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The Last Flight Of The Featherweights: The Touring-bodied Fiat 124 C4

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All images courtesy the author.

Some weeks ago, I spent a lovely Saturday morning while visiting the little Bonfanti-Vimar Car Museum set in Bassano Del Grappa, a charming town placed at the feet of North Eastern Alps range, halfway between Vicenza and Treviso and between Padua and Trento. This town, better known for its wood bridge (the Ponte Degli Alpini) and its world famous ‘shine, the grappa, also hosts this little but rather interesting museum, one of the best of its genre in Italy. Mainly devoted to show and to explain North Eastern Italy’s achievements in the automotive world, it also boasts a small but interesting selection of cars.

Thus, while most of its autos are on loan, chances are that some of them are in any case impossible to be found anywhere else; as an example, I can cite the Marino, an intriguing and quite obscure Italian Twenties creation, rare example of a car born outside Milan, Turin, Brescia or Modena: it was in fact built by a Padua-based firm, Marino, which produced more than 90 years ago a hundred or so of this little machines. Aside that, the two-story museum also offers to guests (at least when I visited it) things like a nice 124 Sport in full racing livery and an Opel Kadett GT/E, a Fulvia Fanalona and a WWI-era Fiat 15 Ter, a first edition Giulietta sedan and a Fiat 501, a Fiat 1100/103 TV and a pair of curious stars of past adventurous raids and trips: one was the Fiat truck christened Pigafetta, used for a world-wide expedition in the mid-to-late Seventies, and the other one was a rather intriguing ’71 Jeepster Commando with the 2.2-liter motor and complete with Kaiser badges, in original conditions including its Vicenza license plates, which was used for an epic long-mileage journey across Africa in the era when GPSs were sci-fi ideas only. For my own tastes, the Jeep was plenty enough to let me say that the museum granted my own seal of approval, especially because a car like that, complete with original Kaiser-badged covers, is something a bit unusual also in America.

In any case, this pair of offroad explorers lived really great adventures, explaining why they deserved a now pampered location in a museum.

To begin with, the Jeep (in roughly standard factory format, or at least that’s what it looked to me…) endured something like 30,000 miles of rugged 1971-vintage Africa terrain, while the Fiat truck was used for the around-the-world expedition which lasted for four years (’76-’79), with lengthy, epic legs which brought total mileage close to the nice number of 115,000 miles. One important exploit concerning the Fiat truck’s epic trip was achieved when it reached Andean Chacaltaya Pass in Bolivia, likely arriving where no other motor vehicle ever did before, what with the Bolivian pass 16,400-foot altitude…

From left to right, some Bonfanti-Vimar Museum guests, the 1926 Marino, and the two vehicles used by Cesare Gerolimetto in his raids, the Pigafetta truck and the quasi-stock Jeepster Commando.

In both cases, these trips were performed by Bassano-born Cesare Gerolimetto, (accompanied by a friend with no driving license for his Jeepster African expedition, sharing with him the roof-mounted tent, and trusting Daniele Pellegrini’s help during the three years of the around-the-world Pigafetta’ adventure, with the rear of the truck conveniently transformed in a Spartan but comfortable apartment); their role in the Veneto’ own automotive history explains why these rather important vehicles are members of this museum selection. In itself, the Bonfanti-Vimar Museum is in effect a great subject for a story of its own, and it is quite likely that I have to write something about this.

However, I am here to spend some words regarding yet another member of that exhibit, a car which was located in the basement, which makes for the lower story of the two-story building. I spotted it while entering that ample hall, and I saw it before everything else, because it is conveniently located at the feet of the connecting stairs. Surely its very placement is arranged so to grant a veritable surprise for both the heart and the eyes of a true car nut: this auto is the Fiat 124 C4, the one-off Touring-bodied soft top conversion of that famous Fiat sedan which is possibly the best known Italian automotive product after 500s and Ferraris; at least, the 124 can be easily labeled as one of the most visible ones, with countless variants and models sharing those basic shapes produced all around the world, from Spain to Argentina, from Italy to Russia.

