Built as a promotional vehicle, this unique coupe is named Blue Ray or Raggio Azzura after its azure blue and sea foam green two-tone paint scheme. This is the product of several important Italian companies including Vignale, Michelotti and Lancia. At the forefront of these was Nardi who overlooked the entire project in 1958.
Enrico Nardi’s shop known as Nardi & C. S.a.S. was based in Turin and spent a great deal of time supporting the after market industry. They were part of a large cottage industry in Italy that could manufacture custom pieces or even entire cars. Nardi’s most prolific product was the wooden-rimmed steering wheel that used African mahogany, but they also made performance parts and whole racecars under the name Nardi-Danese in the prewar era.
Based in Turin, Nardi shared a great deal of business with Lancia which wasn’t too far away. While Nardi made parts for a whole variety of manufacturers including Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Simca, their relationship with Lancia was special. This started with a Lancia-engined Formula 2 project and later resulted in the car you see here.
Built in 1958, the Blue Ray II followed a similarly extravagant show car from 1955. These were both based on the Lancia Aurelia chassis with minor upgrades from Nardi including their intake manifold. The first car was highly tuned and featured daring styling, so emphasis on the second car was grand touring.
Like the first, Blue Ray II was penned by Giovanni Michelotti who initially designed the Lancia Aprilia Coupè in 1949. For the second Blue Ray, Michelotti dropped the center headlight, bubble-top interior and excessive scoops in favor of much cleaner lines. Included was a protruding front grill with flushed-in headlights, rear tail fins and a very open cockpit. The new aluminum body was completed at the Vignale factory.
Inside, the Blue Ray II has a well appointed leather interior. Immediately in front of the driver is a signature Nardi steering wheel. Above is a sliding Perspex roof that is tinted blue and sets a distinct color balance in the greenhouse.
To create support for the car, Nardi cut up a 4th-series B24 spyder chassis and made an entirely new center section. This used the stock suspension configuration and also increased overall rigidity. The engine was also from a B24, but used a specific Nardi manifold that took air from a single Weber Carburettor.
After hitting the European show circuits the Blue Ray was retired. It was followed by Nardi’s last car called the Silver Ray which was custom-bodied and based on Plymouth engineering.
In 1975, Jim Simpson was only 18 and acquired the Blue Ray II as well as the original Blue Ray a year later. Both cars were eventually restored by his company, Contemporary Classics International in Houston. When completed, the pair was displayed at Pebble Beach in 1990. This was the first time the cars were publicly shown together. At Pebble, Jim ran into Director of Nardi USA, Doug Speer and they agreed another show car should be made. The newly-made Blue Ray III sat on a first-generation Miata chassis and debuted at the 1992 Concorso Italiano beside the two originals.
Sources & Further Reading
Lamm, John. ‘Nardi Blue Rays’. Exotic Cars Quarterly, Spring 1991.
Keramedjian, Janice. Millionaire Magazine’. Unrivaled Azure Dreams, 1992.