Historic Car Brands
Since the early days the Agnelli family has been synonymous with FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino). Giovannni Agnelli was one of the founders and led the company until his death in 1945.
FIAT was preceded by Giovanni Ceirano’s Welleyes bicycle company that developed its first car in 1899. That vehicle was the basis of the first FIAT, after Ceirano signed an agreement with Agnelli and his colleagues.
The first FIAT plant opened in 1900 with 35 staff making 24 cars. This first model had a Ceirano-designed, 697cc ‘boxer’ twin engine that developed 3.5hp. New engineer, Enrico, produced a Mercedes-inspired, four-cylinder, front-engined model in 1902.
In 1903 FIAT produced 135 cars and the armoured wood chassis was replaced by pressed steel in 1904. Production grew to 1149 cars by 1906, at which time the ‘FIAT’ name became ‘Fiat’ – Latin for: ‘let it be done’.
Engine size grew astronomically and the 1905 Fiat had a 10-litre four that produced a heady 60hp. The 1907 six displaced 11 litres and had compressed-air starting.
Exports to the USA began in 1908. Fiats were expensive, at around five times the price of a Ford Model T.
Fiat was a major contender in Grand Prix racing and employed many of the leading drivers of the era.
1913 Fiat Tipo Zero Farina body – National Motor Museum UK
The first mass-produced Fiat was the Tipo Zero 12/15 of 1912, with 1.9-litre, four-cylinder engine.
During Word War I Fiat produced trucks, ambulances, aircraft, engines and machine guns.
1919 Fiat 501 – Victoria Museum Collection
After the War, Fiat released the Tipo 501, powered by a 1.5-litre, side-valve four, with a four-speed box that featured a stump-pulling first ratio. It was said to have only 51 ball bearings in the entire vehicle, compared with more typical 1000! Some 45,000 501s were made between 1920 and 1926.
A sporting 501S appeared in 1921 and four-wheel brakes, in 1923.
1922 Fiat 519 Series1 Coupe de Ville
At the other end of the product range were the large-car 519 and 520 models. The V12, 6.8-litre SuperFiat was the only V12 in the world at that time. More practical 4.8-litre, overhead-valve six and smaller-capacity side-valve models were also available. The six was still listed in 1929.
In 1925 the advanced, 990cc, overhead-camshaft Tipo 509 was released. Despite its modest size and performance the Tipo 509 attracted a posh clientele, including the Italian and Yugoslavian royal families and production totalled 90,000 vehicles by 1929.
Sporting 509S and Sport Monza variants with improved crankshaft lubrication could achieve 65mph. A few supercharged, 80mph MM models were made. (In Britain, Swallow – later Jaguar – built saloon bodies for the 509.)
1932 Fiat Balilla Sport
‘Balilla’ was the name given to the 508S, two-seater that was derived from the four-seater 508 model, launched in 1932. “Balilla’ also happened to be name given to Mussolini’s fascist youth equivalent of the Hitler Youth in Germany. However, Fiat insisted it was dedicated to a Genoese patriot youth of the 18th Century,
Whatever its real derivation, the 508S was initially powered by the 508’s side-valve, four-cylinder that displaced one litre and produced 20hp. However, it received progressive upgrades, including a Siata overhead-valve cylinder head and, by 1936, was producing 36hp.
The Balilla was licence-built by NSU in Germany; in Czechoslovakia by Walter; in Poland by Polski-Fiat and in France by Simca, who also offered a Gordini-tuned version.
Although Fiat withdrew from Grand Prix racing in 1927, its cars still participated in high-profile races, such as the Mille Miglia. In these events most Fiats were sports editions of the highly successful ‘Balilla’ range.
1938 Fiat 1500B – Ekki01
The X-chassis 1500, with streamlined bodywork, was released in 1936 and featured Dubonnet-type independent front suspension. This model carried on after Word War II, with an American-style, horizontal-bar grille.