The 124 C4 was born out of a tentative effort done by Touring in order to keep its businesses going on : in fact, what was a star of the coachcraft art in Italy only a few years before, by the mid-Sixties had become a marginal player on the carrozzieri scene. Sadly, its efforts to become a major industrial entity with the same magnitude of Pininfarina or Bertone had been abruptly stopped, contributing to its definitive financial ruin.

Two well-known Fifties Touring production masterpieces, the Alfa 1900 sprint (left) and the 1900 Super Sprint (right).

Three icons of Sixties Touring production efforts, the Flaminia GT (left), the 3500 GT (center), and the Alfa 2000 Spider (right).

Three examples of Touring construction techniques applied on icons of British motordom. Notice the Superleggera script on Astons’ hoods.

In fact, at the dawn of the Sixties, and after the glorious Fifties (when an astounding array of Superleggera masterpieces gave an immense contribution to the creation of the so-called Italian Style, Touring had still an enviable position: the contracts to build the Lancia Flaminia GTs, Alfa 2000 convertible, and Maser 3500 GTs kept things busy, so much so that a factory expansion plan had to be devised. This became even more urgent once Touring became the chosen assembler of Rootes Group, acting just like Innocenti had done for the BMC group: in those pre-EU days, tariffs on British cars were a too high proposition to make them passably convenient for Italian motorists, and this precisely when the economic boom granted plenty of business for whoever wanted to become a major player in Italy. BMC used Innocenti, and their marriage was quite successful (at least until B-L’ own woes meant that Innocenti had to seek for external help in order to survive in the mid-Seventies), so it appeared quite logical that Rootes Group’s boss, William Rootes, set his eyes on a sound and expert firm with really solid know-how and sterling reputation: Touring was the perfect target for this, all the more because of Touring’s own will to become a major industrial star. And naturally, Rootes was well aware of the fact that Touring was one of the few Italian firms with a very great degree of experience on British-born products, with no less than Bristol and Frazer-Nash firms offering autos built with Superleggera principles (with the former exploiting the Touring-designed style for its first production models, and the later giving birth to a superlative one-off spider expressly made for Iran’s Shah), and Aston Martin borrowing from the Milanese company the rights to assemble cars with that very same world-renowned method. Carrozzeria Touring both knew how to work well and how to make British car men happy: apparently, Rootes Group couldn’t hope for a better deal than this one.

The ill-fated offspring of Touring-Rootes cooperative efforts, the Sunbeam Venezia. In profile view, the similarities between it and the Flaminia GT are quite obvious.

The 1961 agreement between Rootes and Touring meant that a new plant had to be part of the equation , and this accelerated the work on the already scheduled Nova Milanese factory, which was ready by January 1, 1962, so to afford proper Hillman Super Minx’ and a modified Sunbeam Alpine’s construction. In addition to these models, naturally, we must add the rather unique Sunbeam Venezia, the only example of a Touring-designed and Touring-built car born out of this agreement.

Problem is, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this operation, William Rootes in person, suddenly died in 1963. This did cast a dark shadow on the whole joint-venture, for the new Rootes’ major backer, Chrysler, had no will to undergo further expansion in the Anglo-Italian business agreement. Sadly, however cynical it may seem, Highland Park had few alternatives: Rootes’ own troubles, even more acute because of all the issues linked to the Imp adventure, dictated where possible a cost-cutting approach. The relative success endured by the Touring-bodied Rootes products (wrong market placement for the too costly Venezia, lukewarm reception for the Hillman Super Minx destined to Italian and European taxi market), plus bitter strikes in the Touring plants during 1963, meant that Chrysler, still looking for more solid financial situation after its famous early Sixties roller coaster blues, desired to have nothing to do with the Milanese firm anymore. Those strikes also plagued relations with other Italian clients. To add insult to injury, typical Italian taxes aimed against big displacement autos meant that also once successful products like the Alfas and the Flaminias now had to cope with a more restricted panel of would-be buyers, and this further reduced production numbers – and future developments – for Touring.

