NEW YORK TIMES, July 22, 2011
MILLION-DOLLAR Duesenbergs and vintage Italian racecars crossing the auction block will hardly be surprising sights at the sales scheduled to take place in conjunction with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance on the Monterey Peninsula of California next month.
But a Fiat Tipo 682 in attendance — a commercial truck, not even a shapely sports car — might ruffle some expectations during the week’s rich menu of classic-car events.
The truck is one of two 1959 Fiat transporters built for the Ferrari factory racing team, carrying championship-winning grand prix and sports cars all over Europe in the ’60s. A conversion done by the coachbuilder Bartoletti of Italy, the truck is equipped with a workshop for the team mechanics and sleeping accommodations for the crew and drivers.
Potentially the crowning addition to the garage of a well-heeled collector who already owns some classic racecars, the truck will be offered at Gooding & Company’s auction with a presale estimated price of $750,000 to $950,000. Presumably, the new owner will not expect it to work as hard to earn its keep as it did a half-century ago.
Purpose-built trucks to carry team racecars to the track started to become common only during the 1950s. Before then, even the biggest factory teams would routinely drive the racecars to the track and back, a standard practice from the dawn of motor racing.
Enzo Ferrari was a pioneer in the use of enclosed transporter trucks in the 1930s. It was a combination of congested roads and cars more suited for driving in competition than in traffic that led him to buy specially adapted heavy trucks made by Lancia to carry the Alfa Romeo racers of his Scuderia Ferrari team to events. He was enterprising, too, in selling advertising space to his sponsors, Pirelli and Memini, on the sides of the trucks, according to a 1990 article in Classic & Sportscar magazine.
Truck collectors, while less numerous than their auto colleagues, are more common than might be imagined. Even so, many of the people who buy and restore retired racecar transporters are not especially interested in trucks.
It is the connection to the heritage of famous marques that has spurred collector interest.
This collecting niche is not an entirely new phenomenon. A 1966 Fiat 643 auto transporter with a documented history of serving the Ferrari racing team sold in as-found condition for $297,000 at a Gooding’s collector car auction in Monterey in August 2007.
Typically the buyers compete in vintage races — and want to reunite the haulers with the racecars they carried when both were new. Bringing vintage racecars to the track on a classic transporter could be the ultimate in racer chic, and a compelling display of automotive history.
Because of their utilitarian roles, many of the transporters that once served racing teams were not preserved as treasures, but scrapped or sold off for less honored vocations.
But it would be reasonable to expect that a company like Mercedes-Benz, a fastidious steward of its historical record, had carefully looked after all the artifacts of its racing triumphs. Not so: the custom-built single-vehicle carrier — perhaps one of the most charismatic transporters ever — built to carry the 300 SLR, a racecar driven by legends like Fangio and Moss in the Mille Miglia rally and Le Mans endurance events, no longer exists.
Surprisingly, once this truck’s useful life was over, it was not stored in a warehouse. Instead, it was broken up for parts in 1967.
A replica of the truck was commissioned by Mercedes-Benz and completed in 2001 using only photographs of the original, as no blueprints of the transporter remained.
Michael Kunz, manager of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, Calif., offered some perspective on how that came to be.
“It’s an example of how the world view has changed regarding what was seen as a workhorse,” he said. “It was thought that it had done its duty and had finished its reason for being. Now, all things related to history are prized.”
As sleek and streamlined as the car it was designed to carry, the transporter also had the same advanced 3-liter, fuel-injected 6-cylinder engine as the 300 SL Gullwing sports car. That powertrain ensured that the Rennstransporter, or race transporter, would carry its load across Europe at factory-stated speeds of over 100 m.p.h., far faster than any standard truck of the mid-’50s.
A private collector who has heard the siren call of the racer’s truck is Don Orosco of Monterey, Calif. He is the owner of the transporter used by the Scarab Team in sports car and Formula One races in the United States and Europe.
The Scarab Team was a project of Lance Reventlow, the son of the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. The team was his effort to field an all-American team at the top levels of international racing.
The Scarab transporter began life as a Fiat Series 306/2 Alpine bus chassis, ordered by the Maserati Formula One team and outfitted by Carrozzeria Bartoletti. After Maserati withdrew from racing in 1957, the transporter was bought by Reventlow to carry the Scarab grand prix cars for the 1960 racing season in Europe.
Later the truck was owned by Carroll Shelby, who used it to carry his Cobra Daytona Coupes across Europe. It also had a star turn in the 1971 Steve McQueen racing film, “Le Mans.”
The story of how Mr. Orosco came to own the truck is itself worthy of a movie plot. After its glory days, the truck was in the hands of a member of the American family that owned the U-Haul rental chain — and was caught in the crossfire of a family fight between two brothers, Mr. Orosco said.
For years, there had been rumors about the transporter’s whereabouts, but no one was able to find out exactly where it was or pry it loose from its stubborn owner. A conversation overheard at a vintage car event in England persuaded Mr. Orosco that he had to move quickly — and in a week he had bought it.
The difference was that previously, everyone who had gone after the transporter wanted it for the Shelby connection, a sore point between the brothers. Mr. Orosco, well known as a collector of Scarabs, only mentioned those cars, not Shelby or Cobras. He won his prize — a derelict sitting in the Arizona sun that needed a total restoration.
Restoring the transporter involved hunting down parts and fabricating hundreds of missing pieces. It was worth the effort, Mr. Orosco said: “The payoff was when the truck drove into the paddock at the Monterey Historic Races that year, with the two Formula One Scarabs on it. It was amazing.”
Equally fascinating are those trucks that provided support for the teams, from parts carriers to mobile service vans to hospitality centers.
A particularly characterful example is the British Motor Corporation Works Service Van owned by Wayne Carini, host of the “Chasing Classic Cars” show on the Discovery Channel.
It is one of a pair of such trucks that accompanied teams of Austin-Healeys and Mini Coopers to events across Europe and in the United States. Mr. Carini bought the truck at a collector car auction and has since made it the centerpiece of a traveling show of British racing cars. He envisions using it in a vintage event like the New England 1000 rally, following an Austin-Healey 3000 to provide repairs, parts and refreshments, just as in the old days.