Photos by Piotr Degler/Degler Studio, courtesy Gooding and Co.
At first glance, the Abarth 1000 Bialbero record car known as “La Principessa” and the diamond-layout Pininfarina X appear to have nothing in common. One’s a race car; the other’s an attempt to build a family sedan with its four wheels jumbled about. One looks fast; the other looks just odd. Yet both arose from the same attempt to cheat the wind, and the faster of the two will soon head to auction.
Battista “Pinin” Farina had experimented with streamlined designs as far back as 1937 with a one-off Lancia Aprilia-based coupe that, though designed and built entirely according to Farina’s intuition, still passed aerodynamic muster when tested in a wind tunnel years later. Twenty years later, after Farina built a new factory in Grugliasco, on the outskirts of Turin, the coachbuilder decided to revisit his ideas on streamlining, this time with technical assistance from Alberto Morelli, a professor of aerodynamics at the University of Turin, and the university’s wind tunnel.
Both the Pininfarina X and La Principessa resulted from those wind tunnel sessions. The former, a four-door rear-engine sedan with a diamond-shaped wheel layout (one in front, two in the middle, and one in the back) was intended to demonstrate Farina and Morelli’s ideas on how to create a practical high-efficiency low-drag family car. Powered by the Fiat 1100’s 43hp 1,089cc four-cylinder engine, it managed a top speed of 90 MPH, significantly faster than a stock Fiat 1100.
The latter, however, was designed for pure, impractical speed. Specifically, Farina intended to contest the world record for highest sustained speed over the longest period of time. This time, he went with a conventional wheel layout on a one-off chassis with Abarth-modified Fiat front and rear suspension. For power, he chose an Abarth-developed dual overhead camshaft Fiat 1000 Bialbero four-cylinder engine, good for 91 horsepower, mounted directly behind the monoposto cockpit.
The body of La Principessa – Italian for “princess” – recorded a coefficient of drag of 0.20, the exact same figure as the Pininfarina X, and shared the Pininfarina stand at the 1960 Turin Auto Show with the X. Yet while Farina never realized his goal of convincing automakers to build the X in volume, he did realize his goal of setting speed records with La Principessa. Over a four-day period in September and October 1960, on the banks of Monza, with a variety of drivers at the wheel, the Fiat-Abarth branded car drove 72 hours at an average speed of 186.68 KPH (116 MPH) and covered 10,000 kilometers with an average speed of 191.38 KPH (118.92 MPH). In total, the car broke eight speed endurance records.
Despite their accomplishments or lack thereof, Farina held on to the X for 47 years but sold La Principessa just a few years later. Yet while the X sold for $330,000 at auction early last year, La Principessa, which has remained unrestored and in one collector’s ownership ever since, heads to Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction later this summer with an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million.
Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction will take place August 20 and 21 at the Equestrian Center in Pebble Beach, California. For more information, visit GoodingCo.com.