The Touring-bodied Giulia GTC, seen with the soft top up (left) and down (right).

In sum, by 1965, precious few business was left for the once glorious company. The Giulia GTC contract, a soft top derivative of that Giugiaro’s masterpiece (the Bertone-developed GT), brought relief for some time, but once Alfa decided to offer a proper open two seater as a real heir to the Giulietta Spider, any chance of further GTC production came to nothing. Some help also came by Autobianchi, which had Touring build the Luigi Fabio Rapi-designed Primula Coupé, in 2000 examples. However, this too was a palliative only.

A splendid bull, the magnificent one-of-one Lambo 350 GTS by Touring.

Only that epic exotica newcomer, Lamborghini, still showed sincere faith in the Touring’ operations, but this joint effort was just too weak in production numbers to sustain the venerable Superleggera’ firm. In any case, while still in operation, Touring was also able to propose some fascinating iterations of the seductive Sant’Agata early model, what with a 1965 soft-top derivative of the original production 350 GT, the aptly named GTS, and a coupé-cum-shooting brake, christened Flying Star II, which was based on the 400 GT and was shown in 1966 Turin Salon just aside the 124 C4. This Lambo, therefore, shared with the elegant Fiat convertible the honor of being the last first generation Touring: as we know, Touring made a welcome comeback in the world of coachbuilding in 2006, but after its 1966 closure, it seemed destined to be another missing great name in the vast archipelago of lost Italian automotive treasures. Thankfully, this was not Touring’ definitive fate, but back in those days few would ever think to see, one day in the future, a possible reawakening of the glorious atelier – in any case, that’s another story. Now, back to the C4.

The quintessential cubist car, the 124, here in Special format.

In an almost desperate effort to stay afloat, Touring management decided to gamble company’ future on the development of a soft top derivative of the soon-to-arrive Fiat 124, a car which was expected to enjoy great success. In effect, the 124 became one of the best Fiat sellers ever, and its heritage went far beyond Alps, because it became the car which made possible for Eastern Bloc automotive life to finally take off. While the 124 and its derivative, the 125, went on to become some of the best known Fiat products ever (as anticipated, their shape became an everyday item almost everywhere, with important contribution to Spanish, Argentinian and Polish auto industries, also becoming first Fiat product to win European COTY title – and naturally, being the car that put Soviet Union on wheels), what we mostly remember of them are their no-non sense lines and inner nature: clean, simple and uncluttered, but a tad too much boxy, these sedans were the negation of sporty inclinations, at least on the outside; I have already written elsewhere that they may well be considered as the first “Bauhaus” Fiats, sedans with lots of room for the whole family, thanks to ample and luminous passenger compartments, all this in a compact package with relatively short hood and deck and an unusually wide stance, for such a car, courtesy of unconventional proportions between length and width. Anyway, as per that era tradition, sportier models derived from the basic 124 sedan were already in full development, and soon Italian and worldwide motorists would have been able to seat at the wheel of the Coupé and the Spider. After all, if the exterior package of the 124 (and partially , the 125) was overtly austere, the mechanicals were rather promising, starting with the engines . And if it is true that the 124 had a nervous handling (to the limit, it was decidedly oversteering), this was never considered too much detrimental to its overall qualities. As a basis for some late Sixties economical but quite classy coachbuilt variant, the 124 was as good as any, and in effect, there was a good number of one-offs done atop its underpinnings, this precisely in a period when traditional Italian coachcraft industries were suffering from major troubles, caused by fast changing habits and circumstances. Sadly, Touring was affected by these “circumstances” more than most others, as we’ve seen.

