1956 Fiat Bartoletti Tipo 642
Year of manufacture1956
Number of seats2
The Ex-Maserati works team, Reventlow Automobiles Inc Scarab works team, Shelby American Cobra works team, Alan Mann Racing, David Piper Racing, Steve McQueen movie 'Le Mans', JCB Historic racing team
1956 FIAT-Bartoletti Tipo 642 Racing Car Transporter
Today widely recognised as some of the most iconic and nostalgic of all motor racing-related vehicles, former great factory-team car transporters are today held in great awe and respect. In very few cases is that more true than of the fully restored and truly imposing FIAT-Bartoletti now offered here, which possesses stupendous background history and provenance.
According to the great motoring correspondent Denis Jenkinson's contemporary notes, this is the Maserati factory team's principal transporter for its World Championship-winning 'Fangio 250F' season of 1957, which would also have taken Fangio's Piccolo 250F (chassis '2533') to the last race of his glittering career at Reims in 1958. It was subsequently acquired by Lance Reventlow for his 'Team America' Scarab assault upon the European Grand Prix road racing establishment in 1960-61. This FIAT-Bartoletti was next owned by Carroll Shelby's Cobra operation, which made the most massive impact of the post-war period upon the European road racing establishment, ultimately toppling Ferrari on the way to winning the FIA Grand Touring Car World Championship in 1964-65.
This transporter's career at world-class international level then continued as the leading British Ford GT team of Alan Mann Racing, based in Byfleet, England, used it to haul its cars and associated men and materiel around the World Championship circuits of Europe. Ultimately this FIAT-Bartoletti was acquired by leading Ferrari privateer David Piper ? and refinished in his bright 'BP green' livery ? to carry his Ferrari 275 LM and 'P-car' sports prototypes through the later 1960s. In 1969-70, it was acquired by Steve McQueen's Solar Productions team to feature prominently ? under ever-changing team liveries ? in what has now become perhaps the ultimate cult motor racing movie: 'Le Mans'.
This great transporter ? absolutely dripping with 1950s/60s motor racing history ? was based, just like its Ferrari factory team sisters, upon a FIAT Tipo 642 RN2 'Alpine' bus chassis.
It was powered originally by a 92bhp Tipo 364A 6,650cc inline six-cylinder diesel engine, and was completed with custom-made bodywork and vehicle ramps and hoist by Bartoletti of Forli, Italy. Overall dimensions were 9,085mm overall length, 2,492mm overall width, and 2,924mm overall height. Top speed in original FIAT-engined form was only 85km/h, sufficient for European rural and Alpine roads in period. The transporter could carry three race cars, a considerable stock of spares and tools, and at least seven crew members/mechanics.
Once it had completed its 'Le Mans' filming duties, in red Ferrari lookalike livery, the transporter was acquired and run for a while by Anthony Bamford's renowned JCB Historic racing team in the UK, before passing in later years to Cobra enthusiast and noted 'Cobra-Ferrari Wars' historian and author Michael Shoen for his own collection.
However, the vehicle ? un-restored and in severely dilapidated condition (though, as it subsequently proved, still run-able) ? later became the neglected victim of a complex family situation, which saw it lying effectively abandoned in the open for many years, fortunately in near-perfectly dry desert-air conditions at Mesa, Arizona.
Eventually, Cobra and Scarab owner, collector, and enthusiast Don Orosco ? who, by coincidence had also once owned and restored Fangio's swansong 1958 French GP Piccolo 250F '2533' ? became curious about the fate of the once-famous Maserati/Scarab/Cobra transporter. It had been such a distinctive feature of European World Championship race paddocks in the late '50s and early '60s, and its lure proved magnetic. Carroll Shelby eventually provided Michael Shoen's telephone number, which led to contact with his brother Joe Shoen, President of the AMERCO group, which owned the U-Haul truck rental company. Approaches long went unanswered until out of the blue Mr Orosco received a telephone call from one Harry Duchene - U-Haul Vice-President responsible for maintenance and manufacturing, in Scottsdale, Arizona - who simply asked 'I hear you made a call about wanting one of our trailers?'. Don Orosco then explained that he had two Scarab Grand Prix cars and a Scarab sports car and was indeed interested in the former all-American team's transporter. Mr Duchene proved to be extremely friendly and co-operative and Mr Orosco flew down to meet him in Scottsdale, from where they drove to Mesa.
