My Car Quest

March 3, 2024

Museum Review: Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975

by Wallace Wyss, edited by Louis Vandenberg, KUCR-FM Autotalk –

I happened to be in Nashville a few weeks ago and was pleased as punch to be able to catch the show called Bellissima! At The Frist Center For The Visual Arts. I gather this is ordinarily an art museum so I was bowled over that an art museum would devote so much space to cars.

The idea of this show, they explain, was to celebrate the “visual dynamism and spirit of innovation characterizing Italian coachbuilt cars, concept cars and motorcycles produced during the post–World War II economic revival.”

Lancia Stratos HF Zero

1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero. The XJ Wang Collection. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

This is actually the second time that art museum has had a car show, as back in 2013 they presented a show called Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles, curated by automotive authority and guest curator Ken Gross who this time was back, assisted by two other experts.

The show consists of 19 automobiles and 3 motorcycles from private collections and museums that by my own estimation are among the finest examples of Italian automotive design, including vehicles by Alfa Romeo, Bizzarrini, Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati.

Let me start with the Alfas, it puts together all three BAT cars developed by Bertone as aerodynamic studies in the early ‘50s.

With juts these few cars, the display builds a good case for showing what propelled Italy to the forefront of automotive design internationally in the 1950s.

Some of the cars shown are racing cars or inspired by racing cars. Some of the Ferraris they were showing for instance were dual purpose cars like the Ferrari 250 GTO.

Ferrari 250 GTO

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

Other cars they were showing were more high water marks in style, cars that were sold to wealthy glitterati, movie stars, and influential industrialists. I was glad they had a Miura, which I think was a good example of how Ferruccio Lamborghini created a grand touring Berlinetta that would give Ferrari a run for its money.

The display didn’t go into how much these Italian cars influenced Detroit automakers but the book sold at the Museum’s shop told how American production cars like Nash, Hudson and even Cadillac succumbed to the Italian style with Italian-like features and even had some cars bodied in Italy. They had a Dual Ghia, an offshoot of when Chrysler hired Italian designers to build a series of dramatically modern concept cars, including one (the Firearrow) that evolved into the independently produced Dual Ghia.

Here’s the complete list of the display.

Bella Berlinettas
1950 Cisitalia 202 SC
1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic
1955 Maserati A6G 2000 Zagato

Berlinettas: The BATs
1953 Alfa Romeo BAT 5
1954 Alfa Romeo BAT 7
1955 Alfa Romeo BAT 9

Styling Gems
1946 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Speciale
1952 Lancia B52 Aurelia PF200 Spider
1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica

Il Ultimo
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO

Wedge-Shaped Cars
1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda
1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero
1966 Ferrari 365 P Tre Posti

Italian and American Excitement
1952 Cunningham C3 Continental
1955 Lincoln Indianapolis
1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

Mid-Engine Marvels
1963 ATS 2500 GT
1968 Bizzarrini 5300 Strada
1970 Lamborghini Miura S

On Two Wheels
1957 Moto Guzzi V-8
1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport
1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport

I was amused by the Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada because it appears to be the exact same car I bought decades ago when I was a full time barn finder. That story of that find and the story of an ATS and the Tre Posti Ferrari shown in the Exhibition are also in my Incredible Barn Finds books.

Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada

1968 Bizzarrini 5300 Strada. Collection of Don Meluzio. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

I couldn’t have picked the cars better myself. Each car was set on a platform and well lit, and had a sign summarizing the car’s significance. I would have preferred a few styling drawings as well, or even the a wooden body former showing how the more hand-made ones had their panels formed but I won’t complain because the exhibition as it is achieves the goal of introducing the public to the great influence of Italian car design on the car world. This show sums it up.

Congratulations to the organizers and the Museum.

Alfa Romeo BAT 7

1954 Alfa Romeo BAT 7. The Blackhawk Collection. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

I also want to complement the Museum for backing up what’s shown on the Museum floor with a few books on cars (one by the guest speakers that were at the exhibition’s opening), automotive themed toys, postcards of the cars shown, etc. in their museum store. It is always nice to have souvenirs of the current show available and I hope some of those toys or postcards starts a child on a future career as a car designer….

The show runs to October 9, 2016.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Those who want to see another Ken Gross-curated exhibit can see his latest work at Art Deco cars from the 1930s and ’40s at RCMA, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh from October 1 to January 15, 2017.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the Incredible Barn Finds series, available direct from the publisher at 715 381 9755



Alfa Romeo BAT 9

1955 Alfa Romeo BAT 9. The Blackhawk Collection. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt

Museum Review: Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975
Article Name
Museum Review: Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975
The Frist Center in Nashville has a great exhibit of Italian art - cars and motorcycles!


  1. William M. Craig says

    the “Rebellion” against Ferrari ended up with the new company “ATS”. Phill Hill went with them I think. I remember seeing an in depth cross section of an ATS sports car that was an attempt to steal Ferrari’s “thunder” but it was just too much to beat that “Old man”. He could always spot an engineer, use them all up, fire them and then “along came Jones”. People wanted to give everything they had for him. Definitely a one of a kind guy.

  2. Harvey Lindenbaum says

    The North Carolina Art Museum in Raleigh will open their exhibit “Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s” on October 1.

  3. Do you have proof that you found the white Bizzarrini, this is new news to many of us?

    • Wallace Wyss says

      It’s in one of my barn find books. I was an early member of the Iso Bitz owner’s club.During that time, I bought a white one with black interior wearing the same oval emblem from a fellow who lived in Lancaste, car.He had bought the car in Italy. He showed me a picture of himself looking at some Bizzarrinis over in Italy. I don’t know why he sold it–because he certainly didn’t need the money–I asked him “doesn’t it bother you that the shopping centers are moving closer and closer to your house?” and he replied “Not when they’re on my land.” He also had a long nose red Grifo, since sold, and a few Iso Rivoltas but I don’t remember their condition I bought the Bitz in my role as a barn finder. I got to drive it for three days before the shipper came to pick it up for my New York client who had ordered me to buy it. During my 3 days of glory, I took two friends for rides, separately, and if I had to prove I bought it I think they haven’t forgotten it. One friend also shot a fifteen video of me driving the car around Palos Verdes. During my days as an active barn finder,I also bought three other Bizzarrinis –one dis-assembled, another from an aging movie stunt man and the last one from some guy in Ohio who had parked it outside in the snow for year.–but it’s all in my books in great detaIL–no room to tell each story here…

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