Open Menu
Open Menu

Land of great dreamers and valiant artists: The rest of the coachbuilt Fiat 1400 story

Published in

The very interesting Savio landaulet in a full color pic

[Editor’s Note: For the final part of the Fiat 1400 series, Matteo Giacon delves into some of the lesser-known coachbuilders’ efforts to transform the Fiat 1400. You can find earlier parts to the series here.]

After taking a look at a wide sample of the various Fiat 1400s and 1900s crafted by some of the most revered names in the Italian carrozzerie’ scenery, it is now time to focus our attention toward lesser known names, but nonetheless important, and not only because of what they were able to do using the Turin’ midsize as a work platform. They are important just as their more prestigious colleagues and precisely for the same reasons: they gave opportunities to talents and artists, and they were often able to propose something new, something never seen before, which was later judged as viable and worthy by the mainstream industry, and not in Italy alone. Their work was therefore all the more remarkable and precious, because many of them had to cope with even more difficulties and troubles than their more famous colleagues, and this alone should deserve’em a bright place in the automotive history. It is therefore a homage of sort this compendium of cars that I want to offer to readers, a homage to a time when also obscure names would be downright stars, provided they had talents and ability in spades. And many specially built 1400s were equally special-looking autos, every inches as valid as some of their more famous cousins. Let’s see some of them.

Again, as in previous articles, the bulk of the pics are made of original photos taken from old Italian publications, namely Auto Italiana and Motor Italia, and some of the most beautiful ones were real masterpieces of their own, thanks to renowned photographers like Bricarelli or Moncalvo taking them. I do not intend infringing any copyright, I use all of them as Fair Use material in order to provide photographic documentation to the story, in any case, many of them are also to be found elsewhere in the web or in proper books: no problem, they likely came from the same sources as mine, in this case, simple scans of old, fascinating Italian magazines, rare items everywhere.

Just about interesting like the Zagato’ or Ghia’ 1400s, albeit a bit less unique, was an entirely different kind of coachbuilt 1400s; on the other hand they are maybe the best known 1400 fuoriseries: I am speaking about the limousines loosely based on standard 1400s, made especially by Francis Lombardi and, as some sources of mine state, by Carrozzeria Colonna. These cars encountered a good amount of success, albeit not in the prestigious role of wheels for plutocrats, but in the more mundane (and far more important) professional cars market: these limos were in fact often used as substitutes for microbuses, vans and larger type of people carriers, usually used in the car-hire trading. They had in Italy the same role long wheelbase sedans had in late Forties, early Fifties America, especially those made by Desoto, Dodge, Chrysler and Packard and famously used as taxicabs in the New York area. Most of the Francis Lombardi and likely also most of the supposed Carrozzeria Colonna cars weren’t ever taxies in literal sense of the term, but in a car-hungry nation where trips and travels were again a privilege, or something difficult to make because also of impervious and poorly engineered roads, a car as frugal and sturdy as the Fiat 1400 was often a good compromise, as noticed while describing one of the reasons behind the advent of the Fiat 1400 Diesel. This was even more true if such a car could gain 8- or 9-seating capacity via a “simple” body extension. And that’s precisely what those two carrozzerias did, Francis Lombardi (often labeled as FL, and based in Vercelli, not too far from Turin) and Colonna (for what I know, located in Altamura, Apulia — quite an exotic location !) .

A nice array of 1400s during an owners’ meeting. Notice the two limos.

There were differences between the two firms, albeit from outside their creations were close together in appearance: Francis Lombardi often started with new models, from the ground up, and they could also be offered with nicely appointed trim and fit and finish suited for the task of a car named President or Presidenziale , while Carrozzeria Colonna sometimes got to work with examples involved in accidents: welding together the intact portions of two damaged cars was as simple as it gets, one donor car furnished the front portion with most of the underpinnings, the other one the rear part. This explains why some examples born out of this marriage were hybrids of sort, coupling newer items coming from a younger model together with the remaining parts coming from an older one….this, if the coachbuilder didn’t want to restyle an older model in order to make it updated and more commercially valid, using simple off-the-shelf parts. And this also explains why certain interior appointments seen on some of this cars were equally puzzling, mixing dash and instruments panels of one given model with seats of later (or older) versions, and with an equally mixed gathers of trim appointments. In any case, also the Carrozzeria Colonna creations were seemingly up to their task, providing more than adequate comfort and a somewhat more luxurious ride than a standard sedan to their occupants.

In any case, despite a pundit can think that this kind of cars were still relatively rare, the results were among the most commonly seen coachbuilt 1400s: simple, sturdy, reliable, often fitted with the diesel engine, the 1400 limos were perfect for ceremony, perfect for (relatively) important personalities and, more meaningful, perfect long travel machines for a whole plethora of families seeking for an economical vehicle to hire, a vehicle good enough to host all the family’ members and also highly practical. From many of these cars were also derived the world-renowned Capri Taxies, used in the charming island located just a stone’ throw from Naples and usually painted in radiant hues combinations – just like some proper Cuba’ old surviving American iron. Some of these old school Capri Taxies also “benefited” from customization of sort, receiving strangely fascinating fins and hooded headlights, and a neat load of bright trim. The similarity with the Cuban classic car phenomenon is quite interesting, and also other Capri’ older public transport cars (other FL-built Fiats, mostly on 2100 and 2300 lengthened platform) had this kind of treatment. Naturally, the mere fact that most of these 1400s used for public service in Capri combined the long wheelbase together with the convertible top means that they were even more fuoriserie than the already special closed roof limo, but it is nonetheless nice to know that the very same four wheeled symbol of the most charming Italian island was a proud member of the 1400 family.

Francis Lombardi didn’t mean limos only, at least in the world of specially built 1400. F-L, in effect, was a firm involved in a rather interesting array of creations, and during its activity the Vercelli-based carrozzeria spaced from Studebaker-lookalikes based on Fiat 1100s and Topolinos to real life Studes; from limos (done starting not only with Fiat 1400s, but also using the 1800/2100/2300 family, the Alfa 1900 and 2000 and the Lancia Flavia as donor cars), to sportscars (like the Fiat 1300 Scorpione); from wagons, like the famous series of Saloncino FLs, a nice Sixties Fiat 1500-based variant or the splendid one off done on a first series Lancia Flavia, to four door conversions made on Fiat 600 and 850, the equally well known Lucciolas. This industry also showed genuine Fiat 600 and Fiat Nuova 500 convertibles, christened Maggiolina, a homage of sort to the Beetle convertible – the VW in Italian was known as Maggiolino, one of the most gentle Italian translation for Kaefer or Beetle. In sum, should we limit our attention to cars production only, the Francis Lombardi’s life would still be considered as eventful and distinctive as any.

But there is more, because Francis Lombardi ( real name , Carlo Francesco Lombardi, always known as Francis) was likely the most intriguing Italian coachbuilder ever, and not exactly because of his however remarkable automotive achievements : here we have a genuine WWI ace, a man with multiple abilities, ranging from Amelia Earhart-like raids to combat successes just like Eddie Rickembacker’s; a man who was capable of following Gabriele D’Annunzio in his epic and ill-fated Italian Regency of Carnaro, then being used by Fascists and ultimately becoming a high-profile partisan, organizing CLN local branch in his Vercelli’ factory, a factory founded by him where he had put to good use his aeronautical experiences to build small series of planes. After the war this early industry became his eponymous carrozzeria, this time an enterprise destined to the equally precious production of special cars. So, considering all this, could the 1400-Francis Lombardi experiences be confined to something relatively mundane like those long wheelbase sedan , albeit some of them quite aptly named President or Presidential ?

Fiat 1400 Berlinetta by Francis Lombardi. Notice the curved, winding down side windows. In 1951 !

Naturally no, they couldn’t. It was then a natural in a 1400 by Francis Lombardi to see something unique and unusual: one of the first FL creations was a distinctive sedan which was literally a copy of an all-American original, the Studebaker Commander Starlight. This 1400 replicated almost everything of the South Bend icon, especially what had med its roof so peculiar: Francis Lombardi was busy at promote this sensation to Italian automotive world, and for a while it worked, with the Stude lookalikes gaining a fair diffusion among specialty Italian cars. But sheer copying wasn’t precisely what the Vercelli firm wanted in order to promote its name among the other most renowned Italian carrozzerie, in an era when those unable or unwilling to change their design and their work vision were destined to succumb.

The splendid 1951 Francis Lombardi 1400′ profile

So, in 1951 a fairly different kind of FL 1400 debuted: this time, there were far less suggestions coming from outside, and there was some more original design in it. It was a car with a new line from head to toe, and it could also brag about a very interesting feature: real curved side windows, with those of the doors also rolling down just like a “normal” flat crystal, at a time when this was still a distant dream for most other factories. Sure, also Zagato with its Panoramica had a thing or two to say about this, but the Milanese firm’ model had a far more radical, and ultimately less successful approach toward this solution, finally giving up to the most daring features of such a design, toning down the radically curved and radically placed transparent roof’ portions. On the other hand, Francis Lombardi’ auto offered a more elegant and less radical design solution, totally acceptable also for more conservative tastes. This “second edition” 1400 was also interesting because of the roof lines, with a robust, trapezoidal, (or to be more precise, triangular or heart-shaped) rear post which for an American motorist would soon be quite familiar, with a similar design offered by the ’53 Plymouths. The overall proportions, the clean and uncluttered sides and the simple, very Fiat-unlike front end (with a distinctive triangular-shaped grille, likely linked with the dominating look of the aforementioned rear roof’ pillar) were as Italianate as any, and also the short front overhang contributed to a really dynamic look. The FL sedan-coupé had also interesting interior features, what with the FL trademark of a front seat which was adjusted via a rollers-sliding mechanism. The FL 1400 berlinetta could also boast of a full six passengers capacity despite the relative narrow overall width, and it could also offer to its driver an unheard of 105 degrees of front visibility from behind the steering wheel, via a careful placing of thin pillars: here it is easy to presume that the previous Francis Lombardi’s own aeronautical experiences came in handy while defining the design and engineering of this car, in this not too far from the same concepts that led Rapi’s ideas adopted for the Zagato’ Panoramicas. Francis Lombardi also moved the overall front portion’ lines of this 1400 on an all-steel wagon which used the midsize Fiat’ mechanicals: just like other firms, the Vercelli carrozzeria explored a market segment where there was only one precious Fiat model, the 500 C Giardiniera. While the wagon by FL was far more traditional-looking- and squared off – than the two door berlinetta brethren, it was nonetheless a nice car, which used the faux wood stamped design now familiar on certain Italian and American people carriers: naturally, I am not speaking only about the 500C Giardiniera Metallica, but also about the Crosley wagons and, more importantly, about the Willys iconic early SUVs. In addition, this wagon also sported very thin, almost delicate posts and window frames: these thin pillars were often seen in Italian coachbuilt creations of the day, so it must be no surprise to spot them on wagons too; but surely, before cars like Nomads, Safaris and many ’57 models, most regular production people carriers had far more ponderous details than many of these Italian models. This is another interesting anticipation of fads soon to become popular in America which occurred on this side of the Alps. The 1400 wagon by FL was even more spacious than the berlinetta stablemate, it also had the same interesting front seat arrangement and it had an open roof as a boost to its already interesting qualities.

