After reading a story on Maz Hoffman yesterday the concept of “the European American” stuck in my mind. A few hours later a Zagato crossed my internet-ways: Surely a sign? Yes, in today’s story America meets Zagato – and it is not going to be pretty: Ready to ruuuuumble!
The topic of the old country meeting the new with the idea of producing an automobile combining the best of two worlds has come up on ViaRETRO before. This will not be the last time either – and probably also not the last time the angle will be “was that the best they could do?”. My point is that very rarely does the cooperation result in anything of the magnitude to be expected when great minds come together. Quite the contrary the co-operation sometimes result in spectacularly unspectacular cars (someone might come to think of the Cadillac Allanté here), and at other times the result is something like the Cadillac NART Zagato.
This story of this car begin around 1968 and revolves around another European that was quite central in the sports car history of America: Luigi Chinetti. The three-times Le Mans-winner was Italian that had emigrated to America in 1940. Twelve years later he imported the first Ferrari into the United States and from there he built a very succesful business with Ferrari. Extending into motorsports with his North American Racing Team (NART) he even managed to beat Ferraris own works racers in the Le Mans of 1965. But all of that is really another story.
In the late Sixties Chinetti had become a big player, the Ferrari marque also. But in 1966 newcomer Lamborghini had rocked the boat with their Miura supercar. To which Ferrari responded with the very conventional Daytona and generally did not seem too keen on adopting the central engine position that all and the world raved about at the time. This could very well have triggered the selfmade Chinetti into investigating on producing his own car.
With his roots it should come as no surprise that his formula would be an American-Italian hybrid: American drivetrain and sharp, modern design. And that drivetrain would be centrally mounted. And the Italian partner would be Zagato. It should be obvious that this team could result in something spectacular – or a lemon. Work begun i 1969 with the brief of building a high-performance supercar able of carrying four people (or six – it IS huge!) in comfort. The car should not be enormously expensive even though the production numbers would be quite small. Therefore much of the NART-mechanicals were donated by the Cadillac Eldorado.
The Eldorado was the newest version with front wheel drive. Ideal for installation in the new car in a central position, really. General Motors were behind the project from the beginning and Luigi Chinetti himself very active as well. Zagato was to build the bodywork in aluminium and within a relatively short time a finished car could be shown to the public. The end result WAS spectacular and was shown in Torino and New York in 1971.
Spectacular yes, but pretty? Handsome? Elegant? Not really, as the end result comes away rather unresolved. Certain angles show great promise, other makes you want to shut your eyes – unresolved, even, which is a pity as the general concept is classical hybrid. But in some ways it is indeed also typical of the hybrid cars that the end result is not quite there. In fact Zagato has made many cars along those lines, but according to the legend thay really can’t be blamed for the NART: It is said that Chinetti himself sketched the car. Some must have lied it, though as orders were indeed taken at the shows in Torino and New York. But only this one car was ever built, not least because General Motors withdrew their support of the project.
The car still exists and has been thoroughly rebuilt. And resprayed. In red. With a prancing horse on the flanks. I suppose there is a morale somewhere.