction. Although concealing the exhaust within the sill helped aerodynamics, it acted as a boom-box for noise and transferred heat into the cabin. Yet the slippery body alone added 15 percent to the standard 1900’s top speed. 

BAT 7

The most radical of the three studies that made it to the road, the 1954 BAT 7 began to address the problems exposed by Touring’s Disco Volante which lived up to its name of Flying Saucer after its shape generated too much lift at the rear.

BAT 9 was an attempt to use aerodynamic pressure in the right areas to enhance stability and road-holding while dropping the Cd bar to just 0.19, a figure that few cars even today can get close to. 

Styling was an evolution of the BAT 5 add-on look and impinged even more on vision and practicality. It earned the dubious honour of presenting the highest fins on a concept car at that point. Who said the ’59 Cadillac was over the top?

The black and white interior would soon appear across a range of US cars (and Laminex kitchens) while the wraparound cockpit design was a preview of what was to come. Interestingly, it was built in right-hand drive.

BAT 9

The least radical of the three, BAT 9 was a 1955 attempt to repackage the aerodynamic advances achieved by BAT 7 into a more driver-friendly context that could reach production. 

As a result, it had the least impact as a concept, but was the most desirable when its cabin was big enough for an adult driver and the fins had been re-profiled to dramatically improve vision. It also boasted a turning circle that no longer required a football field to be measured.

Its biggest competition for public attention in 1955 was Alfa Romeo’s own striking new Giulietta Spider from Pininfarina, a production milestone available at a local Alfa dealer.

For the BAT cars to have any real influence over an Alfa Romeo production model, buyers would have to wait until 1957 for the milestone Giulietta Sprint Speciale, also penned by Scaglione. This car is often described as the most beautiful Alfa Romeo built; no small tribute when you consider the other candidates. Given that beauty was not an attribute of the BAT cars, the Sprint Speciale was a huge achievement when it marked the point where concept merged into reality.

BAT had achieved its purpose and it was time to move onto something else especially when Citroen and Porsche were demonstrating that benchmark aerodynamics, practicality and comfortable cabins were no longer mutually exclusive.

As for the evolution of the car, aerodynamics would not return as a major priority until several fuel crises prompted the Germans to cut fuel costs for their autobahn speeds. The benchmark aero Audi 100 that emerged and then influenced the shape of virtually every production sedan is another story.

BAT FROM THE DEAD

Displayed at the 2009 Detroit Motor Show, the BAT 11 is an updated take on the three BAT concepts built by Nuccio Bertone in the 1950s.

Based on a modified Alfa Romeo 8C platform, it’s powered by a Maserati V8 engine and features Pirelli shod 21inch wheels and Brembo brakes.

The latest BAT carries many of the same design cues as its predecessors, including the fared-in wheels and wrap-around tailfins. While the original BATs were designed to look aerodynamic, this one was actually wind-tunnel-tested in the Department of Aeronautics and Space Engineering at the Polytechnic institute of Torino.

It’s striking up close too, at over 4.8m in length, 1.8m wide and under 1.2m tall. The classic styling elements are joined by some 21st century tech, including electronically adjustable cooling foils and wheel coverings that automatically adjust to the optimal position for cooling, steering or drag-reduction.

It’s painted in Nuccio Bertone’s favourite green-grey colour, and was commissioned by American enthusiast Gary Kaberle who owned the original 1955 BAT 9 car.

 

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