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ATS: Ferrari vendetta that didn’t pay off

25 April 2012 9:47 No comments

During the 1960s the Italian car industry was in a competitive and flourishing state; many individuals attempted to build their own (race)car. A good example of that is the subject of this article: ATS, ‘Automobili Turismo Sport SpA.’ In its short lived history the company only made one road car, the 2500 GT. This sensational and very rare car is part of a story that is maybe even more interesting on its own. To understand this we have to go back to Maranello, the home of the Scuderia Ferrari.

A crucial event in the history of Ferrari was the “Great Walkout” in the early sixties. Inappropriate meddling in mechanical affairs by Enzo’s wife Laura sparked the departure of some key figures. Among those were Carlo Chiti (pictured left of Enzo), designer of the Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’ and Giotto Bizzarrini (responsible for the 250 GTO). They were soon picked up by count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata (1938) who was an automobile enthusiastic and manager. At a young age, this count who lived near Venice inherited a fortune from his father Giuseppe, who was chief advisor for Benito Mussolini and founder of the famous Venice Film Festival. Giovanni was a regular customer at Ferrari where he bought several GT’s and racers to manage his own team, the ‘Scuderia Serenissima’ (SSS, the ‘Stable of Tranquility’). After he convinced the former Ferrari engineers to work for him, they founded a new company in Sasso Marconi near Bologna: ATS Serenissima which later on simply became ATS.

Their goal was simple: develop and build ATS, enter LeMans, F1 and beat Ferrari. In the meantimeBizzarrini went back to Ferrari, where he hoped he could acquire two new factory GTO’s he previously ordered. When the 250 GTO was finally unveiled, count Volpi made sure he’d also get at least one. However, when Enzo Ferrari found out Volpi had founded ATS with his former employees, he personally cancelled all the orders for Volpi and Bizzarrini. Volpi though was not finished with Enzo. He entered the LeMans 1962 edition with a Ferrari 250 SWB, re-bodied by Drogo and modified to super GTO-specs (called ‘the Breadvan’). Though at times quicker than the GTO, it failed to beat them. ATS also attempted to build a ‘monoposto’ for partecipation in F1, with Carlo Chiti leading the project. In 1963 they realized a 1.5L V8 with a 6-speed Colotti gearbox. Unfortunately for them it never finished a race, not even with racing driver Phil Hill behind the steering wheel (pictured), who became world champion in the previous year with, yes, Ferrari.

The development of a GT sports car was ATS next objective. In fact, the basic concept of the later 2500 GT started while Chiti was still at Ferrari. Their aim was to build the first mid-engined Italian car. With Chiti and Bizzarrini no longer at Maranello, ATS got that final honour. The 2500 GT in its final configuration was presented at the Geneva Motor Show of 1963. The GT (“Tipo 100”) has a light-alloy 2,467cc V8 block producing 210 hp at 7,700 rpm. The high revving engine (up to 9,000 rpm!) was mounted to a, again, Colotti 5-speed gearbox. It proved to be the Achilles heel of the car; soon it was replaced by a ZF. Together with a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburetors, independent suspension (double wishbones) and four wheel disc brakes, the car had some advanced specs for its time. It was capable of exceeding the 250 kph barrier (160 mph). The ‘superleggera’ version (GTS) delivered even better performance: the V8 delivered 245 hp while only weighing 750 kgs thanks to an aluminium body work. It is believed only 12 GT(S) were made in total, with only 5 presumably completed. They are  extremely rare nowaydays.

Despite its breathtaking, elegant design and quite sophisticated technique there was a problem. No one wanted to buy a car of a young company that attempted to race in F1, boast about its own capabilities and failed to deliver. This adventure drained the funds ATS needed to start up a decent company. On top of that, Volpi’s vision for ATS never materialized as his staff didn’t always agree. Chiti for example wanted a V8, Bizzarrini a V12. Last one left ATS early and used his ideas at Lamborghini. Later on in his career Chiti became especially famous for his Alfa Romeo contributions (Autodelta). All in all the right brains and tools, but a lack of money and organizational skills proved to be disastrous. Volpi decided to take the drawings back to his palazzo near Venice and used them later on to build (unsuccessfully) other Serenissima sports. Although the 2500 was ahead in its day, few were build and even fewer survived.
Enzo must have been pleased.


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