• Vincent De Rossi

Not Pretty, but .....

You could call this 1952 Pegaso Z-102 Berlineta ENASA (yes – Berlineta spelt with one ‘t’ – it’s Spanish) a lot of things but beautiful wouldn’t be a word that springs to mind. But you do have to admit, it is breathtaking with its exaggerated yellow curved lines, chrome side pipes, red-wall tyres, green interior and that huge rear Plexiglas-dome.

Wearing the winners ribbon at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance

The Spanish ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones SA) was formed in 1945 when Hispano-Suiza was nationalised. At the helm was Spanish industrial engineer Wilfredo Ricart, who formerly worked as chief engineer for Alfa Romeo, and while there designed the Alfa Romeo Tipo 512.

The Barcelona-based company manufactured military vehicles, trucks and buses under the Pegaso moniker, named after Pegasus, the winged horse in Greek mythology. In 1951, with Government blessing and financial help plus to add a bit of prestige to the brand, ENASA introduced a sports car, the Pegaso Z-102.

Although there is a lot of mystery and myth as to who actually designed and built the Cupula, it’s common knowledge that there has always been a close working relationship with Wilfredo Ricart and Carrozzeria Touring’s boss and chief designer Carlo ‘CiCi’ Bianchi Anderloni but the body of the Cupula apart from the bonnet is made all of steel rather than aluminium and Touring as everyone knows specialised in ‘superleggera’ (superlight) bodywork

Historians conclude that the Cupula is probably a Touring-inspired design by Federico Formenti who in 1952 designed Pegaso’s brochures and was the man responsible for designing Alfa Romeo’s Disco Volante. Carrozzeria Touring and Pegaso collaborated to produce other sportscars and the ‘Thrill’ Berlinetta was one of them (two ‘t’s, this time, built by Italians, there’s a clue).

Two Cupula’s were built, the first a prototype painted cream with light green interior was presented at the 1952 Paris motor show then again in London. Its appearance differed slightly from this yellow Cupula, it had a lower rear dome and was said to be partly scrapped after the shows but was then used as the basis of this yellow Cupula which debuted at the World Motor Show in New York in February 1953 making it the only Cupula in existence.

The Cupula is powered by an all-alloy 2.8-litre naturally aspirated desmodromic 32-valve DOHC V8 engine, fed by a single Weber 36 DCF1 four-barrel carburettor making 280bhp @ 6300rpm, weighing in at 1200kg the Cupula’s top speed is believed to be 140mph, the later Pegaso Z-102 boasted 3.2 litres and was the fastest car on the planet in its day, faster than any car coming out of Italy and England at the time.

In April 1953 Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic from 1930 – 1961 purchased the Cupula at the New York show, but before he took delivery, the Cupula travelled under its own steam on public roads to the Third Annual Autorama in Hartford, Connecticut and back again to New York and rather quickly as its driver was fined for speeding at 130mph, an event that made the newspapers of the day. During the Presidents ownership the Cupula got its nickname ‘El Dominicano.’ President Trujillo was assassinated in 1961 and the Dominican Government took possession of the car. It passed through the hands of several owners, then in the late 1970s reappeared painted silver with a red interior. German collector Peter Kaus acquired the Cupula for his Rosso Bianco museum and later displayed the car at Pebble Beach in 1994.

The Dutch Louwman Museum acquired the Rosso Bianco collection in 2006 which included the Cupula but was never displayed because its 1970s restoration didn’t meet the museum’s high standards. It wasn’t until 2009 that the museum decided to restore the Cupula to its original form as it was presented in New York in 1953 a restoration that would take six years to complete and involve the USA, Italy and the Netherlands.

The hard work paid off when the Cupula returned to the USA to star at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance in Florida and won ‘Best of Show.’

A special thank must go to Martin van der Zeeuw for all his research, without it this story wouldn’t be possible. The Louwman Museum even allowed Martin to drive their precious Pegaso Z-102 'Cupula' back in 2016, a very fortunate man indeed.

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