In any case, Touring’ Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, son of company’ founder, and one of his most faithful managers, Sergio Rizzi, decided to design the four seats conversion, as a viable way to win over Fiat, so to obtain the needed contract to build it. The C4 was based on one of the very first 124 bodyframes , and so this charming surviving one-off is arguably one of the oldest 124s in existence. Once in Touring’ plant, the car underwent a work mostly confined to the central passenger compartment’ design, with the front and the rear ends basically untouched. In any case, this was no simple task, especially considering the monocoque body of the 124 had to be maintained, and Anderloni, together with his staff, devised what can be described as a sheetmetal “basin”, sort of double floorpan added to the original one so to obtain the needed strengthening effect. Unlike the famous bona fide Superleggera models, whose peculiar traits usually included quite effective aerodynamics improvements and significantly reduced overall masses, the C4 was heftier than the standard sedan, and its frontal section was unaltered, quite a contrast with the philosophy behind Touring’ successes. However, the carrozzeria men showed their skill also while developing such an auto, built following somewhat different-than-usual techniques. The original sedan’ roof was literally chopped off, and the standard windshield was replaced by a far sleeker and quite raked affair, a thing which changed the 124’ personality: whereas the sedan was a bit stubby and austere, the new look of the sides, together with the more angled ‘screen, made for a far sportier, much more elegant and altogether more sophisticated profile. This modification also explain why the C4 main dimensional difference is its height, while every other exterior dimension remained pretty much untouched.

Detail of the trapezoidal-shaped C4 door.

In addition, the 4-door configuration was logically replaced by a two door combo, but instead of simply lengthening the existing items, Touring men opted for rather original doors which had an inverted trapeze profile. This was done also to further improve bodyshell’ strength, but the result was also quite appealing to eyes. Practical too, considering the fact that it made for an easier rear seat’ entry and exit. In effect, if the car were to be produced at some time, this would’ve likely been a very welcome thing: considering that the car was homologated as a five seater car, just like its sedan donor auto, preserving a good accessibility would’ve been a definite market bonus.

The newfound sprightly nature of this charismatic 124 was especially clear with its top down. However, unlike many similar autos, the C4 was an extremely good looking car also with its top up: when in position, the roof was in fact quite rakish-looking, and to make it appear even more appealing, side door windows had been cut at the rear upper angle, creating a very low and slender shape. In other words, Touring maintained the basic isosceles trapeze roof lines also seen on the original sedan, but they lowered it, so to obtain much sharper angles. While this seems more a Kalifornia Kustom practice, it did wonder to make the 124 C4 a surprising sexy machine. In addition to this striking feature, there is yet another styling trick which helps to further improve the sleek nature of this machine: when not in use, the roof is completely hidden below a flush-mounted cover, with no protrusions of sort, thus providing an exceptionally clean profile. Here, the relatively low belt line of the original 124 surely helps, and the final result on the Touring-bodied special is an unexpectedly rakish nature, one difficult to instantly associate with the closed sedan sibling. Icing on cake, there was also a metal hardtop, which replicated the soft top profile and basic measurements. While it makes every American classic cars nuts reminding of a roof taken off a ’63 or ’63 Galaxie 500 Sports Hardtop, it was equally at home on the unremittingly boxy 124, helping the Touring model in gaining a distinct aura of sportiness. The similarity with those rakish full size Fords (and, by the way, also with the closed hardtop variants of the German Taunus…) was even more apparent once the proposed optional removable metal hardtop was in place: it had exactly the same profile of the soft top, only it was done in the same pretty baby blue hue which made the C4 body so radiant, a fact which made it look even more like a proper closed hardtop rather than a traditional convertible. Another plus is the soft top’ sealing ability: who used the car can attest that it is as tight-fitting as any.

The almost bland-looking 124 front end was entirely preserved when Touring made the conversion. Notice the only difference, the C4 badge on the passenger’s side.

