The Art of the Restoration: Amelia Bound!

VENU Magazine, Spring 2016

Sunny skies, balmy temperatures and stellar cars are an annual beacon drawing automobile collectors and enthusiasts to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The March 11-13, 2016, show celebrates innovative styling and engineering with displays of more than 300 vehicles. Like-minded friends and colleagues gather for camaraderie, anticipating Spring, exchanging stories old and new and having grand fun.

The road to the Amelia Island Concours is paved with passion, commitment and hard work. Research, car preparation from minimal repair to full-body restoration and last-minute fit-and-finish touches must combine to meet the high standards of excellence set by Bill Warner, Founder and Chairman of The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Foundation.

Stars of the Concours consistently hail from Connecticut, shining among fellow beauties from around the globe. Preparing a car to qualify for exhibition is “a labor of love,” explains Kent Bain of Automotive Restorations, Inc., Stratford, Conn. Discerning and devoted collectors nurture these artful rolling sculptures, often rescuing them from neglect and abandonment.

Photo by Max Itin

Richard Kocka has preserved two examples of Pegaso’s limited output, which will be highlighted in the Featured Marque exhibit of 14 of the 84 produced: his 1958 Pegaso Z-103 Touring Berlinetta and 1955 Pegaso Z-102 Saoutchik Prototype 1. A years-long restoration transformed his Touring Berlinetta, the single one of this model built, from a jumble of chassis and body and baskets of parts to a highly regarded masterwork, earning awards at the Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and Greenwich Concours d’Elegance and Lime Rock Park Historic Festival’s Sunday in the Park show. “Richard’s dedication and his reverence for and knowledge of this rare marque are the key elements in the quality achieved in restoring his Touring Berlinetta coupe,” shares Bain, whose team restored the car. “This is very much an objet d’art automotive perfected and preserved.”

Rarified “jewels” for the rich, Pegaso cars were born of the unique goals of Spain’s ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones SA or National Truck Manufacturing Company). Primarily truck and bus manufacturers, they hired brilliant Spanish engineer Wifredo Ricart fresh from Alfa Romeo to create high-quality sports cars, not to render a profit but rather to apprentice automotive engineering and design students.

Pegaso’s high standards, sophisticated design and advanced production processes demonstrated Spain’s technical prowess to the world. All parts were manufactured in Spain except for some bodies by renowned custom coachbuilders Touring of Milan and Saoutchik of Paris and a few parts from Bosch, Weber, Borrani and Lockheed.

Kocka cites that Pegaso’s efforts were a grand international public relations campaign. Spain, still beleaguered by their Civil War and the Country’s isolation after World War II, strove to promote their truck company and to create the image of a flourishing economy and prospering nation. “Pegaso cars generated much publicity although they were never seen on the road,” he recalls. “Most of the cars were in Spain or Portugal. Frightfully expensive, many were given away to such dignitaries as the Shah of Iran, the ruler of Morocco, the president of Portugal, Dominican Republic’s President Trujillo and Eva Peron of Argentina who died before its delivery.”

Intrigued by these “mystery” cars since they first appeared in the press during his high school years, Kocka spotted the 1958 Pegaso Z-103 Touring Berlinetta advertised for sale in The New York Times in 1974. When pondering whether to buy this first Pegaso he ever saw, his wife advised him to “buy it and shut up or never speak of it again.” Thankfully he did, gifting us with its legacy. While Kocka’s Pegaso Touring is designated a 1958 model, it was shown at the 1955 and 1956 Paris and Turin auto shows, respectively.

“Over four decades ago, Richard purchased this exceptional example of Pegaso’s short-lived effort to rival the likes of Ferrari and Maserati and to flaunt Spain’s capability in a rarified arena,” tells Bain. “Richard can tell of the car and a scrapyard, but the entire car was indeed all there. Decades passed before it got to our shops while Richard worked to build a business. It then took years for us to source all parts needed and get the car back to its former glory.” Kocka credits Automotive Restorations and Head Technician Charlie Webb, “the Maestro,” for their respect for original craftsmanship.

Driving the car evokes the marque’s namesake, the winged-horse Pegasus. “It is a handful with very fast steering,” states Kocka. “At above 4,000 rpm, the engine seems very happy, making some glorious sounds.” Son Brad cautiously exercises the car on Connecticut’s narrow, winding roads: “The Pegaso is very light and powerful. With its narrower back end, steering is responsive and turns on a dime. It is an engineering masterpiece.” Period reviews deemed the Pegaso “Europe’s most powerful car.” Brad fine-tuned the Pegaso Touring, applying his expertise with lasers to precisely align the engine with the driveshaft that had a tendency to shift.

