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From Italy to the (Pacific) Grove
Collector will bring his rare Fiat to the Concours on Sunday
By MATT PETRIE
Pamplin Media Services
His search began more than a decade ago with a postcard.
Former Lake Oswego resident Rand Wintermute saw the photo on the card, taken in 1959, of a race car with swooping lines and sleek dorsal fin, a scarf-clad driver behind the wheel in front of a cafe. The classic Porsche aficionado knew he had to have one.
'I saw that picture and thought, 'my God, what is that car?'' Wintermute said. 'I started asking other collectors and it took a while to find someone who knew what it was.'
It took even longer for him to find the 70-year-old car itself, a Fiat 508S Balilla Spider. Only about 1,800 Balilla Spiders were made, and fewer than 30 still remain worldwide. Wintermute knows of only two others in the United States.
'I like cars that are different,' said Wintermute, a retired Coast Guard Commander who recently moved to Beaverton. 'I want to have something that no on else has got.'
On Sunday, Wintermute will be showing off his prized possession at this year's Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance. The annual festival, held at Pacific University, features more than 300 vintage cars from around the world, spanning more than 100 years of automotive technology, as well as food and music.
Hosted by the Forest Grove Rotary Club, the nationally acclaimed event funds college scholarships for local students and community service programs throughout the area.
Wintermute is no stranger to the Concours. His wife, Deborah, is an education professor at Pacific. More importantly, he's been collecting classic cars, mostly Porches, for more than 25 years, and has been a Porsche judge at the Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance for five years.
This year, however, he'll be on the other side of the judging table.
After years of hunting all over Europe, he found a 1935 508S Balilla Spider Coppa d'Oro 'Corsa' MM in Brescia, Italy. The car was undergoing a meticulous three-year long restoration. No detail was too small to be overlooked, down to the original steering wheel and the black and yellow 1930s-style Oregon license plate.
The car hugs the line between speed and grace like a hairpin turn on the track. Designed by the venerable Ghia design firm, its sweeping low doors, the lines curving to a rounded point at the tail, accentuated by the shark-like dorsal fin, all hint at the rocket-ship like racing designs that would succeed it. Its red finish, contrasting against the large black 17-inch wheels, gleams a fiery orange hue when it catches the sunlight.
'I always thought this was one of the neatest cars every built.' Wintermute said. 'The beauty of the car is almost breathtaking.'
When his M arrived at the Port of Portland, he knew he would have classic car community bragging rights. In a culture where rarity, authenticity and history are the marks of excellence, the Spider, valued at more than $160,000, is in an elite group.
In addition to the prestigious Forest Grove Concours, the Spider has been offered a coveted spot at the Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif., one of the most exclusive classic car shows in the country, this August.
Wintermute can repeat the car's technical specifications the way most people repeat their address: The hydraulic brakes, an innovation at the time, the 12-volt electrical system.
The Fiat company, struggling internationally under Benito Mussolini's autocratic rule, produced several models of the Balilla in the 1930s, promoting their practicality and fuel economy. The lightweight Spider, weighing only 1,600 pounds, was the elite racing model in the line. Its four-speed, 45-horsepower 4-cylinder engine could reach speed of up to 90 mph, lightning-fast for the time.
Enzo Ferrari, who would go on to found the ultra-high end car company that bears his name, raced a team of four Balilla spiders throughout Europe. Wintermute's Spider raced in the 24-hour Le Mans, and the 1935 Milla Miglia, the source of the 'MM' in the car's name.
Every part of Wintermute's Spider has been buffed, shined and tuned to get ready for Sunday's show, as Wintermute, who retired from the Coast Guard four months ago, has spent much of his newly found free time in the garage.
'All I do now is work on this car,' he said.