By Gijsbert-Paul Berk and friends
With over 30 color photos by Hugues Vanhoolandt
Previously in a series of four installments, Gijsbert-Paul Berk covered the prewar beginnings of the Fiat 1100 in 1937 up to the introduction of the Nuovo 103 and the final Italian version, the 1100R which ceased production in 1969. A long and glorious history, to be sure.
But there is always more to this interesting story of one of Italy’s greatest cars. Initially, for this episode, we planned to show just a few of the special-bodied 1100s that graced the auto shows in the 1950s, such as the gorgeous Allemano, below. Then Hugues Vanhoolandt sent along a huge selection of Fiat 1100-based cars that also included many of the sports-racers which used 1100 components. The result is below. And bear with us, the story of a Touch of Dante’s Genius is not done yet!
Postwar Gran Turismo and Sportscars
The transition of the Italian manufacturers from a body-on-a-chassis frame to unit-bodies posed an enormous challenge for the Italian coachbuilders. Only the largest and most advanced carrozzeria had the technical know-how, experience and tooling to build bodies with sufficient torsional rigidity on the floorpan or platform made available by the major car makers. Several firms changed over to the construction of coachwork for trucks and/or busses that still had a chassis frame or specialized as body-repair shops. But the more courageous continued designing and producing special bodies for passenger and sportscars.
Pinin Farina, not only had developed an important design studio working for a number of international clients but at the same time had grown as a well- equipped manufacturer of series of customized bodies and had a long experience making the bodies for the monocoque Lancias. The Fiat 1100/103 TV Pinin Farina coupé made its debut in in 1955. It had the same technical specifications as the four-door saloon. The styling, in particular the roofline and glasshouse was reminiscent of the coupés which Pinin Farina built on Ferrari chassis, with a shorter nose and the letters TV as an ornament in the radiator grill. In total about 100 of these cars were sold through the international Fiat dealer network.
Nuccio Bertone was also ready for the new technology. In 1954 this company got the contract for producing 1.366 complete bodies for the new Giulietta Sprint coupé. Bertone also did work for Abarth, Aston Martin, Citroën, Fiat, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Volvo. In 1953, Bertone showed an advanced design for the Fiat 1100 TV. Its shape shows the mark of Franco Scaglione who worked as chief stylist for Bertone; Scaglione would later design the famous aerodynamic BATs.
Alfredo Vignale, whose bodyshop had established a close working relation with designer Giovanni Michelotti, concentrated mainly on building prototypes and concept cars.The company also produced a small series of Fiat specials such as the 850 Samantha, the Fiat 124 Eveline and the retro style Vignale Gamine. In 1956 Vignale produced a small number of Fiat 1100s by the name Désirée, as the lines were very attractive.
Allemano exhibited a Fiat 1100 coupé and a similar cabriolet at the 1953 Turin Auto Show. Both were designed by Michelotti. But perhaps their finest effort came in 1954 with the stunning car as seen in our lead photo.
Ghia also built a line of Fiat 1100/103 TVs with a custom coupé body. Many were designed by Felice Mario Boano. He was a partner with Ghia until 1953, and then started a coachbuilding company under his own name.
It is believed that five or six Fiat Zagato 1100 Es were built. Of the three still in existence. They were the lightest and most competitive of the 1100/103 efforts. Zagato also had no problem putting elegent little bodies on the new Fiat 600 platform.
These and many more are below, courtesy of Hugues Vanhoolandt.
1100 cc Sports Racers
The Fiat 1100, sired from the earlier 508 and reinvented with Dante Giacosa’s new head design, was never meant to power a race car, or to compete in the 1100 cc classes all over the world. It was a simple pushrod unit designed to power a generation of sedans for the Italian middle class.
Nevertheless, in addition to Fiat’s own 1100 S series of streamlined coupes, the 1100 was used to power an untold number of Italian specials built to compete in the Italian National Sport Category until 1960.
Unlike the coachbuilt 1100s above, few if any of the sports racers used the 1100 chassis, but like the 1948 Gilco below, used a variety of home-built lightweight chassis, often using Fiat suspension and final drive components. Some makers, like Ermini and Stanguellini produced a twin overhead camshaft head for the 1100 block, but these were rare then and even rarer today.
In post war racing, the 1100 class was a feature of many racing venues, including Le Mans, where the 751-1100cc class was contested until the 1960s. But at Le Mans, the Fiat-engined sports racers never stood a chance against the Porsche 356 and the 1100 cc Porsche 550 Spyders. The Mille Miglia incorporated an 1100 cc class in the International Sports Catagory until 1954 when the class was changed to 1500 cc. In the U.S., the SCCA kept the popular under-one liter H-modified class but often combined the 1100 cc cars into the 1500 cc class as well. In both cases, it provided few opportunities for an 1100 cc based car to be competitive. The nail in the coffin was not only the 1100 cc Porsches and OSCAs but the Lotus 9 powered by the 1100 cc Coventry Climax engine which appeared in 1955.
Nevertheless, there were many interesting specials constructed in Italy, and below Hugues Vanhoolandt gives us a small selection of those rare and often beautiful 1100 cc sports racers. Please note that the information in the captions may not be 100 percent accurate given the often unreliable entry lists and individual nature of each car.