ATS 2500 GT: The Forgotten Italian Sportscar Built by Engineering Legends

The story of this car starts in November 1961 with the Great Walkout, a famous scandal that saw Enzo Ferrari fire some of his most important employees including chief engineer Carlo Chiti and development chief Giotto Bizzarrini.

Shortly after their dismissal, the renegades established Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS), a company through which they intended to stop the Prancing Horse’s dominance both on the racetrack and in the world of road-going sports cars.

Backed by former Ferrari privateer Count Giovanni Volpi, ATS officially began operations in 1963. By this time, the team had unveiled the Tipo 100 Formula One racer and were applying the finishing touches on their limited production grand tourer, the 2500 GT.

Although many contributed to its development, the pioneering car was the brainchild of Bizzarrini and Chiti, two of the most influential engineers in the history of the automotive industry. The first was responsible for the tubular steel spaceframe chassis which employed a double-wishbone independent suspension configuration on both axles, while the second designed the bespoke engine.

This new 2.5-liter V8 was similar to the Ferrari racing powerplants Chiti helped create while working in Maranello. It had a 90-degree vee angle, employed an all-aluminum construction, and provided close to 215 hp and 188 lb-ft (255 Nm) with the help of Weber twin-choke carburetors. Matted to a five-speed Colotti gearbox, it could rev up to 9,000 rpm and sang a marvelous tune through the custom-made Abarth exhaust system.

To improve weight distribution and thus maneuverability, the two legendary engineers decided to place the engine in front of the rear axle, behind the passenger compartment, making the ATS 2500 GT one of the first mid-engine sports cars ever created.

The sleek fastback body was built by Turin-based Carrozzeria Allemano and was drawn up by Franco Scaglione. The famous designer who conceived many successful Italian cars of the 1950s and 1960s would go on to create the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, arguably the most beautiful car of all time.

Inside, it featured an upscale, leather-upholstered cabin, a gorgeous Nardi wooden steering wheel and unlike some of the competing models on the market, it came with power windows.

The world got its first glimpse of the new car at the 1963 Paris Motor Show where it was met with positive feedback by both the public and automotive press. It was praised for blending luxury with technical innovations and considered a worthy alternative for the Ferrari grand tourers available at the time.

Unfortunately, the ATS racing program which benefited from most of the funding was by now a complete failure so with the remaining resources the company which folded in 1965 managed to build eight 2500 GTs, including three alloy-bodied, track-oriented GTS versions powered by a larger 3.0-lite evolution of the initial engine.

Carlo Chiti went on to form Autodelta which became part of Alfa Romeo while Giotto Bizzarrini founded Società Autostar an engineering company that was commissioned to create Lamborghini’s epic V12 engine. He also worked with Iso Autoveicoli where he developed the Rivolta IR 300 and Grifo grand tourers.

Because of the untimely demise of ATS, many argue that the 2500 GT never reached its true potential. Nevertheless, it was still an extraordinary sportscar that was conceived by some of the brightest minds in automotive history. It is considered a predecessor of the 33 Stradale in terms of design, incorporating many cues which would be refined by Scaglione on the Alfa Romeo masterpiece.

The company was revived in 2014 and three years later, a modern successor called ATS GT was revealed. Heavily based on the McLaren 12C, it is part of a limited production run of 12 units, each with a starting price of around $850,000.

Today, the original car is valued well over the $1 million mark but considering its significance and rarity, the chances of seeing one at an auction anytime soon are extremely slim.

Footage of the 2500 GT is scarce but thanks to YouTube user Chanh Lê Huy you can watch the video below from the 1963 Geneva Motor Show.

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