Think the only way to come away with a trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is with a fat stack of money and your best spats on? Guess again.
This is Grant Kinzel’s 1953 Ghia-bodied Fiat Abarth 1100. Isn’t it a sweet little machine? It’s all the best bits of the jet age combined with a hand-formed body that is simultaneously filled with character and devoid of pretentiousness. My favourite detail - the rear of the window glass contains no weatherstripping, instead relying on a perfectly aligned overlapping glass panes. The hood latch is also a thing of beauty, with millimetre-precise fitment.
It’s a wonderful car, with a stunning backstory, which you can read below at one of my usual outlets. It’s all there: the brilliant self-promotion of Carl Abarth, a failed V-8 special, a P-38 Lightning crash, the loss and the decay. But, as ever, the story here isn’t the car, it’s the owner.
Grant is a regular sort of a dude, compact and wiry and filled with boundless energy. Visit his house in a suburb of Calgary and you’d notice a particular orderliness to its architecture, but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s a pretty small garage - and it is jam-packed with tiny little Italian hellions. Michelotti, Abarth, Siata: if you like small displacement engines tuned within an inch of their scrappy little lives, you’d like it here. As an added bonus, even a simple two-car garage can fit an entire squadron of these little bastards because they’re so small.
There, sitting in the corner, unphotographed since 1954, was the Ghia-bodied Abarth. It’s a special machine, a wonderful snapshot of a lost time of craftsmanship. More than that, its perfection is a tribute to Grant’s combination of drive and vision.
It took him five years to build this car, and I do mean “build.” After several decades of neglect, this Ghia-bodied one-off was a pile of rusty detritus, missing everything from glass to the interior. It was a shell of a thing, the type of restoration that’d require a huge investment of time and energy to be brought back from the dead.
As the class winner for pre-war classics rolls across the stage, an entire team cheers - many of these cars are the work of many hands, the shared labour of a dozen experts. I’m not sure that approach could have rescued this little machine; what was required here was a singular vision, an understanding of past masters shaped by years restoring similar cars, skill, and determination.
Grant had all three, and the result is astounding: a first-time entry accepted onto the field; an overall class win against some of the best cars in the world; and then, as a crowning achievement, a nomination for best-in-show. That Isotta Fraschini would take the overall win, but to come this far on your own skill is amazing.
This isn’t a high-roller, this is a guy who painted the car himself in a single-car garage. He didn’t have a transport trailer, a couple of friends helped him get it down there. He didn’t pay money for a restoration shop to get the details right, he studied the few archival photographs of the car that exist and hung the side-trim himself. Research, metalwork, sanding, painting, upholstery, the mechanicals - all the work of one guy, on a one-of-one car where the details were lost to time.
Pebble Beach can seem like a madhouse for the ultra-rich, far beyond the realm of your average car guy. But I watched Grant - clad in a black t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots - climb into his little Fiat and head for the paddock, putting the work of his own two hands next to the finest machines fielded at perhaps the best car show in the world. Respect of the real kind - built, not bought.