Production was, however, slow to start, despite the large number of orders received, partly due to Ferrari’s lack of interest in the project.
The history of the Maranello Prancing Horse has always been associated with luxurious cars with refined engines characterized by high power and large displacement, but this is a story in itself, largely unknown, probably for its brevity.
At the end of the 1950s Ferrari, despite its reputation for sporting success and beautiful cars within reach of only the rich few, decided to start a project to make a smaller car with a 4-cylinder engine, to compete in another sector, important but in which they had no experience and which was dominated by Fiat. Designer Franco Rocchi built the first working prototype engine within a few months, right up-to-date in its technical characteristics, seemingly borrowed from the powerful 12-cylinder engines used by Ferrari. The engine’s code-name was 854, using the format (like Ferrari) of 850 cc for each of the four cylinders.
In 1959, under the supervision of Giotto Bizzarrini, the first tests began and, in order not to arouse suspicion, a Fiat 1200 was purchased and the new prancing horse jewel was mounted in its engine compartment. On 19th December, 1959 the definitive engine, producing about 100 bhp, was presented to Enzo Ferrari, who, despite being satisfied with the results achieved and its possible application in a small touring car, thought it did not meet his technical expectations because it was too expensive.
Meanwhile, the coachbuilder Bertone exhibited the car, named the “1000”, at the Turin Motor Show in 1961. It had coupé bodywork and the design was attributed to a young and unknown Giorgetto Giugiaro: its lines were elegant and sporting, with a length of just 3.9 metres, giving it the appearance of a miniature touring car. The bonnet housed the small engine, with its capacity increased to 1032 cc producing 97 bhp. Despite the very positive reception and interest the small sports car received it was identified by specialist magazines just as a Volk-Ferrari or Ferrarina. In February 1962 the industrialists Oronzio and Niccolò de Nora signed an agreement with Ferrari to purchase the designs of the car. In April of the same year ASA (Autocostruzioni Società per Azioni) was established with headquarters in Lambrate, near Innocenti. At the Turin Show in September 1962 the ASA 1000 GT was displayed with a price tag of 2,250,000 Lire.
Production was, however, slow to start, despite the large number of orders received, partly due to Ferrari’s lack of interest in the project. The car immediately attracted exasperated customers for its performance with power of almost 100 bhp: incredible for a time when even Ferrari engines at maximum revs still only achieved about 80/85 bhp per litre; and for its high-quality finish with fine leather upholstery, a Nardi wood steering wheel and a range of colours suiting the bodywork well. The gearbox was a 4-speed Bianchi with overdrive and it was fitted with 4-wheel Dunlop disc brakes. In 1963 the spider version of the 1000 GT was presented at the Geneva Motor Show, built in glass-fibre and weighing just 710 kg compared with 830 kg for the coupé, and using the same body-style but open and priced at the same level.
In the meantime Bertone withdrew from the job and de Nora resorted to commissioning the coachbuilder Ellena of Turin, who finally delivered the first examples of the 1000 GT in the summer of 1964. A further evolution of the project, the 411, was proposed to start production in 1965 with aluminium bodywork and as a spider with glass-fibre body, named the RB. But low profits and high production costs forced the two industrialists to halt production. In 1967 the ASA company went into liquidation and the 1000 GT was consigned to history after just 85 examples had been built, 70 with coupé bodywork and 15 spiders.
Text by Tommaso Lai
Translation by Norman Hawkes
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