Part 6: Autocostruzioni Società per Azioni (ASA) and the Ferrarini

By David Cavaliere
Last week’s feature on ATS brought up the 1961 Palace Revolt at Ferrari, also known as the “Ferrari Night of the Long Knives.” Enzo Ferrari cleaned house and reorganized his engineering staff. Two of the famous five engineers who left the company, Giotto Bizzarrini and Carlo Chiti, went on to found Automobili Turismo e Sport.


LEFT: The Ferrarini – ASA’s 1000 GT. RIGHT: The “Big Brother” to the Ferrarini – the 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso. Although the ASA 1000 GT was Bertone-bodied, the lines of the car are similar to Pininfarina-styled Lusso.

Enzo Ferrari insisted for many years that the road cars bearing his name must have 12 cylinders; he also wanted to expand his core racing activities and that required a way to increase the income stream of his company. Thus in 1959, he instructed his engineers to design and develop a small displacement engine. The original engine design was an inline four-cylinder of 850 cc. It had an aluminum block with iron liners, an aluminum head and an overhead camshaft – complete with Ferrari V12 engine designer Gioacchino Colombo’s characteristic “clothes pin” valve springs, breathing through two Weber 40 DCOE9 carburetors.

The project nickname was Ferrarini and the finished engine, chassis, and prototype car were shown at the Turin Auto Show in 1961. The body was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of the Bertone studio. Ferrari never intended to manufacture the car, not with only four cylinders! He wanted to sell the rights to a company that could manufacture a production run of 3,000 cars; in that way, Mr. Ferrari could receive the licensing fees without having to produce the car. The rights to build the new baby Ferrari were sold to his long-time, well-known customers, the de Nora family of Milan, who created a company called Autocostruzioni Societa per Azioni, or ASA. The car was never officially a Ferrari, but a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the ASA is as Ferrari as a Ferrari can be – only in a smaller package.

Oronzio and Niccolo de Nora, the father and son Ferrari clients owned a company that manufactured electromechanical components. They recruited Giotto Bizzarrini as the engineer in charge of the project. The de Noras eagerly embraced the idea of building the car and production was planned in one of their factories.


Giotto Bizzarrini at the wheel of one of his designs in the mid-1960s

Giotto Bizzarrini developed the four-cylinder motor and enlarged it to 1032 cc (one-third slice of Ferrari’s 3.0 liter V-12). The engine had the same bore, stroke and pistons as the Colombo-designed 250 V12. The engine’s designation was based on the number of cubic centimeters per cylinder in the 3 liter engine. Its crackle black painted valve covers and big twin Weber carburetors looked like they belonged in a Ferrari. Bizzarrini derived the suspension and tubular chassis directly from the Ferrari 250 GTO. It had a double wishbone suspension in the front and a live axle at the rear. Both ends of the car featured coils springs, tubular dampers (shocks) and an anti-roll bar. The car had four wheel disc brakes, carried over from the Ferrari 250 GTE and the interior styling also resembled a Ferrari. The coupe was bodied in steel, with aluminum for the hood and trunk lids. Quality of construction was very high, even the fuel tank was beautifully crafted out of riveted aluminum. The ASA GT looked like and drove like a miniaturized version of the Ferrari’s 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso.

Bizzarrini’s input paid off – the ASA received rave reviews in the automotive press. Horsepower for the one liter engine was 97 at 7000 rpm. This was much higher than any other small displacement engine. For example, the 1.6 liter liter Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Spider, no slouch on power itself, produced 92 – 105 HP from an engine that was 52% large. The 1000 GT weighed in at a svelte 1,870 pounds and the sleek little coupe could reach an impressive 112 miles per hour. The initial attention by the press was encouraging, and Bizzarrini stayed on to help an ambitious ASA produce a competition version, the 1000 GTC. Unfortunately, the ASA experiment could not maintain momentum. At $6,000, the car was very expensive. The car not only had one third the engine of the Ferrari GTO, it had a third of the price! But the average cost for a new car in the U.S. in 1964 was $3,500, a big block Corvette could be had for $4,500. The ASA 1000 GT was in fact several hundred dollars more than a new Jaguar E-Type and about the same price as the A.C. Cobra. Few could justify spending that kind of money for a 1.0 liter car, irrespective of its performance. The cars were imported to the United States by Luigi Chinetti, but sales were very slow. Fewer than 75 examples were produced with about half coming to the United States. Of the total manufactured, 12 were Spyder models (convertibles). ASA continued to build 1000 GTs until early 1967, but the baby Ferrari experiment, once nicknamed the “Ferrarina,” quietly faded into obscurity. The examples that survive today fetch about $150,000 at auction. It’s “big brother,” the 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso has doubled in value in the last three years. An example in “fair” condition will set you back over $1.5 million.

Giotto Bizzarrini (born June 23 1926 in Quercianella, Livorno Province, Italy) had an incredibly productive career. His grandfather, also named Giotto Bizzarrini, was a biologist who had worked with Guglielmo Marconi on his inventions, especially the radio. Bizzarrini received an engineering degree from the University of Pisa in 1953 (his design thesis was a redesign a Fiat Topolino). After graduation, he taught briefly before joining Alfa Romeo’s Servizio Esperimenze Principali. He was later able to move to the Experimental Department, receiving on-the-job training to become a test driver. Bizzarrini left Alfa Romeo in 1957 and went to Ferrari when that company needed a test driver. He was quickly promoted to controller of experimental, Sports and GT car development.

Giotto Bizzarrini's masterpiece - the Ferrari 250 GTO

Giotto Bizzarrini’s masterpiece – the Ferrari 250 GTO

He worked for five years at Ferrari as a chief engineer. Within the scope of his work, he acted as a as developer, designer and test driver. Among his most significant projects were the development of the Ferrari 250 GT, the 3 liter Testa Rossa V12 engine, the Ferrari 250 TR (Testa Rossa) and the Ferrari 250 GT SWB. His masterpiece at Ferrari was the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. He was first involved with the 250 GTO project in 1960. Ferrari wanted a GT racer with better aerodynamics than the previous 250 GT SWB. The SWB was a great racer but had considerable aerodynamic drag. Unusually for a chassis designer, the ever resourceful Bizzarrini went back to his alma mater – The University of Pisa and conducted tests in their wind tunnel. The result had not only far less drag than the SWB, but the GTO is still considered to be one of the most beautiful (and certainly expensive) cars ever produced. As an example of “If I had only known…” a 250 GTO, which could have been purchased used for $2,500 in 1969, is now worth $50 million, even if it is in poor condition!


(LEFT) A real rarity is the ASA 1000 Spyder. Only 12 of these convertibles were produced. This one is from 1966. In this picture you can get a sense of how small the car is. (RIGHT) This lovely blue ASA 1000 GT is no longer for sale, but was priced at $149,500, as of January, 2016

After the Ferrari upheaval in 1961 and the demise of ATS in 1963, Bizzarini started his own company – Società Autostar, whose name was changed to Bizzarrini in 1964. His work with ASA is only a footnote in his remarkable career. His cars, named Bizzarini, will be covered in another feature, but that will not be the last that we hear from the famed engineer. He designed a V12 engine for another Italian manufacturer. Its architecture is still used today, some 50 years after his original design. You may have heard of the company, it’s called Lamborghini.

Next week’s edition will feature a manufacturer from Forlì. The company produced small, fast cars for more than 45 years, but many of you have never seen one.

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