By Pete Vack
This article originally appeared in VeloceToday in 2007
As we approached the tomb of what promised to be the long lost Cisitalia D46 (oh, well, there may be more lost D46s, but nevertheless, this one was truly long lost) we wondered if it was really possible that one of the rarest and most treasured Italian race cars ever built had been hidden from sight for over 40 years, and was only one hour from VeloceToday Headquarters? Read Part 1
“Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb had nothing on us..”
After talking with owner Betty Peters at her home in Suffolk, Virginia, we were led out to a corner of a very large lot. Her grandson Bruce pointed to the shed, and said, “Go, see for yourself.”
Covered with years of bushes, the doors of the shed were difficult to open. But even at a glance, it was clear that the chassis did not belong to an American midget, or a Formula Junior. The rusty rails and tubular body supports shouted “Italian”. We stumbled through the shed until we got a good look at the front suspension. The transverse springs, Topolino style, dated the chassis to the early 1950s, as did placement of the front engine.
We were astounded. Though we’ve never seen a real D46, naked or dressed, there was little doubt that this was a Cisitalia D46, based upon historical photos of the chassis. We just needed to find the cowl and the identification tag to make 100% sure of the find.
The body parts were strewn in piles around the chassis, which in turn sat on a trailer which had seen better days. Finding the cowl in the corner, we tried to read the id tag but it was difficult. After a bit of rubbing, the name Cisitalia was visible. But the serial number was so faint we decided not to guess and leave that part of the story to the new owner.
The cowl, and all the aluminum body panels were in great shape. But there was a lot missing, including the detachable steering wheel, the seat, radiator, instruments and instrument panel, all four wire wheels and the entire engine and pre-selector gearbox. The rear end did not look original nor did the brakes. Ouch.
In the engine bay someone had placed a Fiat 1100 engine and transmission, but a quick look told us that the engine was from a much later car, probably an 1100D. The brakes were also 1100D, though we weren’t sure at the time. But it was simply amazing. Howard Carter and Tut’s tomb had nothing on us.
Taking some quick photos just to convince ourselves we weren’t dreaming, we returned to the farmhouse. Betty by now was taking her new found treasure in stride, but it was nice for her to hear that yes, indeed, that piles of bones in the shed was indeed a Cisitalia.
Betty pulled out the photo albums and tried to recall when and why her late husband had bought the Cisitalia. “Wayne was into sports cars and had a Devin bodied kit car. I remember–it must have been about 1967– he traded the Devin for the Cisitalia, then stored it.” She got up to look in the closet again. “There is no paperwork, no photos, and I have no idea how the car came to the U.S. or why.”
“..that pile of bones in the shed was indeed the remains of a Cisitalia D46″
Importing strange cars into the Tidewater area via the Army, Navy and Marines was almost the norm back in the fifties and sixties, but most were either for the street or track. One D46 arrived in the U.S. in the mid-fifties and competed in the Formula Libre events, without much success. But in the late 1950s, the Formula Junior craze caught on the in U.S .and the SCCA made a class for the new, predominantly Italian single-seaters. Our guess was that someone brought the car in to be modified for the new Formula Junior.
It was not long before the enterprising widow found a buyer from Oregon who already owned a Cisi 202. We were to verify the authenticity and, of course, to get the story. The buyer couldn’t believe his luck when he finally sealed the deal.
The story was so unusual, even the local paper picked it up. “A Rare Backyard Find” was given full color first local page coverage by the Newport News Daily Press, apparently impressed that a rusty chassis would fetch over $16,000. And by golly, it wasn’t even a Mustang.
A few weeks later, the car was pieced back together, some of the missing items were found (alas not the engine), wheels were found to fit the Fiat 1100D hubs and the remains of the long lost Cisitalia D46 were loaded onto an 18-wheeler destined for Oregon.
[Although this is an old article, the current owner has promised to provide a full story about the ensuing restoration of this Cisitalia, hopefully very soon.]