The Hot Bid: Kicking the tires on a futuristic concept car

La Shabbla, the futuristic concept car designed by the late John Bucci. Everard Auctions & Appraisals image

What you see: La Shabbla, a futuristic concept car designed by the late John Bucci. Everard Auctions & Appraisals estimates it at $50,000 to $75,000.

The expert: Amanda Everard of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

Who was John Bucci? He was an Italian-American who grew up in an area of northern Italy that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. He immigrated around 1959 and found ultimate freedom after coming to America, but he didn’t have a car. He built himself the car of the future, which would get noticed. He drove it around Chicago.

He didn’t have money for a car, so he built one instead? Did he not realize that it would be more expensive to build one? I don’t know him, but I talked to people who did. Bucci had a magnetism about him. He was also an electrical engineer. His mind was always working. His widow said his motto was “nothing is impossible.” If he didn’t have it, he’d create it.

La Shabbla apparently means “sword.” Do we know why he gave his futuristic concept car that name? He chose it because the car’s aerodynamic form could cut or slice through the air. That was the thinking behind it.

Did Bucci have any experience making futuristic concept cars before starting work on La Shabbla? No, he had no experience, but he was an electrical engineer. He was very outgoing, and he would learn as he went.

And he did this alone? No assistants? As far as I know, yes.

Bucci built La Shabbla on a Fiat chassis and powered it with a Fiat Abarth 750 engine. Everard Auctions & Appraisals image

How long did it take him to finish this futuristic concept car? I asked his widow that, and she didn’t know exactly. He immigrated in 1959 and La Shabbla was in its first custom car show in 1962, so it took at least that long – a couple of years.

Do we know why he chose to build La Shabbla on a Fiat chassis with an Abarth 750 engine? Because it had a potent engine and a compact size.

So Bucci bought a car to make a car … I guess buying a car like everyone else does wasn’t satisfying for him? This was the car of his imagination and his dreams. He couldn’t buy it off a lot. He was the center of attention. He got all the looks.

While we’re calling La Shabbla a futuristic concept car, it doesn’t really fit the strict definition of a concept car. It was never meant for mass production, and never meant to influence car designs that might go in to mass production. It was always for Bucci’s use alone. Yes? That’s correct. His widow said it identified him as an American. It was his American dream.

He designed the body of the futuristic concept car out of fiberglass. Was fiberglass a novel material in the early 1960s? Or was it well-established by then? It was invented in the late 19th century and was used in car design starting in 1949, but not for production cars until later in the 1950s. Bucci liked it because it was resilient and lightweight.

How does La Shabbla show Bucci’s mastery of fiberglass? I don’t think he mastered it. He trained himself, essentially. It’s certainly a slick form, very futuristic. If you look at films from the era that look into the future – 1950s space films – it has that look. I always think of the Jetsons flying cars when I see it.

John Bucci behind the wheel of his custom car at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Everard Auctions & Appraisals image

How did Bucci manage to wrangle permission to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World’s Fair? My assumption is he was seen driving around Chicago or it was seen at one of the custom car shows. General Motors (GM) executives talked to him and wanted him to work for them, but he wanted to remain independent. The executives got him a pass for the 1964 World’s Fair. He drove the car from Chicago to New York. I assume he drove it alone. He was a very determined individual.

What happened once he brought his futuristic concept car to the fair? He wanted to drive it on the actual fairground. He wanted a photo op with the globe behind it. He asked for a pass and was told no. Day two, he was told no. Day three, the guy [in charge of fairground permissions] said, “I don’t know who you know, but here’s your pass.” He took shots with the globe behind him. He knew it would be a timeless thing.

Where within the 1964 World’s Fair was his futuristic concept car displayed? In the Transportation Pavilion, in the Cavalcade of Custom Cars.

A period article from 1964 says La Shabbla was “valued at over $250,000”. Did that number come from Bucci? It came directly from Bucci. He was a self-promoter. He felt his blood, sweat, and tears were worth $250,000.

Under the hood of Bucci’s La Shabbla. Everard Auctions & Appraisals image

What happened to Bucci’s futuristic concept car after the 1964 World’s Fair ended? It stayed with him the whole time. He stored it for a while, and when he got a new studio in Chicago, he displayed it there. [Bucci died in February 2019.]

Is La Shabbla drivable? No, not currently.

What is the futuristic concept car like in person? It’s so sleek, like a real-life Jetsons vehicle–the car of the future in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s a very sleek, very sexy car.

Have you sat in it? How could I not? I couldn’t resist. It has amazing woven blue leather bucket seats. Very comfortable.

Does it still have its engine? It has an engine, but we have not turned it on. It probably hasn’t been turned on for a long time.

What features does the futuristic concept car have? Were any of them novel or innovative for their time? It has retractable headlights and a retractable V-shaped steering wheel. The passenger side windshield goes up and down. And it has an 8-track tape reel on the passenger side.

What is your favorite detail of La Shabbla? The seats. They’re just so sexy, like Bottega Venetta woven leather. And they’re eye-catching. The blue pops with the color of the car.


La Shabbla is equipped with Bottega Venetta woven leather seats. Everard Auctions & Appraisals image

Did Bucci design La Shabbla without doors, or did it have them and lose them over time? It was designed with no doors.

Did he give the futuristic concept car a hardtop or a removable dome? No. It was a sunny day car. [Laughs]. It needs a garage.

Does it have an odometer? It does not appear to have one.

How did you set the estimate for this futuristic concept car? [Laughs] It’s clearly hard to set a value on a one-of-one car by an unknown designer. I spoke to colleagues in the collector car field and developed a gut feeling on what it will bring. Concept cars at auction are mostly made by manufacturers, so they get high-flying prices. I would love for this to do that, but I don’t know that an unknown designer can bring that. There’s not a huge amount known about him, and there should be.

Why will this futuristic concept car stick in your memory? For me, it’s always about the story. I never knew John Bucci, but I feel like I do through his artwork and the cars I’m selling for the family. His widow said she felt the car defined him. That’s what will stick with me–optimism and possibilities and a dream coming true.

How to bid: The futuristic concept car is lot 0020 in Concept Cars & Art from the John Bucci Estate, a sale taking place at Everard Auctions & Appraisals on October 14, 2020.

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By SHEILA GIBSON STOODLEY

Sheila Gibson Stoodley is a journalist and the author of The Hot Bid, which features intriguing lots coming up at auction.