The last week of November 1961 saw the Ferrari organization shaken to its core. Not quite 60 years later, that event is making its marque on the supercar field with this new, intriguing 200+ mph, handmade mid-engine machine. Adding more spice to its recipe is a roundabout connection with McLaren founder Bruce McLaren.
So what’s the link between the ATS GT, the aforementioned Kiwi, and Enzo and his men? That fateful November in Maranello is the first piece of the puzzle, for that’s when eight of Ferrari’s top lieutenants left in unison in an episode known as “The Palace Revolt” or “Walkout,” depending upon what story you heard. At the crux of it all was the sudden (and unexpected) firing of Ferrari’s very highly regarded sales manager Girolamo Gardini, so chief engineers Carlo Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini, team manager Romolo Tavoni and five other executives banded together in an effort to have Ferrari reverse his decision. Enzo’s response was simple: You’re gone too!
Hit the Streets
I’ve been blessed to speak with a good number of the “Revolt/Walkout” participants, and the row and its aftermath is worthy of a blog entry unto itself—or even better, a book. Suffice it to say when this much talent suddenly hit the streets in the midst of Europe’s “Economic Miracle” sports and GT car boom, armed with the Rolodexes they had, it was inevitable they wouldn’t stay unemployed for long. The group soon rounded up three wealthy backers and in February 1962 launched Automobili Turismo e Sport.
ATS’ ambitious goals were to tackle Ferrari head on in F1 and endurance racing, and make a cutting edge road car that was far more advanced than anything in Maranello’s arsenal. The latter was the 150 mph ATS 2500 GT that debuted at 1963’s Geneva Auto Show. As the world’s first mid-engine supercar, the 2500 GT had a robust tubular chassis, independent suspension front and rear, 2467cc V8 rated at 200-250 horsepower, 5-speed gearbox and more, all clothed in a steel or alloy body designed by perhaps the most artistic of the era’s stylists, ex-Bertone man Franco Scaglione.
It’s too bad ATS couldn’t have focused its efforts solely on the 2500 GT, for as the era’s most avant-garde road car it was as good as the F1 team was bad, and unlucky. The F1 effort plowed through so much cash that within two years ATS had to close its doors, with at most eight to ten 2500 GT and GTSs (the competition version) being built.
David & Goliath
That tale of David going after Goliath—and actually having the means and tools to win—remains one of the great “what if” stories in GT car history, and has been forgotten by all but the most diehard of car geeks. Two such “geeks” are Daniele Maritan and Emanuele Bomboi and, having spent two days with the ATS group in Novara in June and being the first to drive their new GT, it’s quite clear they are, in Emanuele’s words, “romantic lovers of timeless cars.” But they also have backgrounds to couple that “romance” with the ability to create something truly unique in today’s burgeoning (and crowded) supercar field.
Maritan is a successful amateur racer and automobile importer, while Bomboi has a number of coachbuilding and design stints under his belt, including 10 years at Centro Stile Fiat and later as Bertone’s Deputy Director. He also designed the intriguing Willys AW 380 Berlinetta in 2014 (if you want to see the likely origins of the new Alpine, start your search with this machine), and at the 380’s debut he and Maritan met. They hit it off, began discussing automotive visions, which led to the formation of ATS in 2017.
Bringing Back Elegance
Throughout his career Bomboi worked with some big names in design, and it shows in the refinement of the new ATS. He speaks of his and Daniele’s “love of art forms and elegance,” but where he really catches my attention is his noting how they wish to bring “true Italian beauty in design back to the roads. In our opinion this has become lost.” He’s right. For decades the Italians defined elegance and led the automotive world because of it. Now, with everyone so focused on aggression and edginess, elegance and grace are a real breath of fresh air.
The GT’s underpinnings come from McLaren. Not only does this give ATS great (and proven) technology and access to markets worldwide, something beyond the financial capabilities of most small start up constructors, but the marque has put in their own proprietary technologies that includes boosting horsepower to 700 from the stock 650, should the client want.
A True Influence
The McLaren connection resonates for another (and historic) reason, for in a roundabout way ATS influenced company founder Bruce McLaren’s career. According to the former ATS employees I spoke with, almost from Day One there was friction amongst the shareholders. The wealthiest and best known was Count Giovanni Volpi, a Venice native in his young 20s. In the years preceding ATS he had formed the Scuderia Serenissima and was Ferrari’s best client, scoring a good number of Enzo’s frontline racers. Volpi told me he was in line to get the first 250 GTOs in 1962, until Enzo found out about his backing ATS.
ATS’ other two shareholders were Giorgio Billi, a self-made industrialist from Florence, and Jamie Ortiz Patino, whose wealth came from mining in Bolivia. Volpi was the first shareholder to leave, and soon after he started his own marque, Serenissima. Based out of the small town of Formigine between Modena and Maranello, through the balance of the 1960s Serenissima created a small number of one-off competition and road cars.
In House Production
Like ATS, most everything was made in-house, including the engines. But rather than being 2467cc, Serenissima increased the V8’s capacity to 3 and 3.5 liters—and it was the smaller sized powerplant that ties in with McLaren. In 1966 company founder Bruce McLaren constructed his own Formula1 car in the M2B, and entered it at Monaco using a Ford engine. When that proved underpowered there and in testing, McLaren tried Serenissima’s 3-liter V8, which powered the M2B to the marque’s first ever F1 points with a 6th overall finish at Brands Hatch in the UK.
Coming full circle, a McLaren engine now powers an ATS and, like the original 2500 GT, the new GT’s also has a mid-mounted V8. I was quite impressed during my drive, but the traffic congestion prevented me from really lighting the fuse. Look for proper impressions in the near future, for the men from ATS and their elegant GT will be in my old stomping grounds on the Monterey peninsula for Historic Car week. I’m very much looking forward to spending more time in late August with the car, and the delightful and ambitious men behind it.