Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

| 28 Oct 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

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Enzo Ferrari has indirectly been responsible for some spectacular cars.

Without the numerous frustrations and disagreements with Il Drake, such marques as Monteverdi, ATS and Lamborghini might never have been born.

The most surprising of all was the super-exotic Pegaso, a technical wonder built in the old Hispano-Suiza factory at La Sagrera in Barcelona that set the automotive press buzzing when launched at the 1951 Paris Salon.

Its instigator was the proud Wifredo Ricart, who during his challenging time as design director at Alfa Romeo from 1936-’45 didn’t see eye-to-eye with Ferrari.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

Many of his radical projects at Portello, from the Auto Union-style Tipo 512 Grand Prix racer to a 28-cylinder, 50-litre aero engine, never went beyond the prototype stage.

Ferrari and Ricart had very different philosophies, as revealed in Enzo’s autobiography, and when the Spaniard returned home to take up the reins at ENASA, the newly formed national commercial vehicle company, he harboured ambitions to finally make his mark in the automotive world with the ultimate sports car.

He enlisted Ettore Pagani, his chief draughtsman at Alfa, and a number of other key personnel, no doubt tempting them with promises of the future GT project.

After managing ENASA’s launch, Ricart set about building a facility to develop and produce his dream machine.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

First the factory was lavishly equipped with the latest and most sophisticated tooling, Ricart maintaining that his young apprentices needed to learn with the best.

Then he proposed his plan to Francisco Franco to build a sports car to rival any country – particularly Italy, where his old adversary was developing a new V12 road car.

Every aspect of Ricart’s design had to be more advanced and sensational to upstage anything from Maranello.

Such blinkered pride and determined ambition was to be his ultimate downfall, with Ricart ’s dream ending in 1956 after just 86 cars.

Overly complex and predictably temperamental, these handbuilt, exclusively priced machines would develop a near mythological status in automotive history.

And while Ferrari became a byword for ultimate performance on road and track, few remember the name of the Spanish engineer.

To see Ricart fail wasn’t enough for the Italian great, and in his autobiography Enzo’s critical assessment was mocking and dismissive.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

At the heart of Ricart’s machine was a fabulous all-alloy 90º V8 with four overhead camshafts driven by gears rather than chains, as originally planned.

The high specification continued with bucket-type cam followers, sodium-cooled exhaust valves, hemispherical combustion chambers, a dry sump and a Bosch magneto rather than more practical coils.

The unusual oversquare design started at 2472cc but with increased bore soon became 2816cc. Ricart rarely released power figures, but it’s estimated at around 165bhp, increasing to 225bhp for the ultimate supercharged motor.

The V8 revved to 9000rpm on the factory dyno before the power curve began to flatten, but for road use there was a precautionary electric cutout above 6000rpm.

A variety of carburetion set-ups was offered, including a single Weber for touring, twin carburettors for amateur competition, or an all-out race spec with four 36DCF3s that must have been a challenge to tune.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

Beyond the engine there was no stopping the advanced specification, including a five-speed transaxle that improved cockpit space.

The light-alloy gearbox housing featured a constant-mesh geartrain, which allowed lightning-fast clutchless changes.

The transmission even had its own independent lubrication system complete with pump, filter and dipstick.

The strange shift pattern was a mirror of a standard gate, with first on a dogleg over to the right and the fourth-fifth plane nearest to the driver.

A ZF-type limited-slip differential was among the few components not designed and made in Spain, while the extremes of engineering were typified by the propshaft, which rotated at engine speed and was precision-drilled down the middle with a borer, allowing metered oil to lubricate the universal joints at each end.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The innovation didn’t stop there. The radical chassis used a strong pressed-steel structure built up from welded rectangular sections, while the suspension was independent with wishbones and longitudinal torsion bars at the front.

The rear featured a de Dion set-up with transverse torsion bars. Long, tapered radius arms extended rearwards to a fulcrum point in the extreme tail, a layout not unlike that of Ricart’s Alfa Romeo 512.

The brakes were huge light-alloy drums with the rears mounted inboard, all operated by Lockheed-type hydraulics with twin master cylinders, and the Borrani-style wire wheels featured distinctive knock-off spinners.