1951 Fiat 1400 metal wagon by Francis Lombardi.

Speaking of wagons, some coachbuilders turned their careful attention to the 1400 platform too. As seen above, Francis Lombardi was one of those companies which found a niche for cars of this kind, still a relatively novel proposition for the conservative Italian public. This can sound strange, because one of the most innovative late Forties wagons in the whole automotive industry was the diminutive Fiat 500 B and C Giardinieras, some of the cutest and most practical of their kind. But there were strangely solid reasons to justify why Italian motorists were somewhat indifferent to this type of car. This can sound stranger yet because the world-renowned Italian master designer in the Forties, Mario Revelli De Beaumont in person, had come up with a splendid job atop the ’46 Fiat 1100, in doing so literally introducing this concept to the Italian automotive world and also bringing a new term to the motorists’ attention: Giardinetta, a romantic nod to the sizable amount of exposed wood used on woodies, a thing also widely visible on Italian woodies, especially those made by Viotti. By the way, giardinetta was in fact a registered Viotti’ trademark, and this company was justly jealous of what Revelli had created for them, so much so that also a giant like Fiat had to invent another name to christen its conceptually similar 500 wagon – hence the similar Giardiniera name. So, if for nothing else, the wagons were still a relatively young newcomers to the Italian automotive scene. Therefore, the Italian motorists had still to get accustomed to this “foreign” style, and the runaway success of the 500 Giardinieras was mostly due to the fact that finally the smallest Italian car was available directly from the factory with 4 places. But evidently, in other market segments, there was again a certain difficulty to accept something styled like the Giardiniera, and not because of specific design faults. In effect, there were two other reasons equally valid and important to explain why, until the debut of the 1800 and 2100 wagons, typical Fiat clients weren’t asking loudly for a standard production wagon from Fiat: both can make us laughing a bit nowadays, but back then they were important and serious reasons, and both could be summed up as lack of prestige ; the first one was a perceived lack of prestige because many felt that a wagon looked too much like a van or a strictly commercial duties-only vehicle: it is easy, knowing this, that those with a hefty amount of lire ready to be spent on a fuoriserie tended to avoid cars which back then were mostly seen as job-rated autos, even if many a wagon could be made look as classy and stylish as any kind of sedan or coupé then available. And in effect, if this were the only one reason as one could be remain unimpressed by the wagon concept, plenty of elegant woodies were there to convince him or her otherwise. Also mid-Fifties 1100/103 wagons, offered alongside the traditional sedan, couldn’t avoid to be considered for a while like business-bound cars, with all the possible commercial implications, and not only as practical people carriers despite their smart styling: in other words, it was the definitive “promiscua” car, a double-life auto which was good for many purposes during the week, and also as a mean to go to a Sunday trip with all the family aboard. Here again, the in-house competition brought by the 1100/103 maybe precluded by Fiat itself a similar effort of the 1400 platform, especially considering that the Millecento was a low-to-mid priced car, while the 1400 was definitely an auto belonging to a superior market segment: clearly, a purely commercial purpose for such a car was not among the primary targets to be pursued by Fiat, and the roomy 6 passengers interior already offered by the standard sedan was reason enough to stay on the surefooted path, without risking costly experiments on the still novel midpriced wagons’ sector. But there was more, to explain why 1400 wagons were only offered by outside firms, why Fiat leaved the business to them. This second reason is equally linked to a perceived image problem, but a bit more dreary, more subtle and maybe more important, one reason strong enough to stop many to consider a wagon despite the explicit practical nature and a great amount of versatility, benefits not always seen on the above mentioned limousines: in the early Fifties Italy, there was still a great amount of suspect toward purchasing and driving as everyday car a vehicle which most people, in a naïve but nonetheless serious state of mind, conceived and perceived as a…hearse !

In a land with still strong superstitious beliefs, you can only imagine the reaction a wagon’ sight could provoke in certain conservative-minded Italian neighborhoods, with most people comparing it to, or mistaking it for, a funeral vehicle above everything else.

So, it is quite simple why, back then, wagons done on midsize cars, cars typically the size of the 1400 and 1900, enjoyed modest success, all this while constantly risking to be sneered at. But those were the times, and while nowadays a similar sentiment is totally out of place, back then it was one of the most common people’ feelings. Sadly, there were also wagons made atop the same 1400 which looked just like windowed vans, only a bit sleeker, or like low-roofed hearses or ambulances, so doing nothing to enhance the wagons’ image as a whole. However, thanks also to changing habits and tastes, what was considered unseemly just ten years before became fashionable, classy and distinctive in the Sixties. In any case, despite this fuss about them and their role, 1400 and 1900 wagons were still a part of this car’ history, and they also were able to look nice and interesting cars: it is difficult to say that a proper woody looks more like a hearse rather than like an upscale carriage for a modern country gentleman. In effect, thanks to cars like the 1400 wagons, prejudices linked to the perceived image and scope issues began to be fought, and by the end of the decade, they were for the most beaten. Another great reason to justify a bright spot in the automobile history for the Fiat 1400 !

Sketch for the Viotti’ ’52 Fiat 1400 coupé, dubbed 1000, in effect a bit stylized image of the real life car.

Therefore, when the words “wagon” and “woody” came together, the renowned Viotti brand had to be some part of the equation: and the Fiat midpriced model could not avoid the wagon treatment by this firm, by the early Fifties more and more synonymous with outstanding woodies and giardinettas (the Italian name for wagons, an original Viotti registered trademark) of unequalled grace. No wonder about Viotti’ products being cars of bespoke qualities: those early Italian wagons’ legacy was started by Mario Revelli De Beaumont’s design, who penned the aforementioned Fiat 1100 in 1946, just after the war, clever to use the latest American trends in that field, adapting with impressive skill to typical Italian style. Despite Italian’ upscale motorists’ prejudices, Viotti’ 1400s (and later 1900s too) were offered as truly luxurious machines, the perfect car for country gentlemen indifferent to superstitious issues and aspiring to drive special vehicles, vehicles coupling the latest American trends (or those trends America had became famous for) with exquisite Italian craftsmanship: in this respect, Viotti made its wagons looking like perfect masterworks of cabinet-making, in doing so also giving a certain flavor of old-fashioned boats construction to its cars, all this without forgetting the latest Transatlantic trends: no wonder if the ’51 1400 wagon looked every inch as a small scale Ford with some suave flavor. Just the right chariot for suburbanities – and no way Viotti’ people carriers could be easily mistaken for an image-degrading ambulance or, worse still in certain superstitious Italian hamlets, hearses. Albeit it was as practical and versatile as any Italian wagon of the era, commercial vehicles or van-like derivative features were almost impossible to be spotted in these Viotti’ cars, especially because not only fit, finish and harmony of details were downright formidable, but also because many of them were exclusive to only some luxurious automobiles back then: just think that in the ’52 edition of this outstanding car, there were not only new and elegant contours, showing the Viotti’ own “new wave” line – those quasi-separated fenders closely resembling the Aurelia woody’ famous body side treatment, but there were also interesting options like the open roof and the fully adjustable front seats’ backs, likely one of the most desirable options for a car expressly built for free time and outdoors trips for gentlemen types, things only real upscale cars could boast of at the time.

This glorious firm, established by Vittorino Viotti, didn’t offered wagons only, and also in the 1400 case there were “normal” coachbuilt cars where steel was the master –no wonder if these “mainstream” 1400s bodied under Vittorino’s aegis were sporty models, maybe not as extroverted as other carrozzieri’ efforts, but nonetheless interesting: after all, Viotti’s plant could show a certain affinity with cars a bit distant from the renowned giardinettas, and we must simply remember that some of the early Aurelia B20 GTs – albeit not all the very first examples – were made by this factory, alongside Pinin Farina, who entered in the B20 affair to substantially increase numbers and capacity volume of this iconic berlinetta. In addition to this, we can also consider that a Viotti hardtop built in 1953 on the Fiat 1900 chassis and drivetrain was one of the most elegant, classy, upscale variant ever to be offered atop the famous Fiat’ flagship platform. This was a nicely detailed car by any standard, and even more remarkable because it offered yet another Italianate interpretation at the then-dominating Detroit look, this being especially clear from the front, with a slightly pointed grille which used the basic profile of the Cadillac’ one, albeit with a more graceful and less massive chrome framing. In any case, it is clear that Viotti became famous for wagons more than for everything else, mainly because of the strong connection with the very same giardinetta term and the Revelli De Beaumont legacy. No problem at all: because of those elegant and graceful wagons, the Viotti name became one of the most renowned in the industry, and its legacy is still an important one in the Italian automotive history.

A very, very pleasant Fiat 1900 built by Viotti and showed at Geneva in 1953.

Almost as graceful as the Viotti’ masterpieces, albeit more conservative, were the wagons proposed by Monterosa, another interesting name in the thriving Italian carrozzerie’ world. This company, founded in 1946 by Giorgio and Tommaso Sergiotto was another one of those various newcomers which sprouted in the immediate postwar years, despite the apparent Italian market difficulties. In reality, there was a healthy market for transformations based on existing cars, thus becoming commercial vehicles more adapt to the impervious conditions of a still beleaguered Italy. Firms creating utes or light trucks out of chopped prewar sedans could therefore survive, and firms like Monterosa, able to go one step further in proposing proper woodies or vans were even more likely to succeed. And Monterosa became another name almost “specialized” in wagons and similar cars, albeit this firm didn’t devote exclusively to them. In any case, Revelli De Beaumont too influenced concepts and designs of the cars built by this company.

A nice view of the Monterosa ’50 wagon

On the other hand, the most famous Monterosa’ 1400 was the base for a very Americanized version of a wagon, blending solutions used for the Plymouth Suburban together with certain GM-like designs; after all, Detroit offered an almost endless source for ideas valid for whatever kind of cars one could ever imagine: even more so for the quintessential American style, the wagon type. For that matter, the massive Monterosa’ 1400’ front end was more a derivative of some Italian late Forties creations rather than being something projected toward the future, but the overall result was pleasant enough to be shown with some pride at certain Concorsi D’Eleganza of the era, so much so that one of these wagons was awarded a Gran Premio prize at the ’50 Concorso Del Lido Di Venezia, the same happening where also the standard 1400 convertible and the Ghia 1400 Supergioiello and the Vignale Orchidea won. It can sound a bit ironic then that one surviving example of this car was a hearse through and through: evidently, this car’ basic lines were considered dignified enough to be quite at home in a funeral parlor’ fleet…

The very nice wagon done by Carrozzeria Monterosa in 1950, dressed up to the nine and ready for some Concorso D’Eleganza.

