Carats & Cars

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 04/2009
  • posted in: Great Garages

Scott Gauthier designs jewelry and drives jewelry.

One of the Valley’s finest custom jewelers, Scott has been producing one-off rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other pieces for 20 years — all of them from his Old Town Scottsdale studio. Jewelry By Gauthier, 4211 North Marshall Way. At the same time, he’s collected cars — fine automobiles that he restores, drives, races and often just admires in his garage.

The father of three grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and is old enough to know Bart Starr from Bart Simpson. As a student at the University of Wisconsin/Madison, he worked in a local jewelry store for gas money to fill his green ’69 Camaro, a car he still owns — now completely restored. “I have always loved cars,” he says.

“I always wanted to create unique jewelry, so after graduating I looked around at places to start my career,” he recalls. “In Arizona, there was a lot of turquoise and silver, but there was plenty of room to expand. So that’s where I came, and I have never looked back.”

His collection today comprises 18 cars — dominated by classics designed by Italian Ugo Zagato, who, until his death in 1968, produced custom automobiles characterized by curves and aerodynamics. Many of the Zagato’s attained significant racing success — one of the aspects of their legendary name and Scott’s particular interest in them. “They’re handmade, unique, one of a kind,” he says. “I love their beauty and elegance, their simple clean designs.”

Scott shares his Scottsdale collector garage with another Valley car enthusiast, businessman Bill Pope. The two are considering opening their extensive collection as a museum to share with the community.

Three of Scott’s collection are a 1949 Fiat 750mm Topolino Zagato (SN# 168191); a 1954 Fiat 8V Zagato Elaborata (SN# 0022); and a 1961 Alfa Romeo SZ2 (Coda Trunka).

Only two of the eight purpose-built racing 750mm Topolino’s produced by Zagato are known to exist. Fitted with a 500cc engine that produced 13 horsepower, the Fiat Topolino was extremely popular in Italy, with some 520,000 produced from 1936–1955. Zagato saw the racing potential and produced about 40 of these, followed by the eight highly modified racers such as Scott’s. He upped the displacement to 600 cc, getting 17 horsepower, and also redesigned the body for lightness and aerodynamics.

The Topolino’s original owner raced the car in the 1949 Mille Miglia — finishing fourth in class with an average speed of 57 miles per hour over a run of 1,000 miles. A complete restoration was completed in 2000, followed by an invitation for display at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in 2001.

The “Elaborata” was Fiat’s response to the Maserati and Ferrari challenge in the 1950s. Fiat decided to build a two-liter V-8 engine on a new chassis. But the public was fixed, apparently, on the economy branding, so the company sold many of the engines and chassis to other Italian coach builders, such as Zagato, which bought 24 chassis.

“Elaborata” is “modified” in Italian: Zagato lowered and rounded the front nose for better aerodynamics, opened the grill for better cooling and replaced the hood, trunk, roof and doors with aluminum. The interior was also modified for racing. Bubbles were added for head room while retaining aerodynamics. Scott’s Elaborata Zagato’s is just one of five; it won third place at Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in 2005.

The Coda Trunka (truncated tail) was a fire sale, of sorts. After Lotus began chipping away at the Alfa racing dominance, Alfa asked the Zagato factory to improve the original SZ. Ugo’s son, Elio, took the original SZ (round tail) and chopped off the long tail. Elio immediately cut the times significantly with the “cut tail” car. Zagato produced 11 more examples, and Scott’s car is one of the survivors.

Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati all chose the cut tail design the next year. After being acquired in 2002, the car was restored and placed first at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in 2005.

When Scott’s taking a break from creating his unique jewelry designs, he’s out enjoying one of these unique cars. Which is the jeweler’s favorite gemstone? “Whichever one I’m driving; I love all of them.”

Note: This begins a series on great car collections in Arizona and neighboring states.