Despite having a similar name to the way-out transport of a certain 'caped crusader' of American comic fame, the B.A.T. cars are far removed from their fictional namesake.
They originated from an Alfa Romeo/Bertone liason and were designed to takle the potentially dangerous problems that became apparent when racing super streamlined cars.
In 1952, Alfa Romeo introduced the sleek, open two seater 'Disco Volante' [Flying Disc or Saucer], based on their 1900 tubular space frame that was popular with coachbuilders at that time. It was developed after extensive wind tunnel testing by Touring of Milan and was intended for use as a concept racing car. Two coupe versions with different style bodies and larger engines followed. But a serious fault was soon discovered when the airflow that was pressing the front of the car down at speed was also found to be lifting the rear of the car, causing loss of traction and stability. In the same way, controlling airflow over a curved surface is the method by which an aircraft wing can lift an aeroplane into the air. Alfa Romeo called on well known designer and coachbuilder Guiseppe 'Nuccio' Bertone of Turin to create three super streamlined concept cars that would overcome this problem and also reduce the drag coefficient to the lowest possible figure.
Designed by Franco Scaglione of Carrozeria Bertone, they were named 'Berlinetta Aerodynamica Tecnica' or BAT for short.
As several coachbuilders had already found the Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis to be an excellent platform for their designs, this was chosen for the BAT's so that proper comparisons could be made. The 100bhp four cylinder 1997cc 'sprint' engine in standard tune was chosen. Initially, five differing designs were laid out and number five was accepted to become known as BAT 5. Inspired by the Abarth 1400 coupe of 1952, it was the first of the three 'specials'.
BAT 5 was first shown at the 1953 Turin Auto Show painted in metallic charcoal. From the waistline up it's body, which was very smooth to avoid any protrusions that could set up turbulence, featured the unique 'tear-drop' shape that was a feature of aerodynamicist Paul Jaray's designs and the rear window was divided lengthways by a central bar in the manner of the later 1963 Chevrolet Corvette 'Stingray' coupe. This was flanked by two huge fins tapering upwards towards the rear of the car and inclined slightly inwards. Each fin had a vertical slot in it to equalise side pressure. The headlamps were flush-fitted into the inside of the front wings and swung out laterally. The bars of the deeply set grille were recessed on each end to accomodate them when in use. Spats were fitted over the wheels to eliminate as much wind resistance as possible. The car had a Cd (coefficient of drag) of 0.23 and was stable at high speed. [200kph/125mph]
The second car, BAT 7 - painted in light metallic blue - was ready for the 1954 Turin Auto Show with a design that took BAT 5's ideas to even wilder heights. The frontal treatment was similar to BAT 5, but the rear fins were incredibly large and folded over to an extremely exaggerated degree. Headlamps were located so that they moved down when in use. The stability problem at speed had been resolved with BAT 5 and low drag was the goal from that time. The Cd of BAT 7 was reduced to 0.19.
Painted silver, BAT 9 was introduced at the 1955 Turin Auto Show. This was the least flambouyant of the three BAT's with a normal Alfa Romeo grille and headlamps positioned as regular sports car practice - in the wings behind clear covers that blend into the body shape. Incorporating the established stability features it was designed as a more practical proposition for production than the others and indeed the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Special of the early 1960's, also designed by Franco Scaglione, was obviously influenced by BAT 9.
As with the other cars, the 'tear-drop' upper body shape was retained, but the tail fins, although still very large, were reduced to rectangular upright fins standing on top of the rear wings. A very prominent raised 'rib' ran along the middle body from the front of the door to the tail of the car, meeting a squared off design across the back to form a 'spade' shape that helped to hold the rear of the car down at speed.
It must be remembered that the three BAT cars were created to solve airflow problems and there is no doubt that they succeeded. But to regard any one of the designs as they stood as a viable production car could be no more than a pipe dream.
The BAT's had a low roofline, rear window glass that distorted any view that could be seen beyond the fins and a turning circle that was totally useless due to the spats on the wheels. To avoid drag, the exhaust had been routed through the sill, making the car unbearably noisy and the fuel filler was hidden by a flap on the inside of the car presenting the very best scenario for smokers wishing to kill the habit!
BAT 9 had been tha last development of the design, but still retained a few of the unsavoury features apparent on the previous two.
All of the cars still exist and have spent time in both private hands and in collections.
Source: Reg J. Prosser