Speaking of fleet, it is interesting to notice that the 1400 was built in a wagon version also by Coriasco, one of the various Italian coachbuilders specialized in commercial vans, ambulances and similar vehicles, usually mounted on Fiat underpinnings. In the late Fifties, an interesting Coriasco product was the expansive family of vehicles derived from the standard Fiat 600 Multipla, so successful that also the in-house Fiat tentative made to improve the basic little MPV qualities with an eye toward business’ needs, the Multiplas specially done by O.M., was almost thwarted by this Turinese coachbuilders’ offerings. Some years before, however, Coriasco brought to market this deft wagon, another car where there were Michelotti’s contributions, showing both how eclectic and versatile was his talent and also how good an Italian wagon could look without resorting to real wood structure or fake cabinet-like appliqués. This wagon was again a two door type, like many others at the time, but it was arguably one of the most balanced of the lot, also quite modern and uncluttered, with ample glass surfaces. All of these elements can be seen as a sort of manifesto for a whole lot of other typical specially bodied 1400s, from four door sedans to convertibles all the way through coupés and spiders, but evidently also wagons were influenced by this. And the Coriasco wagon wasn’t the only 1400 wagon with exceedingly modern yet classy appearance, where wood was all but absent. And it wouldn’t be the one and only one wagon to have some vestigial fins of sort: timid maybe, but they were there, a portent of things to come.

An Auto Italiana advertising page, showing the ’51 Coriasco-bodied, Michelotti-penned 1400 wagon.

Thus, yet another historic Italian factory showed exceptionally valid 1400 wagons, in all the glorious new beauty of an all-metal cloth: while they too adapted Detroit features in a clever mode (blending together Ford, Stude, Buick and Frazer ideas in an original solution), they often became the starting point for another important kind of cars, mostly devoted to commercial and professional purposes: however, they were not confined to ambulances and hearses only, but also to those remarkable, advertising vehicles so common back then in Italy, France and other European countries. The name of this firm, famous also for this rather peculiar category of automobiles ? Fissore.

The 1950 Fiat 1400 metal wagon by Fissore

This glorious firm had been founded in 1921 and was based in Savigliano, Cuneo province, not too far away from Turin, it gained a famous presence in the Italian coachbuilding scene thanks to some of the most spectacular light commercial and advertising vehicles ever built. Not that this precluded other creations: with a wide spectrum of automobiles ranging from the aforementioned types to wagons, ambulances and hearses, from sportscars, concept cars, intriguing coupés all the way to beach cars, microbuses, utes and mobile bars, including co-working with automakers as diverse as Brazilian DKW – aka Vemag – and Monteverdi or projects as diverse as the Fiat 130 converted in a Popemobile for Vatican and the splendid Mercedes 170D converted as a quasi sport wagon in 1952, this Piedmontese factory had an important activity, also working together with notables like the same Revelli and Giovanni Michelotti. But what consigned this factory to the automotive history was its heavy involvement in the special segment of advertising or publicity vehicles.

The impressive profile of the Fissore Mercedes 170 D, as seen in a photo taken from the 14th February 1953 issue of Auto Italiana.

The publicity vehicles were very peculiar vehicles, and other firms were deeply involved in the construction of them, a work where rather impressive skills, audacious engineering and daredevil sense of proportions had to blend together, in order to obtain those impressive and crowd-gathering attires which were their very own reason d’etre. The French term is not out of place here, for this distinctive kind of vehicles was the subject of many French builders back then. And for one simple reason, the same that gave also Italy the distinction of being one of those countries where this phenomenon saw the apex.

In fact, the advertising vehicles were often seen in France and Italy in those days as a mobile corollary following the most important bicycle races of the time (some of the most famous, then as now: the Tour De France, the Giro D’Italia , the Spanish Vuelta, some of the so called “Classics” held in Benelux like the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Paris-Roubaix and the Italian Milan-Sanremo). This kind of very peculiar vehicles (often based on far larger commercial chassis) wasn’t seen during these competitions only, but for a large portion of public those races were the right places where the most incredible and most audacious advertising vehicles could be spotted with relative easiness. And there were similar vehicles acting as accompanying items also during other events, like shows, fairs or proper automobile races like the Mille Miglia: in the days before TV and TV commercials (two things which officially started to make inroads in the Italian households in January 1954 and 1957, respectively), the publicity cars, usually bodied to resemble the very same item produced by the sponsor or astutely masked as small stages or shops on wheels to lure patrons, were one of the most effective way one given company had in order to make its own name clearly visible and renowned. No wonder then if there was a wide array of rolling cans, bottles, tubes, boxes, tin-made giants holding this or that product, equally larger-than-life animals, motorized pigs, cats, dolls, shoes and the like: they were successful because they amused and entertained while remembering what was publicized and they looked like incredible wheeled dreams for generations of European people just at the starting of the consumerism phenomenon. What better way to lure people toward a toothpaste or a drink than a giant toothpaste tube or an enormous bottle resembling those of the real life products ? It is then obvious that in order to lure people, to gather crowd or simply to astound spectators, not only designs and shapes had to be incredible, almost verging on the absurd or grotesque, but they also had to be quite large: this alone explains why some of them were based on commercial vehicles, real deal trucks and buses. In any case, automobiles were still an ideal basis because of smaller costs, while a deft use of imaginative design could bring just about the same audience as some far larger vehicles. In many cases, on the other hand, some of this rolling tridimensional billboards were also stupendously conceived movable expositions and shops, making possible and even more direct contact between patrons and products: and once the “seriousness” of making business blended with the fairy-like imagination of advertising, it was possible to see the birth of really advanced forms of art and design.

Special publicity vehicle for Durban’s toothpaste built by Fissore atop a 1400.

Well, this family of cars could then be a very entertaining subject for any kind of article, but here we must limit our attention to certain examples born out of Fiat 1400 and 1900, with Fissore bodying some of the most remarkable ones. The one built for the Durban Toothpaste had two toothpaste tubes perched on the rear of the van-like body, clearly derived from Fissore’ very own wagon. Another similar design was the one adopted for Etrusca Profumi Per Uomo, with giant scent bottles assembled together on the top of the body; also in this case, basic Fissore 1400 wagon’ lines weren’t distorted, a good thing considering the viable starting vehicle and the however effective way to deliver the ad message. Another pair of advertising 1400s made by Fissore were far more incredible: one, appearing in 1956 for Odol toothpaste, was a very advanced coupé with hints of Ghia Gilda and Bertone B.A.Ts, combined with the obvious giant toothpaste tube attached to the bodysides and standing atop the rear end. Oh, and naturally there was also a wraparound windshield ! Two years before, the Paduan Pessi Guttalin, renowned producer of shoes-polish, had ordered a low-slung specimen using a 1400 as basis: difficult to say this was once a 1400, because it was so low and sleek, with so advanced a front end (not too far from what Citroen showed a year later with the DS) that it could easily be mistaken for something coming out of Abarth ! In any case, if there were doubts about its origins, there weren’t any about its purpose, especially if the livery shouted the benefits of the advertised product, and also sporting atop its advanced fastback a larger than life metal cylindrical box equal in shape and colors to the real life product. By the way, should it have been cleaned off all those references to the shoe-polish product, this could result arguably the sleekest and most advanced 1400 since the times of the Abarth-Bertone 1500 ! Quite an achievement for a publicty car devoted to bicycle races’ spectators.

Riva’s incredible looking ’51 1400.

Speaking of unexpected design achievements gained by coachbuilt 1400s, what about another quasi-ignored example, this time bodied by Carrozzeria Riva in 1951?

The Riva Alfa-Cattaneo 6C 2500.

Here we have a car with a roof close to what sported in the same year by Francis Lombardi’ own 1400, maybe not a total novelty, but it was attached to an under-beltline body which offered a marvelous new rendition of certain French design lessons, lessons taught by some of the most spectacular and most advanced Grand Routieres cars like certain Franay, Saoutchik and F & F models. Would you have ever thought about it? Ok, maybe it is a bit of an exaggeration, yet I am inclined to think that the voluptuously shaped contours of the fenders seen in this creation are close to certain famous French automobiles of the era than anything else. This incredible design was indeed a Riva trademark of the era, a design started with a Fiat 1100 and, most remarkably, an Alfa 6C 2500, the latter being an example built for Giovanni Lurani, the famous Italian journalist and racing driver, using a GilCo tubular frame especially studied and developed by engineer Guido Cattaneo. This car’ design was influenced, we can say designed from the ground up, by Lurani himself, and it was bodied under Lurani’s control by the renowned Riva bros’s shop, a business with roots dating back from mid-19th century. While the super seductive lines of the 1100 and those of the Alfa had to be toned down because of the 1400’ inevitable bulk, thus resulting in a higher overall height and a relatively high belt line, what resulted arguably remains even today as one of the most rakish and sleekest 1400s ever despite the fact that it was a compromise which moved this car from being an all-out sportscar like the 6C 2500 to a relatively tamer two door sedan-coupé, just like many other special 1400s. Unforgettable indeed, good enough also for other stylists as a basis for further conjectures.

In fact, it is also undeniable to say that there is some VW Karmann Ghia flavor in those swoopy, teardprop envelopes. And the same analysis can be applied to the rear end, while the cockpit’ volumes were slightly more squared up, but still very distinctive – albeit, as said, there was at least another 1400 with a similar, radically-molded rear pillar, the one done by Francis Lombardi, while one German coachbuilder working together with NSU-Fiat produced a distinctive prototype of a possible minicar using rather similar design ideas, more or less in the same period when the two Italian companies did their jobs on the 1400s .

An unusual looking 615, the one bodied in ’51 by Riva

All in all, a very advanced and very different-looking 1400, with few Americanized ideas and a good showdown of some of the most radically advanced Italian and European ones, all blended together to obtain a very low-slung effect, so much so that it is almost impossible to say that this was a 1400. The tentative effort to use extreme curves and rounded contours to visually alter and lower the front end impact was a highly appreciable one. And the Riva company, albeit it was a relative also-ran in the Italian coahbuilders’ history, seemed like it had the ability and the willingness to use this explosively avant-garde design on whatever they could build, including microbuses based on the Fiat 615, the same truck with the 1400’ engine. Here finally we can say that the parentage between the 615 and the 1400 is more obvious than ever: same curves, same contours, same grille and same hood …A pity that Riva firm succumbed to the woes of the coachbuilding Italian industry which spoiled us of a great amount of glorious or capable men in the following Sixties and Seventies years. With more luck, this imaginative team could still have been with us.

