Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl, Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by: Tom and Ann Curtis, Jim and Jan Ramsey, and Diversified Trust
In November 1961, eight of Enzo Ferrari’s top lieutenants left in an episode known as “The Purge” or “The Walkout,” depending on who is telling the story. The Gran Turismo industry became much more exciting when those ex-employees’ considerable engineering and management talent suddenly hit the marketplace. Within two years, their fingerprints were all over new sports and Gran Turismo (GT) cars.
ATS was the most ambitious of the new startups and the first beneficiary of all that talent. The name stood for Automobili Turismo e Sport, and its objective was simple: to beat Ferrari on the racetrack and the streets. Within a matter of weeks of ATS’s formation, former Ferrari chief engineer Carlo Chiti was hard at work, creating a proper dual-purpose (road/racing) car.
While at Ferrari, Chiti had been a huge proponent of the mid-engine configuration, where the engine is placed behind the driver and situated around the rear axle. Not only does a central engine offer optimal weight distribution for superior cornering, it also allows for a more aero-dynamic shape, as the designer no longer has to battle the height and mass of an engine up front. Chiti designed an all-new, centrally mounted 2.5-liter V-8. The compact power plant was mated to a five-speed transmission, and a fresh new tubular chassis benefited from an all-new suspension system that was independent front and rear.
In one fell swoop, that modern technology allowed ATS to leapfrog over Ferrari and everyone else with a 150-mph machine that would briefly be the world’s most sophisticated road car. The ATS 2500 GT broke cover to great fanfare at 1963’s Geneva Motor Show; in fact, the ATS in the Frist Art Museum exhibition is that exact car.
—Adapted from the exhibition catalogue essay by Winston Goodfellow