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Teams That Time Forgot (1)

ATS (Automobili Turismo e Sport)

Say “ATS” these days and most people will assume you mean the F1 team fielded by Auto Technisches Spezialzubeh√ɬ∂r, the German wheel manufacturer. But, to me, those letters bring back earlier memories of an Italian team that arrived suddenly in 1963, promised so much, and then expired in a welter of poor performances and disappearing sponsors.

On paper, the team looked seriously competitive. The personnel was comprised almost entirely of refugees from the “palace revolution” at Ferrari and included Carlo Chiti as engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini as designer, and Romolo Tavoni as team manager. Even the drivers, Phil Hill (who had become world champion the previous year) and Giancarlo Baghetti, deserted to ATS. That was almost il Commendatore’s entire team gone at a stroke and it propelled a young man named Mauro Forghieri to prominence and fame as the brains behind Ferrari’s later efforts.

So, in early 1963, it looked as though the new team, Automobili Turismo e Sport, was going to be stiff competition for Ferrari. Their car was powered by a near-copy of the Ferrari V8 and first looks revealed a very pretty machine, also somewhat Ferrari-like in design.

ATS F1 car - early version

Reality has a way of breaking into the dreams of F1 hopefuls, however, and it wasn’t long before things began to fall apart for ATS. The two main sponsors, Count Volpi and Jaime Patino backed out before the season started and suddenly the team had very little money. This delayed everything so that the cars did not make their debut until the Belgian Grand Prix; both retired with transmission problems in the race.

The car was prone to chassis flexing problems and, to counter this, a steel tube was welded from the rollover bar to the gearbox and an ugly cover tacked on to cover it. Gone were the good looks of the pre-season car; it now looked like a poorly-modified go-kart. There were even rumors that the steel tube prevented removal of the engine!

ATS F1 car - late version

Hill and Baghetti struggled on with the car, missing a few races and then qualifying towards the back of the field when they did appear. At the Italian Grand Prix, Hill managed to finish in 11th place, admittedly seven laps down. The dream had died by the time both cars retired in the final two GPs of the year and the team fell apart, never to be heard from again.

So ambitious had ATS been initially that they designed and built a beautiful road car in addition to their F1 efforts. This was the 2500 GT, powered by a Chiti-designed V8 and capable of 160 mph.

ATS production sportscar

Only twelve of these were made and the company soon followed the F1 team into obscurity. The personnel moved on to other things, Bizzarrini to Lamborghini and eventually to build cars under his own name, Chiti to found Autodelta, the well known Alfa Romeo specialists.

But I still have a soft spot for ATS, if only for the “might-have-beens”. With a little luck and better organization, they could have been world beaters. And, even today, I quite fancy one of those gorgeous ATS 2500 GTs…

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