Quite on the opposite spectrum of the design’ innovation and boldness was the Stabilimento Monviso’ series of 1400s, named Rondines and Royals: these were among the least advanced of the lot, stylistically speaking, but anyway they were nice cars, evidently fit for the most conservative type of clientele, a clientele still unfamiliar with some of the recent postwar design achievements. In any case, the various Monviso Rondines, available in ragtop and coupé formula, were nice, sober and decently proportioned cars: the fact that one of their most famous traits was the apparently stubborn adoption of suicide doors made them even more distinct from the lot. Difficult to say the real reason behind this unexpected coolness to accept anything as extravagant as curved windshield and front hinged doors, at least while devising the 1400 Rondines’ project, but maybe it was related with the inner philosophy of the firm: Monviso was a firm founded in 1944 by Alessandro Casalis, and one of this company’ main targets was to reach a high quality level on its creations, also putting in them some special mechanical modifications, like the adoption of a 5th gear on many of them. Quality meant a high degree of skills and the need for perfected construction techniques, a fact that therefore led Casalis toward a tried-and-true approach in regard of the styling solutions adopted, and necessarily limiting also fantasy and experimental digressions. Surely Monviso’ quality helped it to achieve a good reputation, so much so that it was absorbed by Ghia, with Casalis assuming the role of Ghia’ own CEO. In Ghia’ own Luigi Segre’s expansions plans, Monviso was about to play a key role, also helping Ghia itself to offer a commercial vehicles’ line, because some of the latest Monviso jobs had to deal with van-like derivatives of mainstream models.

Monviso’ sweet creation on 1400 underpinnings in a nice color photo for advertising on Motor Italia

In any case, the rear hinged doors weren’t the only feature giving the Monviso 1400s a personality of their own. Despite always being considered some of the most traditional and some of the most conservative of the lot, they were nice looking cars, with just about the right amount of Transatlantic latest trends deftly amalgamated with Italian sober ideals: this explains the relatively cab-forward stance (or, alternatively, the apparently old-fashioned long rear end, a thing all the more evident in profile view), the one-window fixed roof models’ design, the slightly flared rear fenders and so on. Contributing to the personality of the car was also the relatively low belt line (or, for people otherwise thinking, the high roof’ line, a trait which luckily didn’t deter from a good look, and a thing visible also on convertibles when their tops were closed), all things which were a trademark of the Monviso production and at least distributed with rationality and good taste. Maybe this model’ major drawback was a certain tendency to “staggered” wheels, but it was symptomatic of many Italian cars of the time. Nothing really annoying. Among similarly molded cars, the Monvisos were arguably some of the best, and this company remained faithful to its credo also in following years: in fact, in 1953 Casalis’ firm shown a neat and sleek 1900, where finally the old-fashioned typical Monviso’ roof had been abandoned in favor of a more modern and far sleeker greenhouse, while again maintaining the seasoned and well-accepted proportions – and the old suicide doors: one reason can be the mere fact that, true to its nature, Monviso atelier’ desire for perfection meant that the old toolings and dies had been impossible to be changed for. The overall result was, anyway, convincing. If there ever was a term distant from this car’ inner nature, it had to be “pretentious” .

The ’49 Castagna Alfa Romeo 6C 2500

“Pretentious”, on the other hand, can be seen as the perfect word to eventually describe 1400s made by Carrozzeria Castagna. Here we have similar proportions to those pursued by Monviso, but far different design and results; here we have a firm still uncertain about which kind of design trend had to be followed in those thriving early Fifties era; to be sincere, in my eyes this simply means that Castagna’ most famous 1400s looked like a pout pourri of almost everything had been conceived until then, but usually mixed with old-fashioned mentality and a certain wish to imitate the French Grand Routieres styling. Uncertainty, often resulting in odd proportions, was what characterized most of the late Castagna’ production just before the firm’ disbanding in the mid Fifties, and usually its various Fiat 1400 variants were no exception to this situation. In fact, the old coachbuilding firm found in the 1400 another car where to place its dear Vistotal pillarless windshield: not a totally bad idea, provided it would’ve been not married with oddly mismatched creases, flared fenders and older-look proportions, all things close to French’ design school but out of touch both with Italian clientele and press; what resulted was so bad that it was a far different animal than another famous Castagna car where the Vistotal (aka Vuetotal) windshield and the body creases were also offered for consumption, a famous Alfa 6C 2500: at least, this Alfa had nice, voluptuous curves and important dimensions, two things that helped to achieve some sort of volume balance; but this last saving grace visible on the Alfa was sadly absent from this 1400. Or, for that matter, also from the similar-looking 1100s, with some even more exaggerated than others: Castagna was arguably among Italian coachbuilding company the one most intimately linked to French design prewar ideas, and some early postwar 1100s were exaggerated caricature of cars…

Not all Italian coachbuilders’ efforts were example of balance, witness this ’51 Castagna Fiat 1400.

Some of the Castagna’ creations were not all that bad: but using its ’51 sedan as an example, they were often marred by unresolved proportions; in this case, the rear roof portion is way too ponderous to look acceptable to eyes, and the tail, conforming to certain then-current fads, was too long. But at least the rest of the car looked innocuous enough to pass for something Italianate and modern. Somewhat better-looking was a woody wagon, again showing a certain degree of creases: at least, the wooden structure’ external look blended decently with the fenders’ image. Nonetheless, and despite these ill-fated efforts, also a firm uncertain as to what exactly to do back then in the stylistic department was still able to produce a distinctive coachbuilt 1400: in fact, for 1951 the venerable company produced an interesting convertible, where the now-usual side creases were used to give an effect of sleeker and lower body, all this while luckily the old Vuetotal-Vistotal windshield of old French flavor was abandoned, in favor of a more traditional curved unit with solid framing all around. There were also fins, well, vestigial ones, and a bit more front overhang helped to enhance the supposed body sleekness. In addition, there was a sagacious use of chrome, including modern two-bars bumpers, semi-skirted and squared-off wheel cutouts, and a nice wide grille with a simple latticework, a thing which gave a certain American taste to the whole look. The beltline was apparently set low, and while this was maybe more an effect of the odd high-from-ground construction, it also gave a modern look to the whole ensemble. As per Castagna’ now dubious “tradition”, there was still something odd regarding some proportions, in this case the high, almost vertical windshield, but as a whole the car was decent and different-looking, with a bit of desirable formal demeanor with its top up. In the meanwhile, also other Castagna’ jobs, like a formal looking Aurelia or a Fiat 1100 convertible, tried to present some modern, updated ideas, in an effort to show how the Varese carrozzeria was still a viable competitor on Italian coachbuilding scenery. But it was likely too little, too late, and also those cars showed some limits: the Aurelia was a tad too Alfaesque, albeit it was likely a thing desired by the owner and not too bad-looking either, while the 1100 had again a mix of mismatched proportions, especially because of long “fins”, albeit this time creases and Vistotal glass were confined to the story. But soon this would be the fate of Castagna itself: those too much dubious tentative of earlier years and a supposed “pressure” to come up with something suitable for its long-honored reputation as one of the foremost Italian coachbuilder evidently were too much for Castagna to again stay alive, and by 1954 the 1849-born firm was all but history.

Another revered name in the Italian automotive world was Boneschi, and it too couldn’t get out of building 1400’ variants, and unlike Castagna, this company was able to come up with something both innovative and competent: so much so that the aforementioned ’51 Castagna 1400, the most convincing one among the Castagna’ creations, was likely influenced a bit by the novel proportions of the Boneschi’ cars. On the other hand, after taking a look at these cars, you can easily think that Boneschi started with a certain idea which can sound odd, but rather less so when deeply examined: in other words, what a car could look like if some typical Airflytes ideas had to be married with some Studebaker concepts and then loosely used on convertible and notchback coupés ? In case you’ve no idea, some lines of the Boneschi’ 1400 may help… Well, this is another likely flight of (my own) fantasy, but the radical cars offered in those years by Boneschi were real novelties’ bearers: and as per Italian tradition, many distinct cars were made following the same family feeling which had been introduced by Boneschi.
The “inverted bathtub” design chosen for some of its 1400s by this revered firm surely looked modern for the day, albeit nowadays it can look a bit heavy, albeit certain savvy touches, like chrome moldings and a wide horizontal-spread grille surely helped to make the cars seemingly longer and lower than what they really were. All in all, this Boneschi’ creation was blessed with exceedingly modern looks, looks close to the latest trends, looks good enough to let it win a Gran Premio award at the ’50 Concorso D’Eleganza Del Lido Di Venezia. And it was also a portent of further “bathtub” looks developments, albeit for some reasons I believe to see some hints of ’52 Ford products in its lines rather than Nash or Hudson ones. But maybe that’s only an impression of mine. One interesting touch seen on another one of this type of models was a thick window frame which hosted a full width piece of glass, running over the front passengers’ sights. While this did nothing to enhance an eventual lowness’ feeling, it surely was good to catch eyes and to wow onlookers. Practical too, provided you didn’t blame too much the sun glare. As we know, placing transparent panes in the same position had already been a fairly successful practice (at least, considering the Zagato’ Panoramica and some prewar Revelli De Beaumont’ creations), and Boneschi’ craftsmen were second to none.