In sum, Touring men made one of the most surprising and bespoke conversion jobs ever, literally transforming an ugly duckling into one helluva of a swan, preserving some unmistakable original auto’ details, in other words the front and rear ends remained pretty much untouched (a good thing which always makes everyone aware about this ragtop’ origins and name, and it is quite funny to see the Touring badges attached to this very peculiar 124), all this while altering quite the right amount of parts with relatively few touches and without resorting to overtly costly techniques: as a testament to the Milanese carrozzeria craftsmanship, this 124 works quite fine. A pity it didn’t endure a better production fate, otherwise everybody us would’ve been busy at considering it as a perfect addition to the already prestigious roster of Touring-made Latin autos, autos like the Flaminias and the 2000/2600 Spiders. Underneath, the C4 drivetrain remained basically untouched with its wheelbase, front and rear tracks equal to those of the sedan (respectively 95.3, 52.3 and 51.2’’, with an overall length of just 158.6’’ and an overall width of 63.9’’). With the obvious additional weight caused by the needed structural additions (according to factory data, the C4 is decidedly hefty, to the point that calling it a proper featherweight like many of its prestigious siblings is quite a stretch!), the standard auto’ 60-hp 1,2 liter OHV motor was likely unable to propel the car much beyond the stock 88-to-90 miles mark, or, for that matter, even to hit those speeds. However, the stock 124 was a sound and modern project, which included some state-of-the-art items like the four wheel disc brakes, so these good qualities were also part of the C4’ nature. Supposedly better aerodynamics, due to the adoption of a lower roof profile, surely may have been of some help, but this car was conceived as a boulevard cruiser, with no pretensions of all-out sporty attitudes: these had been left for the Coupé and, most important, for that Tom Tjaarda’s masterpiece that was the PF Spider.

However, Fiat head honchos, especially the marketing men, were not kind to the C4: after thinking that the really capable Touring model could somewhat hamper the supposedly huge market impact the 124 Spider was expected to do, fearing that it would’ve been a possible in-house competitor for the proper fixed head 124 Coupé, and, in all likelihood, still aware of the tepid market reception endured 15 years before by the 1400 Cabriolet, Fiat didn’t give approval for this project’ further industrialization, and this despite the fact that the Touring creation was every bit as sound, safe and feasible for production as any. In truth, Fiat had plenty of occasions to see how sound this project was, for the completed 124 C4 was delivered to Turinese test drivers, so they could offer their precious judgment about this midsize soft-top. After Fiat tested the car for something like 20,000 miles, with lots of hours spent in the harshest possible conditions and on the worst possible roads, the car was returned to Touring. Fiat tests lasted from December 1966 (beginning just after the end of ’66 Salone Dell’Automobile in Turin, where the new auto was shown for the first time to public, together with the proposal for the Aston Martin DBS and the Lamborghini Flying Star II, in itself the last true Touring auto) until February 1967, and they showed that the car behaved faultlessly, with no issues regarding the structural rigidity of the shell. Touring engineers had done a superlative work, and their efforts had created a sensible and relatively safe possible addition to the 124’ roster. After all, if Touring data are correct, the C4 weighs something like a robust 30 percent more than the original sedan: quite a sturdy droptop indeed – and, definitely, not a featherweight anymore!

Most dangerous competition for the 124 C4 came from in house, here The Enemy Within N. 1, the 124 Coupé.

The Enemy Within II, the Fiat 124 Spider.

Sadly, Fiat didn’t think future prospects for the car could be quite promising, despite the fact that foreign branches of the Turinese company were thinking otherwise: Fiat France, for example, claimed that it was ready to sell something like 10,000 yearly units of the C4. This equaled to the projected Nova Milanese plant’ capacity (10,000 units was the production target for the Rootes autos expected to come off the Touring factory), and roughly double the anticipated C4 break-even target. However, Fiat stopped any further discussion, and despite so sound a premise, the 124 C4 remained pretty much alone. All in all, Fiat must not be blamed excessively because of this: it is quite obvious that times and tastes were changing, and those desiring sportiness in a given car wanted a no-compromise machine, with few visual relations with the original sedate sedan; so, a car which in any case instantly reminded public of the four door 124 had likely fewer chances to attract buyers who wanted a rather distinct personality, whether in open or fixed-roof format –at least, in Fiat management’ minds. In this respect, and despite its defects, the 124 Coupé, designed in-house by Boano, seemed to Fiat execs a more credible two door variant, while those desiring open air feels and sportiness more and more opted for two seaters, just like the 124 Spider, thus relegating proper four passengers convertibles to the market also-rans.

