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Car of the Month - September 2010

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Fiat 8V - Supersonic body by Ghia - manufactured in 1953

Early September 2010 it was time again for the biannual Concours d'Elegance at the royal palace "Het Loo" in Apeldoorn, Holland. After some difficult years this event seems definitely on its way up. Helped by some excellent weather, a stroke of luck in an otherwise dreary month, it saw the largest turnout of people since the start of the event in 1999. The international concours itself was accompanied by an additional local concours, sprint races and expansive number of classic cars parked on the grounds of the palace by visitors, turning it into a huge classic car gathering. Though in sheer numbers the concours at palace Het Loo probably outclasses more highly regarded concours like those at Villa d'Este and Goodwood the quality of the entered cars is not as top notch, mainly because it lacks entrants from other parts of the world. Maybe that'll change if the event continues to develop like in the past couple of years.
That being said, there were still plenty of interesting and exotic cars present to enjoy. Almost traditionally the esteemed jury chose an Italian design to be the best of show, this time the Belgian owned Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia shown above (chassis nr. 000055). In fact this is the second Fiat 8V to be awarded best of show in the history of the concours at Het Loo, after the enigmatic Demon Rouge by Vignale in 2004. Still the choice can be justified since the car is historically interesting, rare and beautiful.

The Fiat 8V Supersonic combines two minor myths of post-war Italian car history: the last Fiat with a 8-cylinder engine and the Jet-age Supersonic body design by Carrozzeria Ghia. Fiat's 8V was a sportscar intended to be a competitive racing car in the 2-litre class. It was only built between 1952 and 1954 and with difficulty 114 of these cars were sold. But it did prove what it had set out to do and as such it was not only Fiat's last 8-cylinder car but also its last competitive racing car. Because of that this Fiat model is highly valued and collectable, though not much known, and is in a class of its own between the Maseratis, Ferraris, Oscas and other exotic sportscars from that era.
Streamlined and lightweight coupe bodies by Fiat came standard on the 8V but a number of chassis were bodied by external coachbuilders. Most important of those was Zagato which fitted an important number of Fiat 8V chassis with an effective berlinetta style that is even more classic than Fiat's own design and very adapted to GT car racing. Carrozzeria Ghia contributed to a smaller portion of the 8V chassis.
In 1953 Giovanni Savonuzzi, a former aircraft engineer who worked for car manufacturers like Cisitalia after the war, had designed a body that was inspired by the jet fighters that had emerged in the early 1950s. It was dubbed the Supersonic and realized by Ghia in steel on a chassis devised by Savonuzzi, more of an engineer than a stylist, out of Fiat and Lancia parts and powered by an Alfa Romeo 1900 engine tuned by Conrero. This was no show car but a true racing car, Savonuzzi believed that the aircraft features complete with small fins at the rear would make it competitive. It was entered in the 1953 Mille Miglia road race but was crashed heavily beyond repair.
Plenty of people were impressed by the futuristic Supersonic body however and Ghia received a number of orders for this design. Ultimately about 14 Fiat 8V, 3 Jaguar XK120 and 1 Aston Martin DB 2/4 Mk II chassis were fitted with Supersonic bodies, all of them differing slightly from one another. Most Fiat 8V Supersonic had alloy bodies but were rather used for cruising than racing. At least one Fiat 8V Supersonic suffered a strange fate: around 1965 John Willment, a famous car dealer and racing team owner from the UK, mated a discarded a 8V Supersonic body to a leftover AC Cobra 427 competition chassis and so created the Willment Cobra 427 Ghia Coupe. This car, with an extremely powerful Ford V8 tuned by Holman & Moody, was never raced. It looked a bit like a Supersonic hot rod due to its very wide rear wheels and its main claim to fame was that it was owned by Lady Campbell (wife of speed record breaker Malcom Campbell) and it still exists today.
Some say that Savonuzzi's Supersonic design inspired the famous Alfa Romeo BAT prototypes by Bertone, far more extreme aerodynamic exercises on the 1900 chassis introduced between 1953 and 1955. Fact is that the Supersonic is one of the few Italian jet-age designs that was taken into production, quite a few years before the style caught on and resulted in the mass produced large finned American cars at the end of the 1950s. And perhaps because Savonuzzi was not a true stylist he managed to incorporate the jet fighter elements harmoniously in a handsome and well-balanced design that doesn't seem either truly dated or impractical. On the exquisite Fiat 8V platform the Supersonic style is at its most attractive, matching its fluent looks with temperamental and potent dynamics.

About 5 or 6 Fiat 8V Supersonic are in driving condition today, and 2 of the Jaguar XK120 based Supersonics. They are highly sought after classics fit for the highest awards at any car show. So its quite understandable that the jury was impressed by this car and it will surely do as a poster car for advertising the next concours.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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