The same can be said about certain other 1400s made by this Milanese carrozzeria – it was located in a town not too far away from Milan – especially if said cars had that typical (for a coachbuilt car based on the Turinese midsize) two door sedan-coupé approach: its Gazzella and Primula are among the most peculiar 1400s ever, thanks to their incredible rear roof’ design. The Gazzella was launched in 1950, and while it shared with the convertible the basic aft-of-the-cowl design, it had an airy profile all of its own, thanks to the deft two toning on the body side and the roof’ style (pretty close in spirit to the latest USA hardtops’ trends). In any case, once a passerby gave a look at the rear, chances are that he or she remained awestruck: the wraparound back window was boldly divided by a blade-like central bar, sort of vestigial dorsal fin which was similar both to the same Studebaker Starlight’ now iconic design and both to some famous Saoutchik, Franay or Figoni Et Falaschi models which often had such an appendage on their back. The result was mesmerizing, and a bit over the top maybe, but still a neat redo of the basic Studebaker-like lines already spot on some Aprilias and Fiat 1100s done in earlier years by the Cambiago company. But this didn’t deter Boneschi from going one step further in this window-dividing operation. For 1951, the Boneschi’ 1400 was the Primula, and it was a far different beast than the like-named Vignale model. First of all, it was an evolution of the early Boneschi 1400s, thus it offered again a deft squared-off under beltline design, complete with smallish fins, which, if any, helped to give the profile a fish-like appearance, maybe closer in inspiration to the Lockheed Constellation rather than to some Detroit autos. The whole look also was close to what Castagna had also adopted, but here we have a far sleeker and uncluttered car, luckily with few fuss on it. Anyway, until you kept your eyes on the rear. In the rear, in fact, there was again the divided window, but with a far more radical (and heavy-looking) “blade”, a real wing indeed. Also the deck lid had a specific detail: it was hinged on the passenger side, instead of the “under-the-window” hinging. Hardly a normal-looking car, and arguably one of the most radical concept ever. Part sleek coupé and part concept cars bound for a Motorama, the Primula was again blessed by a wide and horizontal grille, this time lower still, and the neat, squared-off wheel cutouts were very modern for the time. It was a sort of Detroit-Thinks-Small concept, if we accept such an idea, and the blade-like dorsal fin was one of the most rakish of its type, this also if compared with similar solutions adopted on some other famous Italian and American design icons. Anyway, it is a bit difficult to understand why someone was happy to put so “striking” a detail on an otherwise convincing automobile, one that had no need for such “experimentation” to look modern and swift. But those were the times, when Italian designers could sometimes indulge on certain strange concoctions, even if said concoctions were made on regularly available cars. Sure, some of them were expressly made as business cards to show companies’ skills, but anyway, some of them looked downright odd or ill-timed. In any case, while Boneschi’ Primula was a bit odd, its main design themes were put to good use for a wagon too, and later in the decade a 1400 ambulance done by this company looked innocuous enough, although it had Nash-like close together headlights faired in the grille, while “odd” is one of the various adjectives ready to come to mind when looking at a very special advertising vehicle made in ’59 using a late 1400 B: here we have a zany object, really really zany. If you ever wanted to know what a ’59 Chevy with a giant glass bottle instead of a roof could ever look like, now you can have an answer…Thankfully for us, nobody pretended that this car could be used for something else outside of larger than life road publicity: but again, this wasn’t the first 1400 made for an apparently bizarre purpose, and neither it was the first to look like a perfect example of a normal car with at least one rather eccentric feature, looking also right all things considered, but as a whole a bit over the top.

In fact, whereas the Boneschi Primula was an eminently interesting car marred somewhat by a controversial rear roof treatment, so it was the most famous 1400 among those made by Savio : maybe it was not so bizarre, to the contrary it seemed like a good taste design, offering distinction and sober good looks, but again here is a car with a rear roof portion done in an odd manner. Nothing really dramatic therefore, but the whole concept of offering a landaulette, or, in other words, a car with folding rear half roof’ portion on a compact 105’’ span with an 85 cubic inches motor, was a bit of a stretch, especially because this car was considered more as a parade or a town car rather than a more mundane (and more socially acceptable) fixed pillars droptop. In sum, it was half Frazer 4 door convertible sedan, half Rambler ragtop, neither fish nor fowl: albeit it was nice looking and a Savio trademarked exclusive too, who needed such a car, also in a country like Italy where supposedly there has always been a market for whatever kind of compact car could be offered ? Yet it was done, and from a mere aesthetical point of view, it was a good car. Well, Carrozzeria Savio’ thoughts were evidently a bit too forward thinking: the car, as said, was sound, and the whole concept was also put, in later years, on a magnificent interpretation made on the 1900’ basis, but still this very concept was too unique – in Italy – to have legions of followers and imitators. In any case, the basic good looks of this car were molded as per Savio’ tradition, with a long rounded tail, smoothly integrated fenders -usually, slab sided body, a very simple front end with very basic but quite effective wide open air intake. Just what could have been among the very same stock 1400’ early influencers, together with the Kaisers, the Fords, The Studes, the Pregnant Packards and so on. In this regard, some late Forties Savios look exactly like the slender offsprings of those “pregnant” Packards…at least, this seems to me !

Savio’ famous landaulet and a more conservative but still nice

In sum, Savio’ late Forties, early Fifties jobs were some of the best exponents of the Less Is More Italian School Of Design, a school where Savio could hold its own, also thanks to neat reinterpretation of the latest design trends (naturally, many of them coming directly from across the Ocean) always done in a very sober manner. Savio was in effect one of the real forerunners of the Italianate design, and few can dare to think that this company’ models’ main defect was a lack of good taste. Also the important-looking 1400 Landaulette was as sober as any, and when compared to the normal closed roof companion, it was arguably spiffier and better balanced ! Needless to say, this car was close in spirit to certain future European cars, so convincing its overall lines were. I have the distinct feeling of looking at a Peugeot 403 prototype, done by an outsider rather than by Pinin Farina.

Savio was also one of those still busy to offer a fuoriserie on the 1400’ chassis and drivetrain as late as 1958, a rare occurrence shared, for example, with Siata and few others still building ambulances, hearses, and, like Francis Lombardi, limousines and long wheelbase sedans: in fact, after 1955, special bodied cars using the 1400 and 1900’ mechanicals were rarely seen, especially when compared with the very early Fifties, when all the Italian coachbuilders were literally caught in a frenzy to build cars using the midsize Turin’ auto. This change in attitude happened not only because of a revolution that caught the Italian coachbuilding industry as a whole, but also because the 1400 and its derived variants weren’t no more seen as appetizing autos by a certain portion of the public.

I want now to write something again about these “reasons”, but with a slightly more in-depth analysis: albeit they are for the most my own personal opinions, I have always been inclined to think that they are all worthy reasons, good enough to explain many things. And together with facts directly connected with the Fiat 1400 and 1900’ life, they can be seen as the causes that prompted a significant decrease in the 1400 and 1900’ fuorisererie, after I already anticipated some of them in previous chapters.

To begin with, those thriving Fifties were years when it happened a veritable “survival of the fittest” in the world of Italian coachbuilders: as previously mentioned, some glorious names (Stabilimenti Farina above all) were ruled out of the market, because they were not able to conform to a changing reality, and/or had financial and productive weaknesses; on the other hand, some other companies turned their attention to even more specialized roles (often opting for more lucrative commercial vehicles assembly), while some also became real industry giants, focusing their resources and energies toward seriously high production numbers (winning subcontracts from Alfa, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia and naturally Fiat) while implementing a very robust design studio always ready to build prototypes or concepts. This sounded like there was now precious few room left for haute couture cars made in only a few examples, the kind of cars which were not concepts nor small production cars, in sum leaving a reduced market for cars like many of the previously hot 1400s and 1900s. But this change in coachbuilders habits wasn’t the only reason, because otherwise cars like the future Fiat 1800, 2100 and 2300 or the Fiat 1300/1500 would have endured a far bleaker life in the hands of outside designers and tailors. Instead, they enjoyed a certain following and success: simply, this also demonstrates that there was a problem with what the 1400s and the 1900s were perceived to offer; simply, they were becoming increasingly out of fashion, also if the external body was to be a complete departure from the original Fiat sedan. In sum, as already stated, the initial success of the 1400 family was waning as the decade went by, and what difficulties were endured on the market by the standard cars were also somewhat shared by the haute couture autos made with the same underpinnings.

Albeit I already wrote about this problem, it is always worthy to spend a bit of words again: mid-to-late Fifties became the era when affluent buyers shifted from the coachbuilt 1400s and 1900s variants toward three rather distinct type of cars, all of them contributing to a fast demise of the coachbuilt 1400s and 1900s, and all of them destined to portions of the public who, only a few years before, were moving en masse toward the one-off 1400s. Here too, it is worthy to take again a look at what kind of cars “usurped” the 1400’ role. First among these cars robbing market to the Fiat-based creations were the newly born “exoticas”, cars now able to offer huge amount of luxury, prestige and dependability without the earlier fusses often seen in their ancestors. This was even more evident when Enzo himself sensed a business opportunity in offering civilized versions of his thoroughbreds, with people logically attracted even more to cars like Ferraris and Masers once they became more sensible than in previous years: despite costing twice or thrice the already huge sums needed to buy a coachbuilt 1400, evidently they seemed like well-spent money, and those VIPs once enamored of a Ghia or Pinin 1400s were now attracted toward a 250 GT or an A6G. Even if these VIPs couldn’t properly drive so impervious beasts.

There was a second group of cars, the other luxury Italian cars, namely the Alfa 1900 and the Lancia Aurelia and Flaminia: once they began to be well known in competition as well as fast road drivers’ circles, many connoisseurs who previously desired the exclusive elegance or distinctive style of a specially built car could now be quite content with the factory Alfas or Lancias, because they were perceived as better all-around cars than a 1400 or a 1900, and even more prestigious too, because of their great names. “Perceived” is the right term: the 1400 and the 1900 were still really good packages, but they lacked a bit both in spirit and emotions, and for some owners those were the only important things in a car, also more important than the rock-like dependability or the commodious miles-eating safety still offered by the Turin’ flagships.

While in the early years of 1400 and 1900’ lives this was still a relatively minor phenomenon, as time went by, the perceived image of an Alfa 1900 or of an Aurelia were always seen better placed than what a 1400 or a 1900 by Turin could ever offer, also in a fuoriserie format. And despite the added glitz, the Fiat pair was still a bit conservative-minded, as far as driving emotions were concerned.

And naturally, there was a third kind of cars that starting circa 1955 made marvelously good sense as basis for special vehicles, because they usually coupled lower costs than the 1400 or the 1900 with equal or better performances, and newer technology: they were the already mentioned Fiat 1100/103, especially in the TV format, the Lancia Appia and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta; needless to say, chances are that when someone had to make a choice between a Giulietta Sprint, with its coachbuilt pedigree, and the possibility to order a special coupé on the tried-and-true but far slower 1400, purchaser’s hearth was robbed by the lovely Alfa. Even more so when a coachbuilt 1100/103 TV was around: for a bit less money here is a car at least equal in performance and prestige as the bigger stablemate, and somewhat more economical. Interesting, as already noticed, the same kind of problems were also endured by factory 1400 and 1900s: what was good – and bad – for the normal assembly line versions, was also good – and bad – for the small series variants.

