Fiat Bartoletti: greatest ever race transporter?

FIAT Bartoletti Race Transporter1960 27

What you see here is no regular lorry. It’s a race transporter going by the name of Fiat Bartoletti 306/2, and it has probably the most dazzling and exciting history of any transporter ever used in motorsport.

In 1959, the British-born American playboy Lance Reventlow commissioned well-known Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Bartoletti to build a racing transporter with the aim of using it to transport the Formula 1 cars of his newly formed team around Europe.

The history of the Bartoletti company dates back to 1873 when Ermenegildo Bartoletti opened a workshop for the construction of carriages. During the Second World War the Bartoletti factory was destroyed by bombing, but with government support it reopened and the company established itself in the market for vehicle conversions and special bodies. 

Awareness grew, in particular when Carozzeria Bartoletti supplied Formula 1 factory teams from Ferrari and Maserati with special transporters. The vehicles were produced and converted near Modena in the small town of Forli, where up to 1000 people worked.

The Bartoletti built for the Scarab Formula 1 racing team is based on a Fiat Tipo 306/2 “alpine” bus chassis, which came onto the market in 1959 as the second generation of the Type 306.

The Scarab racing team was the first American Formula 1 team, and campaigned its front-engined race cars for the 1960 season only. It failed to collect any points though, because the cars were constantly failing with engine problems, usually caused by valve failure. Reventlow’s F1 programme failed in the middle of the season, after just five races, and the transporter was used by the rapidly developing Lotus team for the rest of 1960 and the 1961 season.

From Lotus to Carroll Shelby

After its use by Lotus, the transporter went back to Forli to be prepared for its next transport job. The Camoradi Racing racing team had the transporter equipped with another axle in order to be able to transport heavier racing cars but ran into financial difficulties and was unable to pay for the modified transporter.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the Bartoletti was used again for an American racing team. Carroll Shelby bought it to use in Europe for Shelby International Racing, initially transporting Cobras, followed by the Daytona Coupés. 

Taking the Ford GT40 to Le Mans

Between 1965 and 1967 Alan Mann Racing took over the European GT activities from Ford and Shelby, and used the Bartoletti to transport the Shelby Cobras, Daytona Coupés and the newly developed Ford GT40 to Le Mans for the 24-hour race.

After Ford failed to take over Ferrari and the whole episode ended in a power struggle between the two company bosses, Ford did not want an Italian vehicle operating on its fleet. The transporter was sold in 1967 and found new use with John Woolfe Racing.

However, Woolfe reportedly only had problems with the transporter. At some point in the winter he started to have trouble in the middle of a snowstorm and decided to just leave the vehicle and later to sell it on.

When it was bought by racing driver David Piper, Woolfe said that he was “happy to see the back of it”. Previously always painted in blue tones (Princess Blue and Guardsmen Blue), the transporter was repainted in Piper’s signature colour “BP Green” and used by his team until 1970. 

A star of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans movie

In 1970 Steve McQueen hired David Piper as a driver for his now legendary motor sport epic “Le Mans”. McQueen also asked Piper to bring a couple of Lola T70s, which were converted to look like a Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512. He also asked him to bring the Fiat Bartoletti with him for the filming, for which it was repainted in red; from then on it was the Scuderia Ferrari racing transporter in the film.

During filming, David Piper had a serious accident, in which he lost part of one leg. He no longer had any use for the now red Bartoletti and sold it after the filming.

This last colour was a perfect match for Anthony Bamford’s JCB Historic racing team, and JCB used the transporter until 1976.

Between 1976 and 1982 JCB rented the racing transporter to GTC Mirage for their Le Mans missions. Then, in 1982, Bamford sold it to Michael Shoen, author of the book Cobra-Ferrari Wars 1963-1965. For the first time in its history the Bartoletti made it onto American soil. Shoen used it in Ferrari livery at historic motor sport events until he fell victim to a divorce battle and shipped it to the Arizona desert.

Restored and now with ChromeCars

In 2006, Scarab collector Don Orosco found the neglected Bartoletti and had it fully restored to concours condition. The project devoured two years, 8000 hours and approximately $600,000. The only update was a Leyland six-cylinder turbodiesel engine instead of the original Fiat six-cylinder diesel engine.

This incredible ex-Scarab, Lotus, Shelby, Allan Mann, Woolfe, Piper, Le Mans and JCB transporter celebrated its resurrection at Laguna Seca in 2008 during the Monterey Historics. More recently it has returned to Europe and currently resides in the ChromeCars collection.

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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