ATS, or Automobili Turismo e Sport SpA, was an Italian carmaker and racing team that operated all too briefly between February 1962 and 1965. The nucleus of the new company was comprised of Carlo Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini, who were both prominently involved in the development of the Ferrari GTO and, as refugees from the infamous Ferrari “Palace Revolt” of 1961, intended to mount a direct challenge to their former employer.
Development of the basic concept of the car that eventually became the ATS GTactually began while Chiti was still at Ferrari, with the project aimed at producing the first mid-engine Ferrari. However, after the departure of Chiti and Bizzarrini, the concept was carried on under the auspices of the new ATS organization. At Ferrari, the mid-engine 250LM developed concurrently, with V12 power rather than a V8, on the direction of Enzo Ferrari.
With the sponsorship of a trio of wealthy industrialists including Count Giovanni Volpi, who founded the well-known Scuderia Serenissima, ATS developed both a road going sports car and a Grand Prix racing car. Personalities involved with ATS included 1962 World Driving Champion Phil Hill driving for the racing team, while a number of other famous drivers were engaged in the development of the road car. Sefarino Allemano, the famed Turin-based coachbuilder, constructed the road car, with its sleek bodywork designed by former Bertone stylist Franco Scaglione.
The resulting ATS 2500 GT Coupe was initially powered by a mid-mounted 2.5-litre V8 engine designed by Chiti, with a light-alloy block and cylinder heads, a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, as well as a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburetors, producing 220 to 250 brake horsepower. Based on a competition-specification braced chrome-molybdenum tubular chassis with a fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, the resulting car was essentially a thinly veiled racing car, capable of exceeding 160 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. Ultimately, only 12 chassis were built, including just eight complete cars, with the company constantly struggling with inadequate working capital. Volpi is reported to have left the organization with the car offered here, numbered chassis 2004, along with the four remaining incomplete chassis, which he intended to develop into his own version dubbed the Serenissima using the Chiti-designed power plant, enlarged to 3.0-litres. Chassis 2004, which already had a 3.0-litre engine, also displayed the Serenissima badge on its nose, which was possibly added by Volpi later.
Volpi in fact never actually used chassis 2004 and ended up giving it to Alf Francis in payment for services rendered during his time with the ATS concern. Francis, who was formerly the mechanic to Stirling Moss and later a racing team owner with significant connections in Modena, then tuned up the ATS and drove it around a bit, but reputedly, he never registered the car for the road.
Francis then sold 2004 to Bruce McIntosh, along with a spare 2.5-litre engine around 1966, who became its first registered owner. McIntosh unfortunately damaged the car in an accident, which showed fewer than 3,000 kilometres at the time, requiring the replacement of the damaged nose with a factory-built component. This work was performed in England at a company called Grand Prix Metalworks, which was owned by Carl Rosner in Holloway, North London and later relocated to Wembley, also in North London.
It seems that the reassembly of the car was taking longer than anticipated, with McIntosh losing interest in the car and selling it to Rosner, who never really completed the car until the time he decided to sell it, which was some time in 1971. It is believed that the car was then briefly sold to an unknown enthusiast before being passed to Norbert McNamara of California, a noted racer and collector, who already owned ATS chassis 2001, the Geneva show car, which had been converted to Chevrolet power. As McNamara was in search of an original ATS engine, he purchased 2004 because it was available with a spare engine that originally powered his own car. Eventually, McNamara showed his first ATS, chassis 2001, at the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The current owner of chassis 2004, the car offered here, and his wife first met McNamara in 1987, when they travelled to Northern California with the intention of purchasing a DeTomaso Vallelunga from him. McNamara toured the couple through his horse stables housing a group of very interesting and significant Italian sports cars, with two of them being the ATS 2001 and 2004. While the visitors begged McNamara to sell one of the ATS cars to them, he refused. They persisted for three more years, but the answer remained the same. Then, the smitten potential purchasers and their family moved to Costa Rica, and the dream was lost – or so it seemed at the time. Even after McNamara sold most of his prized automobile collection, including chassis 2001, he retained 2004. By chance, however, in 2005, nearly 20 years after first seeing ATS 2004, the current owner learned of its existence in a Northern California barn. Soon thereafter, a deal was successfully negotiated for the purchase of the car with the legal representatives of the McNamara estate.
The car was then shipped to the new owner’s restoration shop in Costa Rica where it underwent a two-year mechanical restoration effort, which was completed in time for the car’s participation in the 2008 “Modena Cento ore Classic” rally in Italy. The car was driven for approximately 3,000 total kilometres through Switzerland, Italy and France, with about 1,600 of those kilometres covered on the rally, which included racing it on different racing circuits on each day of the rally tour. In fact, the ATS received a trophy for its performance on one of these special rally stages. Notably, since the car had only travelled some 3,000 kilometres from new prior to the event, most all of its mechanical components remained in good working order, including the bearings, bushings, shock absorbers, brakes, brake pads and clutch. Following the event, the car returned to Costa Rica and was completely dismantled, with every nut, bolt and washer inspected for wear. The engine and transmission were both found to remain perfect, with the engine requiring only some valve clearance adjustments and at this time, everything was rebuilt as new.