In addition, there was also another kind of competition which spoiled coachbuilt 1400s and 1900s of some of their commercial potential: as the years went by, foreign cars, especially those high on the glamour side, were making more and more inroads in the very specialized market segment where only a few years before coachbuilt Fiat 1400s enjoyed a sound success. This competition was made often of genuine American cars: oh yeah, cars like a standard Olds 88, a Ford Fairlane, a Bel Air, a 62, a New Yorker, despite being always factory-spec models, were seen as mortal competition for specially-built Italian cars in markets where glamour, passing fads and sheer sizes were important factors. Who bought cars as distant as a Vignale 1900 and a Buick Super in Italy ? Well, those who needed cars like those ! Those who needed cars like those were usually members of the then exploding Italian star system: cinema, theater, newborn TV, sport and the like. Until early Fifties, when also American cars were a bit restrained, people like that could be more than happy also while driving a smallish 1400, provided it had a pedigree body. But once the Fifties fads became so evident also in the typical Italian life, there was need for something far larger and far gaudier than the dimensionally restrained 1400 and 1900. So, also what could be seen in half a million units roaming on American freeways could be considered by a portion of the public as better fit than a restrained and tasteful 1400 or 1900. There is a bit of irony here: one of the reasons why coachbuilt 1400 and 1900s phenomenon waned was the fact that genuine American chariots were making inroads in the Fiat’ perspective public. And the same reason can also be seen behind the relative lukewarm reception the market gave to the uppermost “standard” 1900, the B Granluce especially. Despite all its finned glamour, despite all its ritzier-than-ever package, it suffered a bit when a real Detroit iron was around and ready to offer a direct comparison. So, a selected few of the clientele previously attracted by the Fiats could now be lured away by a genuine Great Lakes Shores product nonetheless. Would you ever think about that ?

But let’s come back to the aforementioned “last of” Savio’ creation. This company offered for ‘58 a really different-looking 1400 B: it was a surprise, sure, for most Fiat-badged coachbuilt cars were now based on the more exciting, more modern, thriftier and less costly 1100/103 TV and 1200, but a distinctive surprise nonetheless. This was in fact a car with a modern six windows sedan look, where the most innovative touch was a rather radical use of curved side windows: among Italian cars of the day, this was not a total surprise, thanks to Zagato’ efforts, and also previous 1400s offered glimpses of this. But Savio went one step further, not only including thin pillars as per Italian tradition, but also a reverse raked rear pillars and wraparound back window. The effect, sort of pillared six windows four door hardtop, with thin pillars too, was decidedly interesting, also because of the large rear quarter windows’ dimension, and it still looks a strangely appealing ensemble, albeit more as an experimental curiosity rather than because of real beauty. After all, where else you can look at a centrally hinged 4 door hardtop, when in the same years 4 door hardtops with no center pillars were all the rage? And speaking of curiosities, what about other “interesting” features of this car? The wide “mouth” for example, a grille which seemed taken directly out of a Flaminia, looking like a sort of caricature of similarly conceived (but sleeker, by far) ensembles at the time common on sportscars, complete with deeply faired-in-the-fenders hooded lights; a simple but striking two tone paint, with darker hue atop an ideal 2/3 body height, and ’54 Buick Skylark-like wheels cutouts, also painted in contrasting hue. The simple bumper, albeit mounted on bullet-like “dagmars”, admittedly a bit out of place here. And some fins too. Luckily, no chrome; at least, no excesses of it. After all, the “curious” two tone treatment on the hood’ edge and the hood scoop were more than enough to make the car far heavier-looking and far more intimidating than the timid 1400 B engine could ever dare to sustain on real life roads.

But we have again some more precious 1400s to rediscover, in order to have as complete as any an approach toward this really important chapter of the typical Italian carrozzerie’ creations. Sure, I couldn’t possibly write or describe every one of the numerous 1400s built by outside firms, but I think it was almost impossible to ignore those precious ones I am about to describe in the following words.

Unlike the just described Savio’ last coachbuilt 1400s, most of the special creations atop the Turinese mid size offered to public consumption by some more obscure Italian firms were no-nonsense automobiles, with just the right amount of extroverted details and audacious styling, almost always relying more on good Italianate tastes than everything else. And this alone can explain why some of the most beautiful 1400s ever were those created by companies bearing the names of Accossato, Balbo and Canta. Also a renowned designer like Pietro Frua, or a firm well known by connoisseurs like the one led by Serafino Allemano, did commendable attempts at creating very elegant and nifty 1400s with few adventurous detailing and radical design choices. These cars were all rather nice creations, maybe not high on design originality, but arguably balanced, modern, with just the right amount of decoration and often more insensible to American blarneying trends than others – albeit, also in some of these carrozzieri’ creations some definite American-like ideas were used and implemented.

Accossato’ Fiat 1400

Take the Accossato 1400 to begin with: here is a typical exponent of the Italian early Fifties trend, maybe a tad too burly to be downright beautiful, but arguably with a pleasant appeal of its own; it was no worse than the similarly styled Pinin Farina six seaters fastback; it was one of the most conservative-looking among the various coachbuilt 1400s and, yes, it looked like a Plymouth Concord after a diet, but it looked positively good. There was something about its inoffensive nature that made this car a bit more stylish than an early quick look at it could allow. Naturally, like other more prestigious firms, Accossato too couldn’t resist the call of the debutant 1900, once it appeared on the market: using the very same design, with just details differences, the relatively young firm tried once again to use the 1400 platform as a viable business card for promoting itself. It also built a hearse atop the 1400’ mechanicals, and it too had a certain amount of distinction – like some other Accossato’ creations, it was styled by none other than Michelotti. Sadly, after 1956, real one-offs and limited series Accossatos were no more, albeit amont the latest jobs there were a very original 600 with three doors, two on the passenger side, where a small door was offered over the rear wheel as an auxiliary item, coupled with full hardtop style…pleasantly droll!

Accossato’s 1953 Fiat 1900

Pleasantly designed and very competent-looking were the Balbo 1400s: here we have not an obscure coachbuilder, to the contrary, but maybe a bit less known than others outside of Italy. In any case, Balbo had quite a reputation and a distinction, since before the war, thanks to many deft jobs: in effect, most glorious Balbo’ cars were those made between the wars, especially using Lancia and Fiat frames. Alfonso Balbo, the founder, had been victim of a stroke in 1926, and since then the firm was led by his successors, hence the famous Carrozzeria Succ. Balbo nomenclature always seen alongside cars in the firm’ publicity. After the war, many further Balbo jobs were made again on Aprilia, 1100 and 6C 1500 chassis and drivetrains’ combos, and while a good amount of them were molded in the typical Studebakers, Packard or other American marques’ mocking, some others had a rather striking personality of their own, also thanks again to the powerful talent of Giovanni Michelotti, literal deus ex machina for a wide number of companies. Is it any surprise that the basic design of the Fiat 1400-base Balbo creations was his own ?

At this point of our story I don’t think so: it has been calculated that during certain early Fifties Italian Concorsi D’Eleganza, a good 70 % of all the cars shown, regardless of who actually built them, was Michelotti’s own work ! So, as expected by a car bearing his signature, also the Balbo 1400 had a certain originality, and a quite natural built-in beauty. This especially true if we look at the convertible and the coupé variants: perfect proportions, an original front end (with the split grille motif which would become one of the most successful design trend ever), flared rear fenders, low rakish roof lines with an elegant rear quarter windows’ cut and, in the case of the convertible, one window profile, a certain conservative general flavor and quite good taste married with rather modern touches and the right amount of dynamism; in sum, the sportier members of these Michelotti-devised cars may be seen as authentic Italian Style icons. The same could be said also about the more controversial six window sedan: in reality, it looks far more innocuous and normal nowadays than in 1950. Alright, Michelotti’s most interesting creation for Balbo was likely this sort of limo-like sedan, a car conceived for official occasions, executive roles or professional duties: in effect, it is a bit stumpy when compared with the sportier brethrens, but its proportions did defy the time, and they appear modern and present even today, in an era full of sedans with short hoods, rear decks and hugely dimensioned passengers portion.

Sure, the car seems a bit narrow and high for 21st Century ideals, but it seems not too far from certain modern compact sedan, with similar problems and similar compromised proportions, compromised because of an effort to implement interior roominess: just what led Michelotti and Balbo’ team while building this car. Likely, it was the whole idea of such a reputedly “formal” car built on so short a wheelbase that hampered a bit the perceived image of this 1400: as a “normal” family sedan, it would’ve worked very fine; after all, it was another example of how good and how ductile the basic Italian GT Fastback original design could be, even with a six windows four door sedan just like this one. The Balbo “team” also produced another interesting “formal” coupé in 1952, again wisely based on a Michelotti’s design: this car had an interesting door’ window shape, with a rearward raked B-pillar. The wide and deeply split concave grille, together with the showy two tone paint, helped to set it apart. Equally credited to Balbo was another sedan/coupé, done on the Fiat 1900 mechanicals. This 1953 car was a definitely sober creation, maybe with few flights of fantasy: however, the simple egg-crate grille, the sober paint and the simple but fitting wraparound back window were a pleasant comeback to more subtle design solutions. Sadly, the Balbo’ team wouldn’t last for long: the company went bankruptcy in 1954, after an ill fated tentative to offer a small utilitarian auto, the B400, shown during the Turin Salon in 1953 and a shortage of orders kept the glorious marque from staying financially afloat. This shows that there was more damage done to some coachbuilding companies by their own internal woes (trying to outdo Fiat in the brutal hypercompact class, a trap also for Siata and Iso, was and still is a potentially mortal danger), by a lack of affluent purchasers (both domestic and foreign) and an absence of year-long orders-flowing rather than because of the disappearance of proper separated frames to work with. Another great name in the Italian exceptional coachcraft industry going the way of the dodo. Or, more cynically, survival of the fittest at its devious best.