In the stylish and beautifully trimmed cockpit, the detailing was equally impressive. The low seats were advanced for the early 1950s, with one-piece aluminium backrests to form the frame on which the pleated leather and padded sides offered superior support.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The order book had a wide choice of options, as typified by the fuel tank: it could be 26, 43 or 55 gallons.

A radio, air conditioning and fitted luggage were available had you the funds beyond a hefty 410,000 pesetas for the Berlinetta, or 395,000 for the Super Sport spider.

The steering ratios ranged from 2.5 turns from lock-to-lock to an ultra-quick 1.7. Although criticised in later road tests for its heavy action, the 11-joint system from the beefy worm-and-wheel box demands skill to rebuild, and restored cars aren’t always representative.

The Autocar’s chief road tester Gordon Wilkins maintained in his scoop 1951 test that the steering was light and accurate, but the few who’ve driven a Pegaso report that the clutch and brake require considerable muscle.

The initial styling was done in-house and the lumpen, heavy proportions of the coupé made it look like a scaled-up tin toy.

Made of steel, its deep, flat sides didn’t flatter the specification underneath, and only emphasised the Z-102’s compact 92in wheelbase –10in shorter than the beautiful Jaguar XK120.

While other designers in the early ’50s continued to use the grille as a nose feature, Ricart boldly went with a trapezoidal air intake split by a single vertical bar.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly
Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The Pegaso name was Ricart’s idea, but the mythical flying horse had to be redrawn without wings for the badge after worries of legal action from American petrol giant Mobil.

The initial plan had been to give all ENASA products the names of famous horses, but the designation Pegaso stuck. No doubt Ricart had Ferrari’s muscular Cavallino Rampante in mind when he conceived the slimmer flying equine.

Ricart had a reputation for a focused mind with a deaf ear to criticism, but clearly the cool comments about the factory styling hurt his pride in the early years.

In 1952 the Spaniard sought help from Carlo Anderloni, an old acquaintance from his time at Alfa. The subsequent commission with Carrozzeria Touring to produce a coupé and spider resulted in the definitive Pegaso look, as well as the dramatic ‘Thrill’ show car that first wowed visitors at the Turin Salon in April 1953.

To promote the new marque, Ricart’s team produced a line of striking prototypes including the now long-lost Bitorpedo record car, and the futuristic Cúpula concept coupé that tempted Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic, when it was first shown at the 1953 New York Auto Show.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

To expose the Pegaso’s impressive specification, a show chassis and body were made from Perspex and proved a magnet for enthusiasts at international events including Paris, London and New York in 1952.

No aspect of the Spanish firm’s ambitious plans were as frustrating as its motorsport exploits, starting with the Monaco Grand Prix when it was run as a sports-car race in 1952.

The new Z-102s were too heavy, with weak brakes, and were swiftly withdrawn.

Speed tests revealed the Pegasos to be genuinely fast, but sorties to Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana were disastrous, ending eventually in the death of factory test driver Joaquín Palacio. However, at home in private hands it proved competitive.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The glamorous Z-102B with special red-wall tyres featured here is one of 18 cars bodied by Saoutchik between 1952 and ’54.

Ricart thought that using a French coachbuilder might boost the firm’s sales in the country, but just three were sold despite extensive press coverage and a regular presence at the Paris Salon with new models.

From an estimated 86-car production total, this was the second highest number sold outside Spain, where 77 found buyers. America proved even more disappointing, with just two sales.

Saoutchik had a long tradition of creating some of the most spectacular-looking automobiles.

Founded in 1906 by Russian-born émigré Jacques Saoutchik, who had trained as a cabinetmaker, the coachbuilder really made its mark in the 1930s with a succession of designs for the likes of Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes-Benz and Bucciali.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

After the Second World War, Saoutchik produced a series of coupé bodies for the fabulous Talbot-Lago T26 Sport, but many of its designs were over-egged with chrome embellishments and even gilt detailing.

The most extreme was a Delahaye built for English pin-up Diana Dors (C&SC, September 2010), leading to Saoutchik’s nickname ‘Viollet-le-Duc’ after the French Gothic Revival architect.

