Part 5 ATS – Automobili Turismo e Sport

By David Cavaliere

 In this feature I cover ATS – Automobili Turismo e Sport, a company that began with great promise – excellent engineering talent, a revolutionary design for a street car and proven race wining drivers for its race cars. On paper, the company looked as though it could take on the might of Marenello (Ferrari), but in the span of a few short years, it all fell apart. Just as was illustrated in last week’s feature, even though an Italian automaker may stop production, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the marque will be gone for good. Fifty years after the original company folded, ATS is back with a stunning GT. Only time will tell how this new car will fare in the high market of super cars.

In the foreground is the tubular chassis, engine and suspension of the 1963 ATS Tipo 100 Formula 1 car. In the background is the famed engineer Carlo Chiti.

In the foreground is the tubular chassis, engine and suspension of the 1963 ATS Tipo 100 Formula 1 car. In the background is the famed engineer Carlo Chiti.

In 1961, a “palace revolt” at Ferrari led to the creation of ATS (Automobili Turismo e Sport). This was both a car manufacturer and Formula 1 racing team. The car that was produced was one of the first mid-engine street cars and had a sleek body designed by Franco Scaglione. The mechanical design was by former Ferrari engineers Giotto Bizzarrini and Carlo Chiti. Bizzarrini later created his own cars and will be covered in a future edition.

The Formula 1 team operated between 1963 and 1965. The road car produced – the ATS 2500 GT had only 12 examples produced before the company folded.

It all began in 1961, when Enzo Ferrari fired six employees after they complained about his wife’s meddling! The engineers immediately started their own company with the intent to mount a direct challenge to their former employer. With the sponsorship of a trio of wealthy industrialists, including Count Giovanni Volpi (who later founded the well-known Scuderia Serenissima), ATS developed both a road going sports car and a Grand Prix racing car.

Development of the basic concept of the car that eventually became the ATS 2500 GT actually began while Chiti was still at Ferrari. The project aimed at producing the first mid-engine Ferrari. Chiti designed the engine with a light weight alloy block and aluminum cylinder heads. It had a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank and a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburetors. The engine produced anywhere from 220 to 250 brake horsepower, depending upon what source one chooses to believe. The chassis was based on a race-type space frame (chrome-molybdenum tubular chassis) with a fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Although the resulting car was essentially a thinly veiled racing car, it was capable of exceeding 150 mph! The engine was mounted behind the cockpit, driving a five-speed competition transaxle. The extremely light car weighed only 1800 pounds and was capable of 150 mph. The car made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1963, where it created a sensation with its advanced mid-engine layout, bold, shark-like body design and race-inspired technical specifications. Unfortunately, the investors withdrew financial support shortly after production began. Only 12 cars were ultimately completed and the project collapsed.

ATS - Tipo 100 Formula 1

ATS – Tipo 100 Formula 1

In December of 1962, a new Formula 1 car – the ATS Tipo 100 was launched. The team was based at Sasso Marconi, Bologna and Chiti’s V8 displaced just under the 1.5 liter maximum displacement permitted. It sported twin overhead camshafts and four Weber carburetors. At its debut, an output of 190 HP at 10,000 rpm was claimed and was mated to a Colotti six-speed gearbox.

The V8 engine was installed in an unusually low spaceframe chassis. One of the most curious design aspects of the Tipo 100 was the need to cut the tubular chassis to remove the engine and re-weld the components following the engine replacement. Suspension was by double wishbones all-round with the coil springs and shock absorbers fitted inboard at the front. With a very small frontal area and an exceptionally low weight, the car looked as though it would be an immediate contender in the sport. In a world gone by, the cars were actually tested in the streets near Pontecchio Marconi.


Left: Mid-engine 1963 ATS 2500 GT; right, the gorgeous lines of the new ATS 2500 GT

Drivers Phil Hill (World Champion Formula 1 Driver in 1961) and Giancarlo Baghetti had also fled from Ferrari during the political turmoil. Both signed to drive the new car. The car was campaigned during the 1963 formula one season with dismal results. During the season, the cars finished only one race – in Monza, but with Hill in 11 and Baghetti in 18. Chiti closed the doors on the team after that season. As a footnote to Baghetti’s career, he won the first three Grand Prixes that he entered – the 1961 Syracuse and Napoli Grand Prixes (non-championship events) and the French Grand Prix. He is the only driver to win in his first three races at this level, but he never won another Grand Prix.

The ATS 2500 GT introduced at the 1963 Paris Motor Show

The ATS 2500 GT introduced at the 1963 Paris Motor Show

After the demise of ATS, Bizzarrini moved to Lamborghini before building his own cars as Bizzarrini, while Chiti founded Autodelta, together with fellow ex-Ferrari engineer Lodovico Chizzola. Autodelta would work closely with Alfa Romeo for the following decades.

In 2012, the dust was brushed off this marque after sitting dormant for almost 50 years. The new car, named after ATS’s original car, mimics the styling of the of its predecessor as a mid-engine GT. Its exterior has hints of the Ford GT with some Lotus Evora thrown in. While the original ATS 2500GT was powered by a 2.5-liter V8, the new version of the car uses a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four that produces to put out 500 HP. It is based on a Subaru boxer engine. The rear wheels are driven by way of a six-speed manual transmission with a mechanical limited-slip differential. The side profile of the ATS 2500 GT is stunning. The shape of the car makes it look like it is cutting through the air while it sits still and the massive wheels of the car give it a racecar-like stance.

One of the most impressive details about the new 2500 GT is that it weighs just 2,160 pounds (its carbon fiber body panels weigh just 154 pounds) helping to give the car excellent performance. ATS indicates acceleration is from zero to 62 miles per hour in just 3.3 seconds and a top speed of 185 MPH. The car will be produced in low numbers, which makes it difficult to obtain accurate pricing for the car. By all accounts, it will sell for something above $200,000. This is still well below what you would pay for one of the original ATS 2500 GTs. The last one to come up for auction fetched a tad over $500,000.

Next week I’ll feature a car company that was founded by one of the ATS engineers that was mentioned this week.


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