Going into business for yourself requires a sense of timing, a degree of skill in your chosen field, some (make that plenty) startup capital, and perhaps above all a bold vision. Pietro Frua showed that he understood the latter when he debuted his striking take on the Fiat 1100C, a car that will head to auction next month.
As World War II wound down, Frua – who had worked for Stabilimenti Farina before the war as a draftsman and general manager and repaired automobiles during the war – envisioned greater demand for custom-designed and coachbuilt vehicles, so he bought a bombed-out factory on Turin’s Via Giovanni da Verrazzano, hired 15 employees, and established Carrozzeria Frua.
Frua already had plenty of contacts in the world of Italian automakers, but he needed to show that world not only what he could do but also how his design work stood apart from his many competitors. So through fellow Turin firm Carrozzeria Balbo, which was already getting started on its own take on the Fiat 1100, Frua ordered his own 1100, chassis number 279906.
The Fiat 1100 – an economical, staid, upright workaday saloon – wouldn’t attract the kind of attention at a concours that a big rowdy sports car would, but Frua didn’t have much money to spend on the project and figured many Italians recovering from the war didn’t have Alfa Romeo money either, according to the Bonhams auction description for the car.
To transform the Fiat into something attention-grabbing, he removed the entire body and aimed to replace it with a two-seat spider, something as low and modern as possible. Instead of separate front and rear fenders, he designed a full envelope body with hardly a seam to be seen. He plunged the headlamps down to just above street level and mounted them at either side of a wide five-bar grille, about as far apart as he could while keeping them set within the body. Equally as daring, he ran a high ridge along the center of the grille and hood and extended it onto the decklid to create a unique domineering fin between the tall kickups over the rear wheels.
Frua finished the spider in less than three months and sold it right away but wasn’t able to secure its first public showing until September 1947 when Fiat dealer Alvise DePasquale entered it in the Concorso di Como Coppa Villa d’Este.
The judges at Como merely gave it a Second Prize of Merit in its class, but Italian automotive press hailed the Frua-bodied Fiat’s “sobriety and modernity of line” and declared it a sea change in styling. The little Fiat did its job well and helped Frua land design work for Ghia-Aigle, production work for Nardi Danese, and eventually design work for Maserati. From that latter relationship came the A6G/2000, another car that used low headlamps, a bold grille, and envelope styling to great effect.
Though it went through a few more owners over the next couple years, in 1950 the Fiat sold to a Mr. Monti in Pavia, who then kept it for 33 years and at some point painted it red. Subsequent owners than ran it in the 2016 Mille Miglia Storica before sending it to Carrozzeria Gatti Luciano in Bergamo for restoration. It has since been shown at the 2017 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, at the 2017 Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace, at the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto, and at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Frua Fiat is now scheduled to cross the block as part of Bonhams’s Scottsdale auction, where it is expected to sell for $650,000 to $850,000. Another early Frua-designed and Frua-bodied car, a 1951 Maserati A6G/2000 Spider, will headline that same auction.
The Bonhams Scottsdale auction will take place January 17. for more information, visit Bonhams.com.