The Fiat 8V’s legacy as one of the most legendary cars ever built by the Italian marque was established at the very outset. Introduced at the 1952 Geneva Motor Show, Road & Track called it “the biggest surprise of the year,” and The Motor remarked that “the last thing which had been expected from Italy’s largest car factory was a truly streamlined 2-seater saloon.”
This enthusiastic reaction was echoed by the upper crust of Europe’s gentlemen racers, and for good reason: the 8V’s performance was startling. Capable of 120 mph from its 2.0-liter, all-aluminum, narrow-angle V-8 engine, the sub-2,200-pound 8V—with its Siata-designed tubular chassis— presented an unrivaled power-to-weight ratio. Privately entered 8Vs easily claimed the 2.0-liter class of the Italian GT Championship for six straight seasons (1954 through 1959).
The 8V was a prime candidate for custom coachwork, and the most striking form executed upon the model was unequivocally Giovanni Savonuzzi’s stunning Jet Age design for Ghia, known as the Supersonic. With it, Ghia endowed Fiat’s 8V supercar with a jaw-dropping visage equal to its remarkable performance.
Characterized by a long front deck with steeply raked windshield, a curved nose that leads into a straight-through beltline, and small tailfins flaring off lights intended to resemble jet exhausts, the Supersonic is widely considered to be the most celebrated and desirable of Ghia’s creations.
SUPERSONIC NUMBER 43
Research undertaken by automotive historian Paolo Giusti notes that this impeccably restored 8V Supersonic, chassis 43, was one of two examples ordered from Ghia by the American dealer Howard “Dutch” Darrin during the summer of 1953. By October 1953, both 8V chassis had been sent from Fiat to Ghia, and in December 1953 the completed pair of Supersonics was received by Darrin’s atelier in New York City. Rather uniquely, they were equipped with auxiliary lights fitted to the front grille and delivered without bumpers. Historic images sourced by Giusti from the archives of photographer Stefano Bricarelli show that this Supersonic was originally painted White over a red leather interior with center-lock chrome disc wheels.
In February 1954, Darrin included both Supersonics in his display at the inaugural International World Motor Sports Show. With Darrin’s client and fellow Supersonic owner Paul Farago making their introductions, he quickly sold Supersonic chassis 39 to Hollywood actress Lana Turner.
A few days later, the remaining Supersonic, chassis 43, piqued the attention of Briggs Swift Cunningham. A multi-millionaire sportsman, racing driver, automobile manufacturer, and collector who was then one of America’s most recognized figures outside Hollywood or Washington D.C., Cunningham enjoyed a singular level of cachet and influence among the country’s sportscar dealers, and this fact was surely not lost on Darrin. Even Luigi Chinetti and Max Hoffman were known to kowtow to Cunningham’s special requests for exceptional vehicles.
Legend says that he wished to test drive this Supersonic, and so Darrin eagerly arranged to bring the car down to Sebring International Raceway on the first weekend in March, where Cunningham and his eponymous racing team were due to compete in the 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance. Arriving just in time for practice sessions, Darrin and Cunningham are reported to have driven this Supersonic around the Sebring course and surrounding area before agreeing upon the car’s sale for $9,500. Lucie Cunningham enjoyed her new Supersonic (registered in Florida as “6D-676”) quite thoroughly during their brief time together, though by 1959 it had passed to a California resident who registered it as “TYF835.”
Over the following two decades, this preeminent 8V was passed through a short chain of California owners until arriving within the collection of Siata and Fiat expert Jarl de Boer in Walnut Creek. At that time, de Boer had the car repainted in dark red, and he later sourced and fitted a correct-type 8V engine replacement (0017) in lieu of the Chevrolet V-8 powertrain which had been fitted during the late 1960s.
In 2001, de Boer sold it onward to Ghia enthusiast Paul Sable of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Importantly, Sable tracked down the car’s numbers-matching Giacosa engine block (0076) and reinstalled it into the car. Chassis 043 remained with Sable for 11 years until its purchase and exportation by a Belgian collector who, recognizing the prestige of this rare Otto Vu, commissioned a comprehensive, multi-year restoration back to its original specifications.
8V specialist Lennnart Schouwenberg’s Strada e Corsa shop in the Dutch city of Haarlem were exclusively retained for the job, which was completed in 2014 and notably included the total rebuild and reinstallation of the car’s numbers-matching engine, as well as a return to its original color combination of Ivory over red leather—just like it wore when Briggs Cunningham first viewed it under the lights of Madison Square Garden.
The quality of Schouwenberg’s work was shortly thereafter recognized with an invitation to exhibit this historically significant Supersonic at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It was also exhibited at the following year’s Retromobile Salon in Paris, and most recently was crowned with Best-of-Show honors at the 2022 Ocean Reef Club Concours d’Elegance in Key Largo, Florida.
Presenting with spectacular flair, this breathtaking 8V remains fresh and ready for continued appearances at major concours, being an ideal entrant for top-shelf events ranging around the world. Also eligible for prestige driving events both in the United States and internationally, it would surely draw a crowd at vintage tours and rallies worldwide. With its Jet-Age styling continually suggesting motion at rest, this 8V Supersonic is a showstopper, making it a must-have for any collector of significant post-war coachbuilt sports cars.