This kind of fate often did hit hard old glorious names as well as promising newcomers like Canta. This 1949-born firm maybe hadn’t become overtly known for its works so far, but surely some of them would deserve far greater credit than what has been given them until now. Take for example this relatively obscure company’ 1400: albeit it didn’t have anything of impressive nor anything of really revolutionary, its neat and uncluttered lines had at least a pair of striking details, one of them also destined to a great future: first of them all, a neat grille, where the central section of the thin horizontal bars was in an ever-so-slightly relief – a Canta trademark of sort, but seen also on certain other carrozzieri’ creations -, and also ably located so to mask the relatively high hood lines, a thing derived by the heft 1400’ engine, always a problem and sometimes solved with debatable efforts by other coachbuilders: here who designed this auto chose one of the most effective approaches, making the grille as wide as possible, in order to gain some precious inches in height too, so to better balance the whole design. Second, and more important, the sporty yet elegant rear roof pillar: this neat solution, with a distinct “kink” and here perfectly enhanced by the contrasting paint, was later adopted on a huge number of cars, but it has become a sort of quintessential BMW touch, after its successful adoption on the 700 and the Neue Klasse. When it was first seen on those early Fifties Canta’ cars, used also on Fiat 1100s and, would you ever thought, on a very similar Aurelia, it was quite a nice addendum, good enough to make this car a bit different from the rather similar Touring 1400s. The Canta 1400, which debuted in 1951, was another one of those obscure yet highly laudable Italian Style cars with at least one rather novel detail, and in this case the most striking touch was a wise use of a new rear pillar cut, a fact that helped to give this kind of cars a very intriguing personality of their own, with no need for further ornamentation nor concoctions of any kind. Also chrome had almost been banned, what with its absence also from typical places like the windows’ framing. Ah, almost forgot to mention that some sources say that this car was penned by none other than Giovanni Michelotti: so, it is quite clear why BMWs of ten years later had this car’ most intriguing touch also…A bit of off-topic now: Canta and Michelotti teamwork also produced a rather intriguing 1100/103, this time with a design so close to the Bourke/Koto’ Studebaker coupés to prompt a resented reaction by South Bend. It was evidently so cute and so close to the ’53 Starliners design philosophy that what had been conceded for many former Studebaker Italian clones in previous years this time couldn’t possibly be granted for. In any case, Canta’ evolution of the original 1400 did have no copyright problems of any kind, apparently: just like most of others’ coachbuilt efforts on the same platform, for 1953 the car was promoted to the more prestigious 1900 engine, also being offered in a noteworthy convertible. For some reason, Italian designers continued to love the one-window Victoria-like profile for some time, also in those years when many European standard production ragtops (and all American ones) had jumped to the two windows scheme, and this Canta 1900 was no exception to this formal choice. Formal maybe, but thanks to the low profile (both literally and metaphorically), the 1900 convertible was among the niftiest of its class. All this while the renewed coupé continued to offer its magnificent roof line, its exquisite sobriety and a novel grille design, still linked to the previous design but now enriched by two fog lights, announcing that under its hood now there was the longer stroke four. However, just like the 1400 and 1900 were a Fifties phenomenon, so it was Canta, sadly going out of business as the following decade was dawning.

Not too far luckier, but a bit better known, was Serafino Allemano, and his company’ works had been always considered splendid examples of elegance and uncluttered lines, with the right amount of originality and glamour, but avoiding tacky ornamentation and fussy detailing. The 1400s done in his atelier are among the most sober of them all, and it is no difficult to understand why: early example of them was a fastback sedan done in the same style also adopted by others, still good and original enough to grant a category prize in the ’50 Concorso D’ Eleganza Del Lido Di Venezia. But this car seems almost a bit lumpish when compared to other 1400s done under Serafino and his nephew Mario’ aegis: let’s not forget that most of the Fifties Allemano’ models were penned by none other than Michelotti, (again him !) and so also some of the 1400s could possibly have been made with some touches of this maestro. Let’s see for example the ’51 1400s, with a neat Michelotti-like rear fender’ shape, and the general clean and perfectly proportioned lines of the sides. Also the egg-crate grille was pretty much in tune with the latest trends, and it is not difficult for someone looking at it for the first time mistaking it for a Ferrari, a thing that not only gave prestige but also a desirable youth’ air and a delicious flavor. If possible, the convertible was one of the best among the various 1951 1400s, even because it did mask with relative easiness the always difficult engine height: this car doesn’t appear to be based on a car with still bulky proportions. And the few frills seen on it (namely the moldings curiously applied on the upper edge of the front wheelwells, with a thin moulure running to the tail) looked quite right, without unnecessary heaviness.

The Carrozzeria Allemano also turned its eyes on the Fiat 1900, finding it a nice occasion to experiment a bit more than what done on the previous 1400s. So, no wonder if the ’53 Allemano 1900s had some more extroverted lines. Nothing really outlandish: just a front end looking like a redo of the PF-styled Nash Healey, complete with parking and auxiliary lights curiously placed on the pointed fenders’ edges. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it ? After all, Vignale too did put some lights exactly in the same location on its new-for-’53 1900, so this ought to be a trend…Anyway, the rest of the body didn’t change too much, and this was a blessed decision: there was no need to improve on something already as good as any. The same applied to the matching ragtop. So, despite the astonishment for the daring front end (astonishment because, as said, Allemano’ cars were always bespoke examples of elegance), a quick look at the profile made every critic’ soul happy for what this car had to offer.

Critics, by the way, had hardly any fault to find while reviewing the 1400s made by Pietro Frua. It is quite fitting that in this coachbuilt 1400’s survey I left this renowned maestro’s jobs , one of the true Italian greats, as the last to be analyzed. But maybe it was a sign of destiny: Frua was, and still is, considered not on the equal plan as a Bertone, a Pinin, a Giugiaro; but arguably he made great things for the Italian Style as a whole, and just like Michelotti and Revelli De Beaumont, he should be considered at least as equal as those revered men named above – under some circumstances, his work would deserve even better credit than some other better known designers. To me, many of Frua’s cars were tangible signs of how influential he was, and how good his work was, and this is true especially while analyzing more obscure cars like his creations on the 1400 platform. Here are cars which easily summed up all the best early Fifties automotive trends, predating much of what other cars – penned by other stylists – made immortal; here are cars with a line as good as any in their category; here are cars perfect also when crafted following difficult design themes, like the four door fastback sedan; in sum, here are cars that can epitomize what the coachbuilt 1400s phenomenon was all about. A perfect sum of what they were, what they represented, what they showed and why they were important for the Italian automotive history. Despite their humble origins, their sedate inner nature, the coachbuilt 1400s looked like cars costing much more, with even more advanced technology below their bodies, and with far costlier market targets. Quite a result for a Fiat !

1951 Fiat 1400 Frua Sedan 4 door fastback

Frua’s 1400s were not the experimental cars that could also have been, if only Pietro’s volcanic fantasy would have been used at full swing: to the contrary, they were again offered in the then-typically Italianate interpretation of the fastback line; but, in any case, they were remarkably fine, remarkably neat and strikingly exquisite: I have already mentioned the four door fastback, sort of Aurelia B20 GT with two more doors. The two door sedan was equally exquisite, albeit here, the similarity with the Ghia 1400 Supergioiello was a bit evident. No problem: Frua’s 1400 still was able to offer something modern and tasteful, and as a plus there was the personal and distinct front end, with a style that prompted an Auto Italiana’ editor to describe it as a “Chevy-like” feature. In my opinion, there are shades of ’54 Chrysler New Yorker too.

Frua’s 1400 shown on Motor Italia’ special Carrozzeria Italiana-dedicated pages.

In any case, the balance and the finely executed details of this car made it a standout among similarly conceived offerings from other companies.

Frua’s efforts on the 1400 platform didn’t end here: just like most of his colleagues, he took care of the renewed 1900 and offered his own idea of what a large Fiat coupé should’ve looked like in a delightful 1953 car, whereas the typical fastback look was now married with somewhat sportier proportions, with a deft long hood-short deck proportions. In any case, the most distinctive feature was once again found in the front end look, where a radical split air intake motif dominated the whole forward volume. Deeply, very deeply recessed in the two heart-shaped “intakes” were fog lights (often used on coachbuilt Fiat 1900s, as a nod to factory-spec Granluce) and horizontal bars, one chromed and three painted, with bullet-like parking lights. The radical look of this prow pleasantly contrasted with the remaining body’ elegant and sporty appearance, and made for a great looker. As following Frua’s creations will show, many of Pietro’s most beautiful ideas concentrated on how to make a nice design out of a bold frontal scheme – or viceversa; and usually, just like here, the indomitable Pietro enjoyed great success in this operation.

Frua’ 1900

Success, by the way, was also what those precious few foreign firms working on the Fiat 1400 and 1900 tried to attain. While as a whole the Europan schools of deign were still, at the dawn of the Fifties, alive and well, with French, Belgian, Swiss, German and British companies still able to propose deft cars, when they tried their luck on Italian-born underpinnings things got a bit complicated, and not always what was done was convincing. Unlike Italian maestri, their offers often lacked what had made those companies and designers working on this side of the Alps so clever and successful: namely, balance, elegance, sense of proportions and good taste. Not that originality was lacking, to the contrary. But often their ideas were blind-alley propositions, strange experimentation where others’ ideas were taken and tortuously modified, lacking often in grace. In any case, this was not always the case, especially with foreign brands; and luckily for our story, also those precious few 1400s made by those foreign firms were tastefully restrained, or, at least, logical in their overall shape. Here I want to describe some of them, again maybe not all the 1400s made outside of Italy, but still a selection of the most significant ones.

Let’s see for example what Rometsch, a well known German firm of the time, did: starting with a stock 1400 ragtop, this company proposed in 1951 a car which was fore of the cowl as stock looking as the donor original Fiat model. But aft of the cowl, a distinctly different profile and a more rounded tail gave a new look, dignified as well as stylish. Maybe it was nothing really exceptional, because it was another Victoria-type convertible, with a voluptuous folding top which was made in the typically grandiose German taste for similar jobs, yet it had a distinct flavor and a certain aura of sleekness. A really interesting proposition, also offering the flush mounted doors which did hid the rocker panels, and a small crease which helped to give some levity to the rear fenders’ volume. The trunk lid was a bit more rounded than the original Fiat’ item, likely also because of the lower profile of the same rear fenders. All in all, not bad.

Rometsch, later on, also made a far different kind of proposal atop a 1400B : in this case, it was a car which offered a rather interesting mix of two distinct school of design, each one being fairly distant from the Italian Style products. This interesting car deftly coupled an Opel Rekord-like front end with a Mercury Comet (sic!) tail, complete with canted fins, all this with the then typically German long deck-short roof coupé concept…despite it may sound a bit bizarre, the car wasn’t all that weird.

Another Fiat 1400 proposed by a foreign coachbuilder was another German-born model: let’s not forget that in the Fifties Fiat enjoyed a good success in Germany thanks to its locally built NSU-Fiat models, and so it must be not a surprise at all to see that the 1400 was the subject of German artisans’ attentions. In this case, the Wendler-bodied 1400 convertible was even closer to the original car than the Rometsch’ proposal. In effect, the lack of vent windows could be the single design feature that most sets it apart from the standard car…In any case, some foreign 1400s were often nothing more than simple “elaborate” models, belonging to that same kind of luxo-spec stock looking 1400s that also saw among their members the already seen Pinin Farina 1400 Lusso with specially enriched fit and finish. In the case of a Weinsberg convertible, in effect, it is difficult to see more than a simple change in wheelcovers and more upscale finish.

Maybe the most ironic nod linking the Fiat 1400 to the very cars that almost universally are considered to be its real styling influencers, the first Kaiser Frazers, is what a Swiss firm, Langenthal, did using a standard sedan as basis: sensing that if the original Kaiser had offered the granddaddy of the modern hatchback sedan with their Traveler and Vagabond models, the same could be done with the 1400, this Swiss atelier did put a rear hatch on the 1400 in 1953, completing the operation with wagon-like folding rear seats’ back! The result was quite like the American original, maybe even better, because the hatch was a one-piece affair, and there was apparently no spare in sight, unlike the cumbersome early Vagabonds and Travelers’ arrangement. By the way, this special Swiss modified 1400 also predated the famous hatchback based on the Fiat 128, the Zastava 101, which might have changed the European automotive history if Turin were to offer it also as an official Italian-built version, thus giving deft competition since day one to the all-conquering ’74 Golf. But that’s another story.