Of special note, the body and chassis remained completely rust-free, by virtue of the fact that Mr. McNamara had kept the car garaged and covered for more than 35 years in the dry Northern California desert, near Modesto and the Nevada border, until the current owner purchased it.
The shock absorbers were sent to Koni for rebuilding, and a new clutch disc was located, as were the bushings and bearings. Some bushings had to be custom-made, but this challenge did not pose a problem. New custom gaskets and rebuild kits for the rare dual-throat 38 IDM Weber carburetors were supplied by Pierce Manifold, who claimed that in 40 years, this was the first request they had received for parts to rebuild these special Weber carburetors.
The car is currently equipped with the original Abarth custom exhaust system with muffler, while the original racing-type exhaust system is also included with the sale of the car, to be shipped to the buyer from Costa Rica. A custom-made, tar-top Magneti Marelli battery, Road Master horns, power windows and a Nardi wooden steering wheel are also part of the car’s original options. Borrani even built a custom space-saver spare wheel for this car.
Two original brake boosters, with one for the ventilated front discs and one for the large inboard-mounted rear disc brakes, supply braking, similar in layout to that of the Ferrari 250 LM. A set of special transmission gears were fabricated by the same company, located in Costa Mesa California, which had produced the gears for the McLaren F1 supercar of the 1990s. As is common knowledge to ATS enthusiasts, the internal gears of the racing-specification five-speed Colotti gearbox were the Achilles heel of the car, so this much-needed upgrade was certainly a welcome change. In addition, while the original transmission gearing seemed perfect, the car was geared too high, and while the car did have a potential top speed of 180 mph, it was impossible to climb steep hills from a standing start. Now, the car is much more drivable and probably has a top speed of 160 mph, while the engine can climb to 9,000 rpm.
The car’s total restoration was completed in July 2009, in time for its display at the prestigious and world-famous Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. At the event, the ATS did very well and just missed winning the third-place ribbon in the Post War Sports Car category, a very competitive class indeed. It also participated in the Pebble Beach Rally Tour the Thursday before the Concours, where it performed perfectly. The ATS has already been invited to attend next year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este at Lake Como, Italy.
The interior is trimmed in its original black Connolly leather upholstery and Wilton wool carpeting, and the car comes complete with the original jack, tool roll and two original sales brochures, but an owner’s manual is not available, since one was never produced for this model during its brief development and production cycle. An original, vintage Heuer Speed Pilot and rally chronometer also comes with the car, and rally-style lap belts are included while four-point shoulder harness mounts are already in place. The original transmission gears also come with the car, in addition to copies of the blueprints for both the 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre V8 ATS engines. Today, the chassis now has less than 7,000 original kilometres, with only approximately 3,000 kilometres on the engine.
Chassis 2004 is also accompanied by complete photographic documentation of the restoration in a leather-bound album, along with extensive ownership documentation in a separate album, which also includes rare original magazines such as Road & Track, Automobile Quarterly and their articles about ATS. In addition, the car is offered with a document showing the car had entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans, along with other famous races including the storied Targa Florio, although no additional information is currently available to support this.
This particular 1963 ATS 2500 GT 3.0 Litre Coupe, chassis 2004, sold for £308,000 ($509,740) at RM Auctions’ Automobiles of London sale held October 28th, 2009 at Battersea Evolution in London. Its pre-sale estimate was £600,000-1,000,000. Although the selling price was well below pre-sale figures, the estimate would be better termed as a guesstimate since these are so rare and trade infrequently. With as much publicity as this car received before the sale, it is safe to say this is the market for this car. Fairly bought and sold.
[Source: RM Auctions]
I was a long time friend of Norb and Sabra- The DeTomaso Vallelunga was my old car. I had the fun and honor of staying in Europe with him and we traveled way and wide to find his cars.
This is the first time I’ve been on this site and see you used to own the Vallelunga. Well I bought that car from Norbert in 1988, restored it and showed it in 1990 at Pebble Beach. I tried to buy one of the two ATS’ he had but no way would he sell. I had to sell the Vallenlunga because we moved to Central America but I was fortunate enough to purchase his #4 ATS with the 3.O liter engine in 2005 and restore and show it at Pebble Beach. Unfortunately the financial crisis forced me to have to sell the ATS. Of all the cars I’ve owned, that is the one I regretted selling the most, after waiting almost 20 years to get it. Norb and Sabra were great people, real people. I hope our restoration of these two cars will carry their names to the future long after we are gone, as I know the cars will outlast even our grandchildren.
