In December 1959, Ferrari tantalized the automotive world by displaying an 850cc four-cylinder engine. Using heads quite similar to those found on his V-12s, Ferrari quoted the type 854’s horsepower between 64 and 82, depending upon state of tune.
Following a successful series of bench tests, one engine was installed in a slightly modified Fiat 1200. Subsequently dubbed the Ferrarina (little Ferrari) by the press, rumors began flying that Ferrari was going to produce an inexpensive car.
The project met stiff resistance inside Ferrari. Former sales manager Girolamo Gardini recalled the Ferrarina being a nuisance, a product out of character with the company’s elite image. Yet, with Enzo Ferrari firmly behind it, it would not die.
Ferrari hit pay dirt in 1961 when he sold the rights to produce and construct the car and engine to the owners of a large chemical-manufacturing concern in Milan. Prominent Ferrari client Oronzio De Nora and his son Niccolo called the company ASA (Autoconstruzioni S.A.), and the production prototype of the car was a far cry from the dowdy Ferrarina proposal.
It made its debut at 1961’s Turin show, where it caused a sensation. Motor called it an “excellent example of elegance combined with compactness. Road & Track said, “The [show’s] only headliner was to be found on the Bertone stand. This was the baby Ferrari . . . its clean shape proclaiming it to be the newest style of businessman’s express.”
The production version of the ASA 1000 GT went on sale in 1963. Under the clean Bertone coachwork was a tubular chassis, independent front suspension, and the Ferrari-designed 97-horsepower 1032cc four-cylinder engine.
The press loved the car. In a January 1963 Sports Car Graphic test, Bernard Cahier saw a top speed of 112 mph and found the “brilliant little car” had “superb road handling.”
Despite refinement and impressive performance that belied its 1.0-liter capacity, the ASA 1000 GT languished in the marketplace. It cost approximately 40 percent more in Italy than Alfa’s larger-engined Giulia Sprint, and ASA simply couldn’t translate good reviews into good revenue. Variations, including a beautiful 1000 GT Spider, didn’t change the company’s fortunes, and ASA quietly closed its doors in 1966.