Yet another story is the fact that also foreign-built 1400s and 1900s were subjected to the careful attention of many a coachbuilder: for example, consider that some of the Ghia-bodied 1900s seen in previous chapter could possibly have been some of those built atop the Austrian-spec Steyr 2000 spec. Same look, with only badging and few other details changed, this car’ most interesting feature was obviously the Austria-exclusive engine, as said a larger and more potent iteration of the 1900 original motor.

Speaking of 1400s with foreign passport, the Spanich Seats must be also included here, because , also they too were subjected to some sort of attention, courtesy of firms like Costa or Pedro Serra: the former used the Francis Lombardi’ original project to make a variant of the long wheelbase versions that were famously made by the Vercelli-based Italian industry; It was likely a license-built car, a strange occurrence for such a car, but maybe not stranger than the fact that the latest Ghia-produced Crown Imperials were famously assembled in the Iberian country. Evidently, there was a certain affinity between Spanish firms and Italian-designed (or Italian-built) limo-like autos. The latter company, Serra, made quite a name for itself via the forge of beautiful spiders and convertibles atop the 1400 variants made in late Fifties in Barcelona: these delicious sporty cars were as Italianate as any, with typical Fifties touches like the wraparound windscreen and a fair use of fins, but arguably what resulted had great kudos in tastes and elegance. The basic lines were likely influenced by earlier and more prestigious cars (for example, the Seat 1400 C spider prototype seen in 1959 had hints of Touring-bodied Pegaso in the front, while the basic profile owed something to mid-Fifties typical Italian sportscars), but what resulted was rather appealing, especially true considering the difficulty task endured by whoever wanted to lower the standard 1400’ high profile: and in late Fifties, it was almost de riguer creating cars with an as low as possible silhouette. Considering the starting point, Serra deserves our greatest compliments – albeit an obscure sedan modified with pointy fins, hooded headlights and garish two tone treatment on the rear side quarters maybe wasn’t Serra’ finest hour!

And with this quick look at a sample of foreign-made coachbuilt 1400s and 1900s, this fantastic cavalcade roaming through the sometime obscure, sometime bright story of the first new postwar Fiat has come to an end. I sincerely hope that most readers may have enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed it while writing it. I know, I didn’t do anything new in writing it, for there were already plenty of details and informations regarding the 1400 available: but I loved the idea of trying to give those infos and details through my personal point of view, putting to good use my previous experiences and knowledge regarding this fabolouls car, and writing it in the novel form of an English-language story with an interested look at the deep American flavor found in this Italian car, and for good reasons. I then hope those were reasons enough to make you think likewise, therefore believeing that among the thousands of Italian-born automobiles, the Fiat 1400 and its bigger brethren, the 1900, were likely the ones to have been subjected to the most important and most radical influence ever brought by Detroit, willing or not. And for me, for a true American cars lover like me, this is a badge of honor, and not something to be ashamed of. I was always happy to see that other Italians, deft stylists, engineers, designers and execs had this very same thought . Happy 1400 to everybody !

Epilogue – Some Last Notes About The 1400 And One More Surprising Car

Just like many other automotive milestones, the 1400 also can boast of so many things occurred during its production that it was likely unavoidable for me not mentioning a further thing or two.

So, apologies if I didn’t write, earlier in this story, that the 1400 convertible’ top had a proper glass back window, and large in proportions too, while the top itself was fully cloth lined inside, to conceal framework. Those are quite outstanding features, just like other classy convertibles of the time.

Apologies if I didn’t say that the 1400 sedan also saw Italian Police duties, just like the 1900 convertible which married the droptop body with the larger engine. One such example, a first series, is shown at the Italian Police Automobiles Museum in Rome. And also 1900 sedans had been enlisted in Police, specially equipped with two way radios and sliding central roof portion made by Golde .

Apologies if I didn’t say that among some of its illustrious owners there were names like Tazio Nuvolari in person ( in fact, the 1400 was its last personal car) and Antonio Ligabue, the famous Italian painter. And let’s not forget Enzo in person.

And speaking of painters, apologies if I didn’t write something about the famous 1950 Renato Guttuso’s paint made to celebrate Fiat’ 50th birthday – albeit one year late; quite naturally, its main subject was the 1400: a nice way to give the then-new car a hearty welcome (effectively, the whole 1400 affair can be seen as the definitive and posthumous way Fiat itself used to properly celebrate its 1949’ 50th birthday: and after a one year hiatus, there was nothing better than an all new car to make those celebrations louder and more evident than ever). Apologies, too, if I also find the Guttuso’s way to represent the 1400 a bit wrong, with horrendous and not true proportions: after all, we can always claim it was a perfect example of an artist’s license.

Apologies if I didn’t mention that the 1400, in most of its variants, was also one of the most visible cars back then in typical Italian movies: many 1400s were costarring in Cinecitta’’ productions, together with some of the most renowned Italian actors and actresses. It was a common car on Italian roads and neighborhoods, so it is no surprise to see it as the thieves’ target in the first scenes of that veritable Italian Style comedy masterpiece named I Soliti Ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street).

And the various 1400s (and 1900s) selected for film duties were good both for numbers and qualities: while automobiles as absolute stars of the show were still a distant thing, the Fiat 1400s had the neat distinction of being seen not only in sedan variants, but also as taxies, ambulances, hearses, and many unexpected coachbuilt variants, many of whom I described earlier. So, there were Italian movies where the star cars could be rather rare machines, like the Coriasco-bodied 1400 wagon, which made a brief appearance in Peccato Che Sia Una Canaglia (Too Bad She’s Bad), a ’54 film starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Another film featuring the same famous actors was La Fortuna Di Essere Donna, (in English, Lucky To Be A Woman, 1956), and this time a stupendous 1400 convertible bodied by Balbo was lucky enough to be shown in its making. The always striking Boneschi-bodied ‘50 convertible appeared in ‘57 Belle Ma Povere (Pretty But Poor), sequel to the more famous Poveri Ma Belli.

Coachbuilt versions aside, the 1400 family member which easily can be seen as the perfect automotive co-star in many movies was the convertible. Despite its brief career, its exclusivity and sheer elegance surely made it a perfect feature car for certain productions. One such production, 1957 Il Cocco Di Mamma, starring Maurizio Arena, featured a delightful 1400 convertible, in its typical metallic medium blue – at least in one of that movie’ billboard; its fashion didn’t diminish in later years either, what with an interesting role as the car of one of Renato Pozzetto’s characters in the Eighties comedy, E’ Arrivato Mio Fratello (Here’s My Brother) .

And let’s not forget that also foreign movies included some glimpses of 1400 and its derivative, here and there: we need only to remember the Vignale-bodied convertible driven by Kirk Douglas in ’54 The Racers. Or, alternatively, the Ghia convertible shown in The Barefoot Contessa – albeit the latter was mostly shot in Italy, thus explaining why such an exotic car could be part of the plot.

Apologies aside, I can also take advantage of these last P.S. phrases, because I discovered that more or less at the same time effective end of 1400 and 1900 production (in their B variants) was in sight, Siata again proposed a model loosely based on the precious Fiat model’ underpinnings: it was the 170 S, a delicious little spider conceived to bring back some of the past Daina glory days. And just like the various Grand Sport machines, the 170 S was aimed at the burgeoning North American imported sports cars market. Unlike proper earlier Grand Sport, the 170 S was more a GT type spider rather than an all-out racing roadster, but in any case, what resulted was a neat car.

Sporty cockpit of the Siata 170 S

Styled by Giovanni Michelotti, just like the already cited Caracas, this ’58 little convertible was first shown in ’58 Turin Salone Dell’ Automobile , thus being likely the very last gasp done by anybody on the Italian 1400s: factory cars production had ceased a few months before, and most of said production’ tools and plants had been transferred to Seat in Spain as early as mid ’58 summer. So, it is a bit surprising to know that the 1400 was, after all, again alive in Italy, albeit under the delightful and distant shapes of this spider. Based upon a fabricated welded platform mostly made of boxed sheet metal, the 170 S used mostly 1400-derived mechanical assemblies. Also the engine was strictly 1400-derived: Siata stroked the Turinese sedan’ basement, but not in the same way as Fiat had done with its own 1900; in effect, the Siata convertible retained a short stroke block, because the former 66 mm stroke’ measure was increased to 78, and this was still shorter than the unchanged 82 mm bore. All of this resulted in a 1,648 liter displacement . Yes, it was almost an even 100 incher. As per logical practice of the times, output increased to the healthy level of 75 hp @ 5500 rpms, not too far from the 80 horses obtained by Fiat itself while further developing the 1,9 liter block in its ultimate B format. This Siata’ output was also the result of the adoption of two horizontally mounted single barrel carbs. Dimensionally speaking, the wheelbase was cut to 2,400 mm (94,5 inches, down from 2,650 mm- 104,3 inches of the stock car), while weight was a relatively meager 890 kilos, again significantly less than the standard sedan: all this resulted in 100+ mph ability, very important in a world full of cars like Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Lancia Appia Convertible and the likes.

Sadly, these saucy little spiders, so close in appearance to some of the best Italian cars of their kind, did not meet market success. Despite Siata claims that they had been expressly developed for American market; despite their neat looks, complete with an aggressive front end blending a Flaminia-like mouth with a curious headlights-cum-parking lights ensemble familiar to Buick owners; despite a sporty interior, complete with a rather effective dash; and despite good performances, few were built until 1960, when their production ceased. But by the time Siata pulled the plug on the 170 concept, Fiat had already been busy at marketing a veritable range of nice, clean, modern and appealing open two seaters, with lines gently drawn by Pinin Farina and with brilliant motors accompanying their fine looks. Regardless of this, this ultimate 1400 derivative deserved a few words, and this Post Scriptum text should make some justice to it. Rarely I saw something about the Siata 170 S elsewhere, so forgetting it, while excusable, was not keen to this auto.

With the Siata 170 S, our long story about one of the most iconic yet most underrated Italian cars ever has come to an end. I just hope this latest words give an even better idea of what a special car the 1400 was, and why it really deserves a bright place in the motordom History (with a capital H indeed). And indeed, what better way to definitely conclude such a narration than with the description of yet another “expressly made for US market” 1400, this time a distant and far sportier cousin than the original 1950 sedan ?