Alfa Romeo BAT Series

By the early 1950s the frenetic developments in rocketry and aeronautical engineering were beginning to be absorbed by the front runners in motor sport and car design. Alfa Romeo teamed up with the specialist Italian design house of Bertone with the single aim of exploring the lowest possible drag coefficient for a functioning car.

Their mind-meld produced a series of studies in innovative aerodynamics, presented each year from 1953 to 1955 at the Turin Motor Show, and called BAT (for ‘Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica’) 5, BAT 7 and BAT 9. ‘Unique’ is too small a word for them. The BAT series sprang from fevered imaginations freed (from the seriousness of the war years and the grim resurrection of peace) to mix comic book juvenilia with the wonders of pure, technical curiosity.

BAT 5 came first, broke every rule of car design and caused the biggest sensation. From the frontal torpedos grouped to minimize disruptive airflow, the super-lightweight shell integrated the passenger compartment in a single, streamlined sweep — the side windows were angled at 45 degrees to the body — forming a large teardrop-shape ending in a rear windscreen set lengthwise and divided by a slim raised pillar, and enclosed by two fins that tapered both inwards and upwards with a slight curl. Everyone loved that the ‘BAT’ looked like a bat with folded wings.

It worked (so did BAT 7 & 9). With spats over the wheels, the design created few air vortices: though completely enclosing its Alfa 1900 chassis, BAT 5 sped up to 115 mph (185 km/h) on its standard, 100 horsepower engine. BAT 7 had fancier wings, looked part submarine and aircraft as well as car, and went faster. The BAT series was a triumphant vindication of the aesthetic of elegance as a valuable technical tool and an engineering inspiration.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

Italy

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1953

ENGINE:

1,975 cc Cast-iron Straight Four w/ Light Alloy Head

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

The original three BAT cars appear regularly at Motor Shows. In 2008, a new model called ‘BAT 11’ was shown in Geneva. It is based on the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione; but though styled – unmistakably – in a thoroughly modern take on the classic 1950s BAT cars, ‘BAT 11’ is a statement of retro aesthetics more than a demonstration of technical enquiry.

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