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Supersonic Ghia


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In 1951, Fiat's great designer Dante Giocosa began work on a new high-performance sports car, the legendary 8V, or "Otto Vu" in Italian, a two-liter, V8-engined two-seater.

Giacosa theorized that for a car to have the power and characteristics for which he was aiming, a tubular chassis would not be stiff enough to mount the fully independent suspension, so a platform was constructed from welded sheet metal, to which was welded the coachwork paneling.

The chassis construction was contracted out to specialist manufacturer Siata, which would go on to build its own 8V versions, and Fabio Luigi Rapi was enlisted to design the bodywork. In March 1952, the 8V debuted at the Geneva Salon and stole the show. It soon became a favorite with Italian racing drivers who scored race wins, class wins, and championship victories in 8Vs.

The car also caught the attention of Italy's coachbuilders, the first of which to render their adaptation was Zagato. Other versions were built by Vignale, Pininfarina, Siata and Ghia. The latter was dubbed "Supersonic," an allusion to the car's rocketship styling.

SUPERSONIC BEGAN AS AN ALFA

The Supersonic design first appeared on a Conrero-tuned Alfa Romeo 1900, which was entered in the 1953 Mille Miglia. Designed by Giovanni Savonuzzi, it was crafted in metal by Ghia, which built eight examples on the 8V Fiat chassis.

The car we offer today is meticulously restored and was shown at the Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance. The combination of Ghia bodywork, a dramatic period color scheme, and a potent little V8 makes this rare Fiat a desirable car. Many of these Fiat 8Vs received an Alfa Romeo five-speed gearbox back in the late 1950s, just as the car we are proud to offer today. It comes with a U.S. title and Swiss customs documents.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $452,800 at the Sportscar Auction, Geneva, Switzerland, October 7, 2006.

The Fiat 8V was an interesting, (if ultimately dead end) creation of the mass market firm.

Part of a project for a large luxury car to better appeal to the American market, the V8 engine was developed for a still-born Fiat sedan but found a welcome home in a sports car instead. Small, at under two liters and with a 70-degree angle V design, it produced 105 hp in original trim, later uprated to 115 hp with hotter cams, higher compression, and dual two-barrel Weber carburetors. The ultimate variant had four-barrel Webers and a four-port head, giving 125 hp. The 8V proved effective against contemporary two-liter competition from Lancia, Maserati, and Ferrari.

SKUNK WORKS PROJECT

After the planned sedan was dropped, a group of engineers at Fiat decided that the engine was too interesting to lose. In a "skunk works" project, housed in Fiat's aircraft division, development continued. The aircraft connection actually became a challenge later on. Aircraft engines are typically not high revving and details such as oil circulation were not optimized for auto racing.

On the other hand, the potential weak spot of the three main bearing bottom end was addressed by increasing the clearances to account for crankshaft flex. Once the engineers had the motor they wanted, it was presented to management, who authorized the construction of the sports car.

SIATA ALSO USED 8V PACKAGE

Fiat built 170 Otto Vu "groups"--a package consisting of the engine, gearbox, and suspension. Fifty-six of them went to Siata, which built mostly spiders and a few coupes, and the rest became Fiats. They were sophisticated in concept, with oval-tube space frames (later simplified to round section) and fully-independent suspension all around.

Like the engine, the suspension was also a refugee from an abandoned project. Fiat and Alfa had been commissioned by the Italian military to design a "jeep" vehicle. Alfa won the competition, but part of the spec of the Fiat version included a remarkable suspension system with a light alloy cast housing and an articulated needle-bearing arm containing the shock hydraulics and spring. Adapted to the 8V chassis, it was very light and capable, contributing to the car's reputation for superior road holding. These were the first Fiats with four-wheel independent suspension, and they were far more advanced than the Ferraris and Maseratis of the era.

Forty of the 114 cars built carried factory-built bodies designed by Rapi. They had the purposeful look of a racer, with a certain Art Deco charm but few (myself excluded) would call them beautiful. As to be expected, it's the coachbuilt versions that command the most interest today. Zagato built 30, some mildly modified from the factory design, most with the iconic double-bubble look for which they are known.

ZAGATO VERSIONS WON RACES

The Zagato versions also racked up many of the Otto Vu's more important competition results, including a class win in the 1955 Targa Florio and 1957 Mille Miglia. The 8V was also the overall winner of the 1956 Italian Sports Car Championship. Surprisingly, the most prolific builder of the 8V was Ghia, which clothed 50 of the sports cars in a variety of styles ranging from quite clean and sober to flamboyant.

Auto manufacturers and designers had long been fascinated with the links between cars and airplanes. In the late 1940s, with the appearance of supersonic jet fighter planes, the interest reached fever pitch. By the early 1950s, most Italian design houses were showing cars that incorporated "air intake" grilles and "jet exhaust" rear ends.

Ghia was no exception. The man who penned the Supersonic we discuss here, Giovanni Savonuzzi, was the creator of the original Cisitalia 202 streamliner coupe and Spider Nuvolari. Ghia used the Supersonic body on a number of platforms. Three Jaguar XK 120s, an Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II, and an Alfa Romeo 1900SS shared it with the Fiat 8V, which had the largest production at eight.

8VS NEVER CHEAP OLD CARS

The Fiat 8V has, thanks to its rarity and performance pedigree, always been desirable. They never became cheap old cars, although the market for them was at one time much smaller. The 8V has also avoided the common stigma of being a really expensive car from a cheap manufacturer--not an easy feat.

Modern techniques and analysis have also made the cars more reliable and more powerful. Knute Kolemann is acknowledged as an 8V guru. The Prescott, Arizona-based engine builder has assembled engines for Fiats and Siatas that can deliver up to 160 hp and run up to 7,000 rpm without issues, thanks to improved oil circulation and tolerances. They are now the perfect vintage rally and race rides and a certain entry to any event in the world from the Mille Miglia Storica on down.

Chassis 39, the car sold in Geneva, is very well known in 8V circles and is acknowledged to be a superb restoration to a very high standard. With the best of the Zagato-bodied cars selling for $500,000, it's not surprising this Ghia example brought a similar price, as the Supersonic is arguably one of the most beautiful shapes to drape the chassis. Although the price was high, I would have to consider it right on the money

Years Produced: 1952–55

Number Produced: 8 (114 total 8Vs)

Original List Price: $4,000–$6,000

SCM Valuation: $200,000–$500,000 (Depending on coachwork) (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $400–$600

Distributor Caps: $800

Chassis #: 106 000039

Chassis # Location: Firewall as well as on chassis plate

Engine # Location: On cylinder block, distributor side on boss

Club Info: None

Alternatives: 1953 Siata 208 Coupe, 1954 Maserati A6G2000 Coupe, 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900SZ

Investment Grade: B


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