1936 Fiat 500 Coupe Topolino – Dave7
1936 was a big year for Fiat, thanks to the introduction of the small Topolino 500 (Mickey Mouse) that became an instant success. Initially launched with a 570cc, four-cylinder, side-valve engine it later acquired overhead valves and continued in production until 1955. More than half a million Topolinos were built.
In 1937, the Millecento 1100 – derived from the 508 – was released. The updated six, now with 2.8-litre displacement, continued.
1947 Fiat 1100S
During Word War II, Fiat produced combat equipment, including aircraft, tanks and trucks.
1948 Fiat Giardiniera
Pre-War models continued until 1950, when the 1400cc four-cylinder model was released.
1952 Fiat 8V
In 1952 the two-litre 105-127hp 8V coupe was a sensation, if not a commercial success. Only 114 cars were made and some were graced with outstanding bodywork.
The 8V had many racing successes in private owners’ hands, while the late 1950s saw the introduction of ‘Formula Junior’ class of racing and Fiat-engined cars were very successful in the early years.
1953 Fiat 1100
The Nuova 1100 appeared in 1953, with unitised body/chassis construction.
In 1955 the Topolino was replaced by the rear-engined 600 that sold at the rate of around 200,000 per annum until 1960.
1956 Fiat Multipla
The 500cc, two-cylinder, rear-engined Tipo 500 was launched in 1957 and continued until 1972, by which time some three million had been sold.
In 1964 the rear-engined 850 was launched and was available in sedan and coupe body styles. Abarth made a racing 850.
The 124 series arrived in 1966, with 1200cc and 1450cc engines, and became a popular licence-built Fiat model in Eastern bloc countries.
Fiat 124 Spider – Pujanak
The 124 Spider sports car was launched in 1966, with a twin-cam, 1400cc engine that later grew to 1600cc.
At the top end of the Fiat range in 1966 came the Dino Spider and Coupe models, powered by Ferrari’s two-litre V6 engine. This was a clever way for Ferrari to homologate its two-litre V6 for Formula Two racing, where engines had to be production-derived, with a minimum production run of 500 units.
1966 Fiat Dino Spider
In 1967 Fiat introduced the twin-cam, 1600cc 125 model, plus the 1500cc 1500L, the six-cylinder 1800cc 1800B and 2300.
The 2300 gave way to the new V6-powered 130 in 1969.
Fiat took over Lancia in 1969, picking up a successful Formula One racing team in the process and also took a 50-percent share in Ferrari. Abarth was added to the stable in 1971.
Also in 1971 came the front-wheel-drive 127, with east-west 900cc and 1050cc engines; and the 128, with 1100cc and 1300cc engines.
In 1971 the Fiat 124 Sport Spider was prepared for the World Rally Championship when Abarth became involved with its production and development and from 1972 had relative success with two wins in 1972, one in 1973 and won 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 1974 Portuguese TAP Rally.
The Tipo 132 was Fiat’s ‘bigger four-cylinder car’ in 1972, with 1600cc and 2000cc engines.
The Mirafiori 131 arrived in 1974, succeeding the 124, with 1300cc and 1600cc engines. An Abarth version was good for 230km/h in racing trim.
The Fiat 131 Abarth was a very successful rally car that replaced the 124. Between 1976 and 1981 the Fiat 131 won 18 World Rally Championship events, resulting in winning the WRC Drivers Championship two times: in 1978, and in 1980, and winning the WRC Constructors Championship three times: in 1977, 1978, and in 1980.
The X1/9 was a mid-engined two-seater, introduced in 1973, with a 1300cc engine that grew to 1500cc in 1978.
1994 Fiat Barchetta
Lancia took over the role of motorsport for the Fiat Group during the 1980s. After a long break of factory-supported entries, in 2003 a Fiat Punto S1600 won the Italian Rally Championship, and 2006 the Fiat Grande Punto S2000 won the FIA European Rally Championship, followed by three successive wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011.