Alfa Romeo wanted to explore the possibilities of aerodynamic design in the 1950s, and to do that, they went with the craziest and wildest designs they could with the help of Italian design house, Bertone. The result is the Alfa Romeo B.A.T (Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica) of which three were built: the BAT 5 in 1953, the BAT 7 in 1954, and the BAT 9 in 1955.
The man behind these designs was Franco Scaglione, a coachbuilder who worked on several Alfa Romeo in the 1950s, but also worked with Aston Martin and Maserati.
The idea behind the BAT was to create a car with the lowest possible drag possible. For the BAT 5 (named as such because Scaglione had created four full-size models prior), the team at Bertone created large rear bumpers and curved fins built onto the Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis. The strange front of the car is to not reduce but eliminate airflow problems at high speed entirely. 85% of the car’s form was part of the aerodynamics.
Why are the wheels hidden away under the car? To remove any extra resistance generated by the wheels turning which doubles up as a structure with as few possible air vortices. It was also incredibly light weighing in at just 1,100kg (2,400lb)
Adding all of this up meant that the car had a drag coefficient of 0.23 (which is still better than the average car today) and could reach 200km/h (120mph) with a 75kW (100 hp) engine (Tipo 1036) mounted as standard.
For the BAT 7, Bertone added elements derived from their experience working on aeronautics. This is why the tail fins are much larger and curved. The nose was also lowered, and the front protrusions went out further. It also featured fully faired-in cooling vents for the front brakes and larger intake scoops for the rear. The BAT 7’s drag coefficient is a stunning 0.19, the same as the wonderfully weird and aero-focused Volkswagen XL1.
The BAT 9 moved away from the tail fins and replaced them with two small metal plates, bringing it much more down to earth, but no less interesting to gawp at. Given the technology available, it was unlikely they could improve on the BAT 7’s aerodynamic efficiency so they went for something that more closely resembled a production car, so now they had to this about practicality and visibility. So while it retained the BAT 7’s teardrop cabin, it was now much more inviting with plush seats and tan upholstery.
Alfa Romeo deemed these cars a success and gave Bertone a contract to develop the Giulietta Sprint, keeping the coachbuilder in business.
For a while, that was the end of it, but after 50 years, Alfa Romeo and Bertone showed a new BAT concept in 2008, the BAT 11. It was commissioned by Gary Kaberle, the former owner of the BAT 9, but unfortunately it is a non-functioning mock-up though Kaberle has hoped that someone might arrive with the few millions of dollars to manufacture it.