Gooding and Company is having their annual Amelia Island, Florida, auction on Friday March 8. This is the last of the choice lots from the sale that we have chosen to share with you before the auction. We were drawn to this Fiat by it by its advanced features, excellent lines and interesting drive-train.
One of Ghia’s most famous designs, the Supersonic was not merely a brilliant fashion statement; it was in many ways the result of economic necessity. In the years immediately following WWII, Italian coach builders faced dire circumstances. The country’s major manufacturers were struggling to return to normal operating conditions, the economy was a model of instability, and few automobiles in production were suited for the grandeur or expense of custom bodywork.
In 1950, impressed with their designs and skilled craftsmanship, the head of Chrysler’s design department, Virgil Exner, approached Ghia. Over the next few years, a relationship between the two companies flourished. For a boutique manufacturer like Ghia, the continuous orders and publicity were a boon. For Chrysler, the association of its products with the fashionable European design was priceless.
Around that time, Fiat debuted the 8V chassis, and Elio Zagato proved that custom coach work could be successfully applied to the new, upscale sports car. Soon afterward, several prominent Italian carrozzerie began approaching Fiat management with proposals for limited-production, custom- made 8Vs. One of the first was Ghia, the neighboring Torinese firm.
Luigi Serge, the commercial director of Ghia, had an exciting new idea for the Fiat 8V that was based on a prototype sports-racing car created by Giovanni Savonuzzi, the coach builder’s newly appointed technical director.
A gifted designer and engineer, Savonuzzi began his career in Fiat’s aeronautical sector where he developed a close working relationship with Dante Giacosa, the man behind the 8V project.
The first automobile that put him on the map was the Cisitalia 202, a car that MoMA selected to participate in Eight Automobiles, a pioneering museum exhibition that equated automotive design with self-moving sculpture.
For the Fiat 8V, Savonuzzi created a cutting- edge two-door coupe based on his previous experiments. In both concept and detail, it abandoned traditional coach building influence and looked toward contemporary trends in aerospace, a familiar field for the designer.
Referred to as the “Supersonic,” the two-seat sports coupe featured stylized, streamlined forms; delicate use of brightwork; subtle tail fins; and a taut, swept-back roofline. Despite its radical figure and unusual features, the result was perfectly balanced and undeniably graceful. Even sitting still, the Supersonic evoked speed, power, and progress.
In fall 1953, Serge traveled to Detroit to meet with Chrysler executives. He presented Exner pictures of the latest Savonuzzi design and told him of their plan to produce a limited series of cars that would put this fabulous bodywork on Fiat’s 8V chassis. According to reports, Exner was excited about the prospect. Also present at the meeting was a gentleman by the name of Paul Farago, a designer and engineer who was very much involved in Chrysler’s styling department and later, the development of the Dual-Ghia.
Although he operated independently, Farago was a friend and advisor to Exner, worked closely with Serge as a liaison between Ghia and Detroit automakers, and raced sports cars with Bob Keller, the son of Chrysler chairman, K.T. Keller.
When Farago first learned of the proposal, he too agreed that a marriage of this futuristic coach work to the all-new Fiat chassis would be a perfect match. While many of the Italian-American concept cars had been created for show and display purposes only, the Supersonic would be a fully functional, high-performance sports car that was unlike anything else on the road. With full support from Exner, Farago placed the first order for a Ghia-bodied Fiat 8V.
The story of this Italian sports car begins on May 8, 1953, when a bare 8V chassis was shipped from the Fiat factory to Carrozzeria Ghia. Upon arrival, the necessary steps were taken to transform the rolling chassis into the first Supersonic.
When the Supersonic arrived in the US, Farago was there to collect his new car and, when the time came for its long-anticipated Motor City debut, he was also there to welcome a swarm of admirers. For many American enthusiasts, it was not only the first glimpse of the new Savonuzzi design, it was the first chance they had to see the new Fiat sports car, with its compact V-8 engine and fully independent suspension.
In the months following its arrival, the show- stopping Supersonic was featured in several automotive publications, including All the World’s Cars, 1954 Cars, and Motor Trend. The Ghia-bodied wonder also spent time in Chrysler’s design department, where Exner and his team of stylists examined the peculiar new Fiat.
It was also around this time that Paul Lazaros first became involved with the history of this remarkable car. During the early 1950s, Mr. Lazaros worked for Farago as an engineer and machinist. With a background in automobiles and keen eye for design, it is understandable that he would be attracted to the important Italian sports car. In 1955, after admiring the car for some time, Mr. Lazaros struck a deal with Farago.
Throughout the 1950s, Mr. Lazaros displayed the Supersonic at a number of local meets, receiving great fanfare and many Best of Show honors. One notable exhibition occurred in 1956 at the prestigious Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where the 8V was displayed alongside a Ferrari 250 Europa GT and a Bertone-bodied Aston Martin.
After many years driving and showing the Supersonic, Mr. Lazaros retired the car from regular use and stored it in his garage, where it remained for over 55 years. Other than short drives around the neighborhood, the 8V all but disappeared from the public eye, and its existence was known to only a select few.
It is safe to say the Supersonic has led an unusually protected and secluded existence. At the time of cataloguing, the odometer displayed a mere 26,700 km – just under 17,000 miles. This astonishing figure is supported by the car’s highly original condition, minimal use, and airtight provenance.
The paint appears to be 80% original and possesses a lovely, uniform appearance, with all the wonderful traces that come with decades of continuous use and interaction with its long-term caretaker. The Supersonic is, quite literally, original down to the wheels and tires. The Borrani knock-offs still wear the factory-installed Pirelli Cinturato tires, and the unique polished wheel discs are the only original set known to have survived intact.
To learn more about this Fiat and the fine other cars in the sale, you can follow this link to the Gooding & Company Amelia Island Auction Catalog.
All images and words ©2013 and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Brian Henniker.