Like many traditional coachbuilding firms, Saoutchik was struggling during the early 1950s and the contract from Ricart was a lifeline.

The first discussions began at the 1951 Paris Salon when the prototype ENASA cabriolet was revealed. Surely influenced by the criticisms about the heavy look of the factory-built bodywork, Saoutchik and Touring were invited to produce fresh ideas.

In the workshops at Neuilly-sur-Seine a flamboyant-looking cabriolet was created, the odd aesthetics trying to meld two eras with a defined rolling wing line matched to the all-enveloping main body and rectangular grille opening.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

Saoutchik had to extend the main platform with outriggers, which resulted in an ungainly overhang around the wheelarches.

In contrast, Anderloni’s styling proposals at Touring created a stepped sill that wrapped under the body for a sleeker look.

Every Saoutchik body was handbuilt and no two designs were identical, with bespoke features usually incorporated.

Odd details included downturned doorhandles and various bumper designs, from individual overrider hoops, as here, to full-width body protection.

By then in his 70s, Jacques Saoutchik was leaving more responsibility to his son, Pierre. Aware of the firm’s outdated reputation, he had Philippe Charbonneaux and Paul Bracq produce a futuristic maquette of a streamlined coupé body for the second-series Z-102 that looked very like the Dual-Ghia.

The final result was more conventional, however, with a Jaguar XK-style pillarless roofline but with distinctive headlight pods, swept-back extended arches, side vents and – at last – flush doorhandles.

The best looking of all was the final BS2 coupé, which featured a lower, sleeker roofline. Pegaso would be Saoutchik’s last major contract – a year later the renowned coachbuilder closed its doors.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The most spectacular of the early Saoutchik-bodied BS1 Pegasos was chassis 126, which was a regular at concours events in France from 1953-’54 including Cannes and Deauville.

Finished in white with whitewall tyres, this showstopper featured a leopardskin interior and was often shown with a model in matching dress.

The first owner was Baron von Thyssen, the Swiss billionaire art collector. After the body eventually rotted away it became the basis for a replica of the ‘Rabassada’ spider race car.

One of the last Z-102s bodied by Saoutchik was a cabriolet based on a Series III platform. Finished in a cool Wedgewood-style blue, its unique body originally featured a low, speedboat-style ’screen with no frame top.

It was first shown at the 1954 Paris Salon and was later a star of the 1954 San Remo Concours d’Élegance, but eventually its first owner found the open body too flexible on rough local roads and had it converted into a coupé.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

The Z-102B shown here, chassis 0146,was originally painted black with grey leather trim, and was also displayed at the 1954 Paris Salon in the Grand Palais, where local Jean-Claude Lamy was lured into purchasing it.

A keen enthusiast, he entered several competitions including the ’54 Rallye PanArmoricaine, and the following year’s Rallye Sablé-Solesmes.

Like so many European exotics, the Saoutchik coupé found its way to America where Don Rickert drove it around Alabama until May 1964, when it was sold to Bill Harrah, the gambling industry magnate who added the Pegaso to his ever-growing collection in Reno, Nevada.

Harrah kept the highly original Z-102B in his 1450-car museum until his death in 1978.

Holiday Inn took over the collection, which was greatlyreduced throughaseries of auctions, and the Pegaso was acquired by Ralph Engelstad for the ImperialPalace Auto Collection in Las Vegas.

Classic & Sports Car – Pegaso Z-102: born to fly

In 2017 the museum closed and the Pegaso was sold on and totally restored to Pebble Beach standards. 

TheSaoutchik bodywork was enhanced with a more glamorous two-tone paint scheme inspired by the Series BS2 Éspecial.

In February 2019, 76 years after its debut in the Grand Palais, the Saoutchik coupé returned to Paris for Rétromobile, where it was displayed on the stand of dealer Thomas Hamann.

Noble failures have a unique appeal. Created without a national legacy of performance cars, this handmade GT was clearly influenced by other cultures, but still has a strong Spanish character.

Had Ricart been less ambitious, Pegaso could have succeeded and La Sagrera migh ttoday be as hallowed as Maranello.

Images: Uwe Breitkopf

Thanks to Hamann Classic Cars, where the Pegaso is for sale


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