1967 Bertone Pirana
The title of Autocar magazine’s article in October 1967 said it all: ‘Bertone-Jaguar: no dream car – but not for you and me’. This one-off gran turismo wasn’t the first Bertone-bodied Jaguar, witness the Franco Scaglione-styled XK150 and Marcello Gandini-designed ‘FT’ that was based variously on S-type and 420 saloon foundations for Italy’s marque concessionaire, Ferruchio Tarchini. However, in this particular instance, there was no intention of making the Pirana in even the most limited of numbers. It was a concept queen, and a compelling one.
ON THE FRINGE Bertone Pirana
Words: Richard Heseltine
Pictures: Richard Heseltine & Magic Car Pics
This giaguaro italiano was conceived by The Weekend Telegraph’s editor John Anstey, the picture editor Alexander Low, art director Geoffrey Axbey, and motoring correspondent, Courtenay Edwards. Following a visit to the March 1967 Geneva motor show, conversation back in London turned to what constituted the perfect GT car. What began as an office discussion soon took a turn for the serious: Anstey was keen to see their dream car become reality, and stipulated that it should be built from components already in production and readily available to the public. ‘Speed with luxury’ was the mantra. Matters then snowballed somewhat.
Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons was responsive when approached by Anstey: he would supply an E-type 2+2 chassis, complete with 4.2-litre straight-six power. Nuccio Bertone then agreed to complete the coachwork in time for the British International Motor Show in October of that year. Gandini was tasked with realising what was essentially a rebodying exercise, the end result bearing not even a passing resemblance to the donor car despite the fastback two-seater sharing the same proportions. It was virtually the same height and length, but 63.5mm wider.
Other firms lent expertise including Triplex which supplied tinted Sundym glass in an effort to stop the sun’s harmful rays from slow-baking the car’s occupants. Lucas, meanwhile, supplied lights while Smith’s Motor Accessory Division provided the air-conditioning system. It also served up a tape recorder/player plus a warning device that beeped should the driver exceed a pre-set speed. Connolly contributed the leather for the cabin; a bespoke hide dubbed ‘Anela’ that featured a sandy tint thanks to special pigments. Britax, for its part, supplied special seatbelts with webbing to match the upholstery.
Bodied in steel save for the aluminium bonnet, the resultant creation was undeniably exotic. The Pirana was transported to Earls Court in time for its big reveal and soon became a magazine cover star the world over. All told, it cost a rumoured £20,000 to construct (equivalent to £400,000 when adjusted for inflation). The Pirana’s outline proved influential, too, in that it provided reference points for the forthcoming Lamborghini Espada. The car was subsequently exhibited in Turin, New York and Montreal prior to being auctioned off for £16,000 (that’s roughly £270,000 in new money).
Then the story gets a little cloudy: depending on whose version of history you believe, it either remained in the UK until 1974 before heading Stateside, or it arrived in North America in 1968 and never left. Either way, the Pirana disappeared for decades thereafter, and appeared lost to history. It remained largely out of sight prior to being sold by RM Sotheby’s in 2019, by which time it had been fully restored. It made a whopping $324,000 as the gavel descended as befitted the dreamiest of dream cars.
“Other firms lent expertise including Triplex which supplied tinted Sundym glass in an effort to stop the sun’s harmful rays from slow-baking the car’s occupants”