Why a “Once-in-a-Generation” Trio of Alfa Romeos Is Being Sold at an Art Auction
The B.A.T. 5, 7 and 9 concepts are less of a car collection than a triptych
You can’t talk about the art-market boom of the 21st century without talking about Francis Bacon and his triptychs. When “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” went under the hammer at Christie’s in 2013, the three-piece work became the most expensive ever sold at auction at a staggering $142.4 million. Other three-panel works from the painter have fetched similar headline-making figures: $86.2 million for “Triptych” in 2008 and $84.6 million for “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” just this summer.
Those hammer prices are a product both of Bacon’s signature style and the seemingly steroid-infused market, but the scope of the works — essentially three paintings in one — helps increase the value, too. As such, art collectors should be excited to hear that Sotheby’s is bringing a “once-in-a-generation” triptych to its Contemporary Art Evening Auction on October 28 in New York City. It’s not from Irish-born Francis Bacon, but from an Italian: Alfa Romeo.
You heard that right: three cars — the visionary Alfa Romeo Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica (B.A.T.) concept vehicles, designed by Franco Scaglione and produced by the coachbuilder Bertone — will be part of Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary art auction, not a traditional car auction, and for good reason.
The B.A.T. concept cars, while designed for aerodynamics as the name suggests, are best remembered for their science fiction-tinged, spaceship-like design, radical for the mid-century era in which they were built (the first was presented four years before Sputnik). As Geoff Wardle, now the executive director of the Transportation Systems and Design Department at ArtCenter College in California, told The New York Times in 2008, “They had a subliminal influence on future vehicle designs.”
That Times story announced the B.A.T. 11, Bertone’s attempt to reclaim their glory days. The Sotheby’s triptych, however, just includes the first three in the lineup: the 1953 B.A.T. 5, 1954 B.A.T. 7 and 1955 B.A.T 9.
“To be able to offer the Alfa Romeo B.A.T cars as a single lot triptych at auction is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Rob Myers, chairman of RM Sotheby’s, the classic car auction house which is presenting the vehicles in partnership with Sotheby’s Fine Art Division.
But to be clear, the B.A.T. cars are not simply sculptural oddities designed for a pedestal. One of the signature automotive achievements of Scaglione’s designs is the impossibly low drag coefficients (Cd), or the amount of resistance the vehicles experience driving through the air.
For comparison’s sake, EV automakers have currently been in a Cd arms race, with the Tesla Model 3 scoring a Cd of 0.23, the Porsche Taycan Turbo a 0.22 and the upcoming Lucid Air reportedly notching a 0.21. Meanwhile, the B.A.T. 5 came in at 0.23, and the B.A.T. 7 bests them all at a ridiculous 0.19. And remember, that was 66 years ago.
There’s plenty more to learn about the lot, but you have less than two weeks to read up before it hits the auction block, where the cars are estimated to fetch anywhere from $14 to $20 million. Not Bacon territory, but who knows, maybe they’ll get there.
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