Italian Style on Rodeo Drive

Don’t call it a comeback…  The iconic line, once famously penned by LL Cool J in reference to his seeming disappearance from the scene, could have used a translation into Italian at last Sunday’s 2011 Rodeo Drive Concours d’Elegance.  Celebrating “the Art of Italian Motoring,” the annual Father’s Day event in Beverly Hills this year featured a premier sponsorship by Fiat, the Turin-based automotive giant that is currently reintroducing itself to the U.S. market with the all-new subcompact Fiat 500.

Now at a glance, it may seem like an odd pairing.  After all, Fiat’s 1970s-era reputation for unreliability earned their cars the dismissive nickname Fix-It-Again-Tony, and eventually culminated in a 27-year absence from the American market.  Off the cuff, not the type of product one would envision being cross-marketed with Rodeo Drive’s line-up of ultra-luxury boutiques with names like Cartier, Chanel, Brooks Brothers, and Bang & Olufsen.

One look at David Sydorick’s show-winning 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic (above), however, quickly clarifies that Fiat is as elegant an Italian motoring brand as any, having produced some of the most timeless and rare classic cars from the pre and postwar eras.  Earning the Svend Ingerslev Award for Best in Show, Sydorick’s Fiat is one of just fifteen 8V chassis that received Ghia’s fabulous Supersonic coachwork.  (Below it is pictured with Bruce Milner’s 1959 Zagato-bodied Lancia Flaminia, also at top).

And speaking of Sydorick, I’m not sure there’s a Los Angeles collector whose cars I envy more.  Routinely displaying uber-rare Italian coachbuilt postwar cars (I’ve featured his outstanding Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato here at least once), Sydorick also graced Rodeo Drive with two other Zagato-bodied cars, a 1956 Maserati A6/G2000 and a particularly unusual 1956 Ferrari 250 GT (below, respectively).

While Fiat set up a ride & drive for consumers at the south end of Rodeo Drive that featured a pristine line-up of fourteen 2012 500 models (above), Ferrari bookended the proceedings a few blocks north with a static display of the California and the brand new FF 4-wheel drive hatchback (below).

In between, the following cars took home awards:

Tim Walker’s 1949 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 won the Mayor’s Award for Most Elegant.

Tex Otto’s 1960 Ferrari 250 GT SWB won the Chairman’s Award.

The Fiat Award for Most Sporting went to Tony Podell’s awesome 1948 Ferrari 166 Spyder Corsa.  The rare car is one of just eight examples of Ferrari’s first production series, and was driven by Ferrari’s Scuderia race team, including the great Tazio Nuvolari.  In 1956, the car was re-bodied by Scaglietti in the style of the then-in-production 500 Testa Rossa, making this car a one-of-a-kind.  It is largely thought to be the last unrestored 166 Spyder Corsa.

And as always, some of this blogger’s personal picks:

The Petersen Automotive Museum contributed with their usual high level of provenance.  The 1952 Ford 212/225 Barchetta above is one of very few long wheelbase iterations of the model.  This one was famously given from Enzo Ferrari to Henry Ford II.  The generous gift proved to be no deterrent to Ford’s eventual challenge to the Ferrari race team the following decade.

The Petersen also displayed this rare 1959 Corvette Italia, a racecar prototype that featured a lightweight body designed and built by Sergio Scaglietti.  Legend has it that Enzo Ferrari was so infuriated by Scaglietti’s choice to body the car for Chevrolet that he threatened to pull all Ferrari contracts from the Maranello-based coachbuilder, perhaps explaining why only three such cars were ever produced.

Chuck Swimmer’s 1959 Arnolt Bristol is one of 142 examples of the Bertone-bodied roadster to be produced.

The display of Bob Frumkin’s 1954 Chrysler Ghia Special is particularly apropos.  Not only did Ghia body some of Chrysler’s most breathtaking showcars and concept cars of the 1950s, but Chrysler today is owned by Fiat!

Concours Chairman and well known Beverly Hills collector Bruce Meyer (at right) grabs a bag from his 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa.

Bud Bourassa’s 1963 Apollo 3500 GT is a seldom-seen example of Intermeccanica’s attractive and underrated grand touring car.

Custom showcar builder par excellence John D’Augustino presented his 1975 Stutz Bearcat.  Reviving the name of the popular prewar brand, in the 70s Stutz produced a limited volume of these ultra-luxury cars, which featured Ghia-built bodies that were based on a design by onetime automotive kingpin Virgil Exner.

Val Dietrich’s 1960 Alfa Romeo 2000 Touring Spyder

Al Corts’ 1964 Alfa Romeo 2600

Though not allowed on the main strip because they are not of Italian lineage, the following American customs were just too pretty to ignore.

1937 Chevy Custom

1951 Mercury Custom built by Gary Fioto

1951 Mercury Custom owned by Joe Figueroa and built by hot rod forefather Joe Bailon

All photos © by Mike Daly