Kocka shares that Bill Warner and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance are doing the automotive community and public a great favor by heightening awareness of the exotic Pegaso marque. Warner comments, “That such an elegant advanced design could come from a marketing plan promoting plebian commercial vehicles is a testament to the genius, vision and skill of engineer Wifredo Ricart. Pegasos are technically extravagant cars. It’s period Formula 1 technology for the road, wrapped in coachwork by the likes of Touring and Saoutchik. The Pegaso Z-102 did exactly what Ricart and the Spanish government wanted: it brought Spanish industry to the attention of the world, and did it in a very glamorous way.”

The fluid lines of Kocka’s Pegaso Z-102 Saoutchik Prototype 1 are appealing to Warner who has included it in this select gathering. It is the only Pegaso made with a sunroof, and remains proudly unrestored, still hinting its original black cherry exterior and sporting its suicide doors and built-in, two-piece luggage compartment; side scoops and white wall tires were subsequently added after its import to the United States.

Cisitalia cars are also steeped in intrigue. Industrialist and amateur racer Piero Dusio’s Turin, Italy-based conglomerate, Consorzio Industriale Sportivo Italia (acronym Cisitalia), introduced their single-seat, Fiat engine-powered, D46 Grand Prix racer in 1946. They soon after launched the 202 two-seater sports car, which legendary driver Tazio Nuvolari steered to a second place win in the 1947 Mille Miglia. Skilled coachbuilders such as Vignale, Colli, Pinin Farina, Stabilimenti Farina and Garella were charged with designing bodies for the approximately 100 coupes and 60 cabriolets built between 1947-1952.

Dusio foretold his financial fate when he purportedly exclaimed, “it will be the ruin of me, but I am going to make the Grand Prix!” Bent on producing a champion car, Dusio contracted with Ferdinand Porsche and paid bail for Porsche’s release from a French jail where he was a war prisoner. Poor fiscal management and subsequent bankruptcy forced Dusio to emigrate with some Cisitalias and his Grand Prix car and parts to Argentina in 1949 after President Juan Perón paid off his debts. He joined car manufacturer Autoar (Automotores Argentinos) and founded Cisitalia Argentina SA. His son Carlo continued to operate a marginally successful refinanced Cisitalia company in Turin until 1964. Piero Dusio died in Argentina in 1975.

Photo by Max Itin

Henry Miller’s 1947 Cisitalia 202 SC Spyder Vignale Cabriolet has taken an adventurous path to the Amelia Island Concours, being among those that Dusio shipped to Argentina. Driven by three owners there, the car was imported to Florida by metal crafter Orlando Cairo for a collector who sold it to Miller.

Miller’s Cisitalia makes its debut at the Amelia Island Concours. “Always beautiful and a luxury car for the time,” Warner will spotlight it in the Sports and GT Cars (1946-54) class. “The beauty of the car appealed to me,” says Miller. “Cisitalia is not a particularly well-understood marque. Owning and restoring the car is a special opportunity as there are so few of them.”

Miller acquired this rare car to revive it to its original stature. “He has brought a forgotten gem back to life; his respect for the marque provided us the latitude to assure that our restoration was done properly and with historical accuracy,” states Bain.

“All of the ‘basic bones’ were there,“ Bain elaborates. “This car had never undergone any real restoration. The exterior was resprayed ages ago, repairs were made to keep it on the road and seat covers replaced, but it had not been to bits…ever. Some of the standards employed demanded upgrade, but key elements of its original configuration were all intact. This evidence was exceedingly valuable in restoring Cisitalia 202 SC #054. We were told ‘this car never had bumpers’; we had our doubts, but no bumper mountings or remnants on the chassis or related structure could be found. All of the Vignale signature trafficator mountings were intact though the trafficators were long gone. A remnant of the original dark red exterior paint was discovered under the windshield trim once the glass was out, which was good enough to polish and then match. Under the seat coverings, we found pieces of the original oxblood-brown leather. The car had the Pinin Farina-built cars’ fender flank ‘porthole’ vents cut in, confusing us about the origin of the body. Once we removed these and compared the location and fitment format to a known Pinin Farina 202 Spyder…’added later’ was the clear message. Much of this information filtered in from hearsay at purchase in Argentina, but it was rewarding to find these and other details of Vignale’s efforts preserved.”

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance sparks appreciation of automotive history and innovation and captures the artistry of design, creativity of technology and romance of motoring. Amelia Bound! Automobile devotees will be richly inspired.