Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance inside Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Nashville might not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking about fine Italian automobiles, but that’s just what’s on display in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts during their current exhibit, “Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975”. This is an art museum, so the cars are presented as art. That makes sense, because most of these coachbuilt automobiles have transcended the term “vehicles” and moved right into the “works of art” category. There are 19 cars and two motorcycles on display, and each one is among the most valuable and exclusive cars in the world. This ain’t your normal Friday night car cruise.

My favorite car in the display was this 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis. Imagine taking a big old ’55 Lincoln and making a two-seat coupe out of it. This was designed by Gian Paolo for the 1955 Turin Auto Show. If you’re being honest, this car is ridiculous. But that’s what’s great about it. All that mass for two people. It has gigantic pontoon fenders with chrome exhaust ports and vents sticking out of them. The front end of this thing is impossibly long, and yet, they added another few inches with a pointy bird beak. It’s painted bright orange. This baby is wretched excess at its finest. Pure indulgence.

The most expensive car ever sold was a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. It went for $38.1-million in 2012. Needless to say, a 250 GTO is the ultimate investment and status symbol for the ultra-rich. And hey—look at that—a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was right there on display in Nashville. It was designed to compete in FIA World Championship racing events. Ferrari only built 39 of these, and they are all very well documented. This one is owned by Bernie Carl, a prominent financial investor out of Washington, D.C. This is a pretty car, no doubt, but probably a little too valuable to, you know, drive.

When I think of radical, coachbuilt Italian cars, the first thing that always comes to mind are the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica, or “BAT” concept cars from the 1950s. They always seem to turn up in books and magazine articles. Design house Bertone and Alfa-Romeo teamed up to build three of these in the 1950s, and all three were on display here. The BAT 7 was actually the second one, built for the 1954 Turin Auto Show. Function didn’t completely follow form on these, as the goal was to achieve a drag coefficient of 0.19. It did result in a very dramatic design, however. The swoopy, inward-turning fins on these look more like blown glass artwork than a car.

It might look like a Ferrari Dino, but it’s not. Ferrari only built two of these 365 P Tre Postis in 1966, so you’re looking at half of ‘em. “Tre Postis” means “Three Seats” in Italian, and the most obvious feature of this car is that it indeed does have three-wide seating—with the steering wheel in the middle! Sitting directly dead-center behind the driver is a 380-hp, 4.4-liter V12. The current owner, Luigi Chinetti Jr., offered this car up for sale at the Gooding Auction in Pebble Beach in 2014, but did not accept the high bid of $23.5-million. This is another one that’s too valuable to drive, but with that odd seating arrangement, it’s probably more interesting to look at anyway.

This looks like Finn McMissile’s brother from the animated movie Cars 2, but really it’s one of eight Ghia-bodied (do you see how the roof looks like a Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia?) Fiat 8V Supersonics ever produced. This car obviously looks great, but I was drawn to it more because of its condition. This car was not restored, and it had all the warts and dings to prove it. I actually dislike the overused term “patina” to describe old cars, but it actually fits here. It was not abused, and it didn’t just sit out in a field until all the paint burned off in the sun. It was loved and cared for, but 63 years of service were still evident.

So for a display with only 19 cars, I managed to take 156 photos. That was a miracle in itself, because the museum was packed with people. This is one popular display. Check out the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. Quite the show, I really enjoyed the pics!

  2. Great pictures. Thanks! That fiat 8V is my fave.

  3. Interesting that the 250GTO is painted with what appears to be the same paint that Carroll Shelby used on all his Daytona Cobra Coupes, the Ford-powered car that won the 1965 FIA World Manufacturers' Championship.