It was there, in an otherwise yawningly empty U-Haul used-equipment disposal yard, that Harry showed Don the dilapidated, faded, rusting FIAT-Bartoletti just lying there in the baking sun, all alone and evidently in desperate need of resuscitation. Full photographic coverage of this transporter as acquired in the Mesa yard can be viewed online at: http://www.montereyspeedandsport.com/album/fiat-bartoletti-transporter/
Its windshields had fallen out, its doors were hanging open, and it was plain that acquiring the vehicle would be merely the start of perhaps the most complicated and demanding restoration ever envisaged by a classic-car collector/racer. Eventually a sale was agreed, and Harry Duchene himself proved a wonderful ally, having the transporter checked over in his U-Haul workshop. Its probably JCB-installed turbocharged Bedford engine was found to be in run-able order, and the old engine oil looked as fresh as if it had just been added.
Mr Orosco's pessimistic estimate of just how extensive ? and expensive ? the restoration of this FIAT-Bartoletti would need to be, proved to be well wide of the mark. The process proved infinitely more costly and demanding than anticipated, and included the manufacture of new windshields and rubber extrusions, and sourcing new-old-stock instruments. Extensive new framing and body panelling was required also. Mr Orosco and his restoration team had the Bartoletti-lettered pressed-steel stampings, which featured in various locations around the vehicle, painstaking remanufactured with new dies made, while 0.090" thick steel panelling was hand-crafted and fashioned to re-skin the vehicle. The finish quality achieved was so fine that the surface required absolutely no filling before it was re-sprayed in-house at Mr Orosco's workshop by Jesse Cruz in contemporary RAI team livery, as now offered here ? the blue also corresponding closely to subsequent Shelby Cobra team colours.
All the complex vehicle ramp equipment was serviced, renovated, and replaced where necessary. All the manual elevation lines were renewed, and the transporter cab, with a four-man bench seat in the rear, driver's bucket seat plus a two-seat passenger section up front, was remade and re-upholstered. The original fold-down metal and canvas bunk bed was also renewed, this vital feature permitting en route driver changes without losing any vital travel time between race weekends and venues across Europe.
The wooden decking was replaced in locking tongue-and-groove South African hardwood, each plank cut to differing widths as original, while storage area planking was renewed with vertical-grain fir. Fabrication on the project was handled by master craftsmen Olle Eriksson, Brad Hand, and Willy Stryker, with two hired-in fabricators. The restoration involved labouring five days per week for some 18 frenetically busy months to complete the task in time for the 2008 Monterey Historics race meeting at Laguna Seca, and the associated Pebble Beach Concours. Eventually this FIAT-Bartoletti was revived in all its original Reventlow Automobiles Inc team condition, apart from retention of the more practical Bedford turbocharged diesel engine in place of the ? in truth ? rather feeble original 92bhp FIAT power unit. The replacement engine has since proved capable of powering this FIAT-Bartoletti at an effortless 65mph cruise '...all day long, and it just doesn't notice hills'.
With the two Scarab single-seaters and Mr Orosco's magnificent Scarab sports-racing car loaded on board, this Italian-born American motor racing icon was driven into Laguna Seca's Monterey Historics' paddock to a tumultuous reception from the throng of patriotic enthusiasts. Its appearance that day was described by one observer as being 'Like Moses parting the sea, with every onlooker clapping, waving, sharing high-fives with the truck crew'. Mr Orosco: 'We certainly got a fantastic reception, and it was one of those real lump-in-the-throat moments after such an immense project and such an intense period of really painstaking work. For the Californian fans in particular, this was the Scarab team of our youth revived and alive again at Laguna'. In a later online search, Mr Orosco found someone selling a bed cover and curtains fashioned from fabric featuring three Scarab Grand Prix cars - one red, one yellow and one blue - among other period Formula 1 models. He then discovered that the vendor's mother had bought them in period from her local Woolworth's store.
Scarab-founder Lance Reventlow's mother Barbara Hutton had been primary heiress to the Woolworth fortune, and it seems that she had the design woven in-period into bedspreads for car-mad kids. Mr Orosco bought the fabric for $100 as crew accommodation linings for the correctly blue exterior cab curtains that now furnish this remarkable machine.
The current owner purchased the transporter at Bonhams' sale at the Goodwood Revival meeting in September 2015 (Lot 333), since when it has been serviced by JD Classics and the electrical system inspected. The FIAT has been displayed at the Goodwood Revival (2016, 2017), the Goodwood Members meeting (2017, 2018), and Le Mans Classic (2016) where it completed a lap of the circuit.
During its frenetically busy life this FIAT-Bartoletti transporter has carried some truly great cars - the works Maserati 250Fs, the works Scarabs, the works Shelby Cobra roadsters and Cobra Daytona coupés, the quasi-works Ford GTs and so many private Ferraris - driven at World Championship-winning level by such iconic motor racing figures as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jean Behra, Harry Schell, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Ken Miles, Graham Hill, and so very many more. Actual competition cars aside, there can be few more significant vehicles in the history of post-war motor racing.