I have comme across your name as the former owner of an Asa 1000 chassis 01238, which was in the US in the 90s. I am currently trying to trace history for this car and should you be the former owner, I would really appreciate you contact me.
best regards, Jerome
Is that rear window treatment original or is it a design born out of necessity. Same appliws for the taillights whichseem more recent than I recall them.
Very Cool Car
Since, to the best of my knowledge, Norb is alive but with Alzheimers thus the sale of this car could not come from his estate but from his trust. It is very sad to see such a great guy go south. Regards, Steve Snyder
This is a great looking car however,
Believe it or not ! This car actually looks better in metallic brown type color with sand leather interior. This is an incredible work of art. Mechanical art ! Rolling art !
Engineering art ! A work of art for sure, and a labor of love. The story this car represents is a long sad one. But true men will want to know the story. And it’s a Hellva story too.
Much thanks to who ever shared this story with us mear mortals. Thanks a bunch !
Norbert and Sabra were very good friends of mine and sadly both have now passed away. I remember the Vallelunga that Gary talks about and many other Italian cars that Norbert collected. Unfortunately the car world has lost a very passionate and knowledgable collector. Both of Norberts ATS’s were indeed sold out of his estate, and I’m very happy to see this one looking so good today. I still have lots of paperwork on the ATS, and even a few parts including windscreens.
This is a great article and is a tribute to the folks that keep these cars alive. Norbert would be very proud.
Norbert and Sabra were good friends and I was forntunate to have shared in there love of automobiles. I had worked on both of Norbert’s ATS’s as well as many other cars in there collection. As a memory of both Norbert and Sabra, I keep a photo on my work desk of both Norbert and Sabra standing in front of their 1937 Siata Zagato. Wonderful people, missed by many…
Although I don’t have a story regarding this particular car, I do have an interesting ATS tale. In the fall of 1990, my now ex-wife and I were at a craft show at a small church in Denver, CO. As I parked in the lot at the church, I noticed something red and low to the ground sticking out from under a tarp in a carport of a house across the steet from the church. I had to check it out. As I got closer my first thought was that it must be some kind if kit car built on an old Healey chassis or something, but then I saw the flat topped rear wheel openings and expanse of glass covering an incredibly large engine. The front half of the car was covered by the tarp but I knew it an ATS. After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I knocked on the door of this rather mundane, middle-class house (remember the carport). A man in probably his mid-forties answered and seemed willing to entertain my questions. According to him, this particular car was the one used in the story pictures of the September, ’64 Road & Track article and had been owned by Bill Mitchell. My head was spinning and after ogling the car for a while I went about my way. I’ve never forgotten about that experience and 21 years later have always wondered how this car (chassis 003?) ended up sitting under a tarp in the carport of some non-discript house in Denver, CO. At the time, I’m sure it could have been purchased for very cheap and is truly on of those on my “if I’d only had the money at the time” list. If anyone out there knows what may have happened to it, I’d love to hear back.
I saw that Bill Mitchell ATS at a used car dealership on Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak, Mi back in ’71 or ’72 and called Road and Track in Ca. to find out what it was. My bid missed the mark by $500 (I had bid $6500).
I remember the carbs being different than what is shown on chassis #004 being more like IDA’s mounted on a short tunnel ram style manifold. Wondered where it went!
I could go on for hours, I worked for a company called Bacon Western, one of the owners was George Zaits Norms half brother ( no blood relation but thats another story ) Norm had a shop in the rear of the bldg. in 1985 I started working on his cars more for the fun of it than anything else.
Norm knew the the owner of the original engine and transaxle for #1 in LA but he would not sell, that’s why Norm purchased #4 for the spare engine which Cliff at Comptech rebuilt, making new cam followers with rollers instead of the original ball bearing insert. He did trade parts for the 2 gear drop box from the LA owner at a later date. After having new gears made he met me in Placerville CA with the ZF transaxle & drop box which I assembled while the car was being restored. After installation he found that the car had 1 forward & 5 reverse gears. Yes I did feel rather, lets say dense, 2 gears reverses the direction of rotation-oops. The car went across the stand at Pebble Beach in that condition. After the show we pulled the trans again, flipped the ring gear, had Stan Peterson make an oil catch trough to feed extra lube to the pinion gear. As I remember Norm got his first speeding ticket in that car- good times.
As said earlier Norm & Sabra were great people. After he retired from the Army and purchased the house in Waterford my wife and I would stay the weekend, Sabra would take my wife window shopping while we worked on the cars.
I came across this site, read all the comments about Norm & Sabra which really made me feel privileged to have known them both, great people. One regret is that I did not take any pictures, if anyone has any I would be more than happy to pay for copies. Norm did give me a large framed shot of all the Abarth’s when we took the 027 to Sebring, although without any of the owners.
Please keep in mind that everything above is to the best of my memory, could be off a little but the big picture is there.