Grant Kinzel spent countless hours over the past five years painstakingly restoring an Italian car so rare it had not been seen in public since a New York car show in 1954, but it paid off.
‘It’s like the second coming of Christ for a car guy.’
– Grant Kinzel on his rare sports car
Last weekend at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance — one of the world’s most esteemed collector car shows — the Calgary man’s 1953 Fiat Abarth 1100 Sport Ghia coupe won not one but two categories.
His Fiat, rubbing shoulders with Ferraris and Rolls Royces on the lawn at Pebble Beach, took first place in the post-war touring category. That win made his coupe eligible for the “best in show” category, for which he took runner-up.
“The response was overwhelming. It’s a well-known car in history,” said Kinzel. “It has been unseen since 1954 so when this pops out of the woodwork, it’s like the second coming of Christ for a car guy.”
‘They treat you like royalty’
The sweet victory was made better by the fact it was the first time Kinzel had entered the competition, which is through an application process for cars that have been restored to pristine historical accuracy.
He had attended the Monterey, Calif., event as a spectator before, the way legions of passionate car collectors have for 60 years.
But once you show up with a car as a competitor — and they come from all over the world — they treat you like royalty,” said Kinzel.
“This car ticks off all of the boxes that gets you onto the lawn at Pebble Beach,” said Kinzel of the petite pale grey beauty with bright blue interior.
“I’ve had a lifelong passion for Italian sports cars, culminating at Pebble Beach and placing very well.”
Unique car design
That seems a bit of an understatement, considering his prize car trumped 229 other collector vehicles and gobsmacked nearly everyone who saw it.
The design of the car is just one reason people go crazy for it. But for lovers of Italian sports cars, its obscurity gives it even more cachet.
The car was created for Carlo Abarth, who owned the company, and designed by the Ghia design studio — hence the name.
Compared to the other cars being manufactured in the 1950s, the Abarth Ghia when first seen at the 1953 Turin Auto Salon and looked light years ahead of its time with its futuristic, low-slung lines.
“If you saw it then you’d say, ‘Oh my god, the future has arrived,” said Kinzel.
Functioning, but more of a showpiece
Because Abarth was in the business of making high-performance parts, he adds “it’s kind of like a hot rod.”
Though these days it’s definitely more of showpiece and maybe an occasional Sunday driver.
“It’s been driven, it’s functioning, but it’s more for show for me,” said Kinzel who has restored a fleet of collectibles over the years.
He bought the Abarth, which was in horrific shape, sitting in the back of another collector’s garage.
When that owner saw another car Kinzel had restored he said, ‘I think you’re the man for the job,’ said Kinzel. He then took on the undisclosed expense of restoring the car to its former glory.
The trophy he received for his handiwork is beautiful he says. It’s an art deco sculpture of a very modern car on a granite base.
For now it’s sitting on his coffee table and he jokes, “When I’m in a pine box someday, people will [look, see the trophy] and say, ‘I don’t think we should throw this out.'”