Two views of the Lancia Flavia Convertible, maybe the closest 124 C4 possible competitor.

In effect, it is interesting to say that the 124 C4 was pretty much alone in its own market segment, let alone in Italy, and it had a rarified competition even when one wished to consider different price ranges or foreign markets’ situations: proper four place convertibles expressly made out of roomy family sedans weren’t exactly the most common proposition in Europe back then, with Lancia Flavia Vignale being the closest Italian rival, and easily the reference concept for Touring men. In France, the Peugeot 404 convertible (a nifty Pininfarina creation) and the Renault Caravelle were possible C4 rivals, and their enduring success was a viable reason which likely stimulated Fiat France to show some genuine interest toward the C4, maybe because it did, handsomely and precisely, fit in-between those two Gallic convertibles’ market spectrum. In Germany, specially-built Taunus, Rekord and Kadett convertibles were nice but rare; the suave BMW 1600 made by Baur could’ve been a closer competitor, although in the end it was a decidedly sprightlier auto than the original 124 C4.

However, most of the wannabe 124 convertible’ competitors were of British heritage, with various proposals, like the Crayford creations, the Cortinas especially, being quite similar in concept and origins; other British autos, like the Herald and its derivative, the Vitesse, were perfectly viable rivals, although they were getting a bit old in 1966. Although smaller than the 124, we must include another venerable car too, the Minor convertible.

Anyway, please don’t forget the immortal open Beetles and, to some extent, the Karmann Ghia convertible: when we consider them in the equation, a modern four place convertible made out of a cheap midsize sedan seems quite like the perfect tool to attract the open VW clientele, and in a big way! Maybe Touring men were aiming at that kind of product while envisioning their Fiat-based proposal…

In addition to all these, also those high-end Mercedes and Citroen DS must be remembered, if for no other reason that they were further examples of spacious touring-type four seats soft tops. Clearly, a Merc 300SE or a Chapron DS were very different animals than our humble C4, yet they were closer than expected in concept.

After analyzing these elements, it seems like some precious market space for a Fiat four-seater ragtop could be found, but Fiat marketing thought otherwise: they evidently concluded, after a quick but precise analysis of the whole business, that the mediocre production numbers of the same Flavia Vignale (1643 units in 6 years), together with the not-so-ardent requests for other types of four place convertibles, were reasons enough to sack the Touring project. Or, alternatively, they found the Italian market could remain a bit indifferent to the proposed convertible: back then, and much more than today, Italian market was downright vital for Fiat.

This is speculation, of course, but, as said, times were a-changin’, and faster than expected: a sleek sportscar was the “in” thing, with a romantic sedan-derived open variant being considered by many only as an afterthought alternative or, worse, a thing of the past.

One last consideration: American market could’ve also been a possible C4’ destination, for it offered a welcome mix of affordable Euro compacts’ features and bona fide coachbuilding heritage. At this point, it seems strange that Fiat, always interested in business opportunities in the U.S. of A. back then, didn’t decide to build such an intriguing variant… All this, while there was still a good reception for proper open four-seaters. Did Fiat men suppose that the C4 would’ve made inroads in the sales of its sporstcars in America, namely the 124 Spider, the 124 Coupé and the 850 Spider, cannibalizing those autos’ market share, thus sealing its fate further on for the sake of preventing such damage? That’s a possibility, although still confined to speculative thoughts.

Anyway, the suave C4 arguably deserved a better fate, just like the Giulia GTC: after all, Touring men expected it could make a profit with its proposed price of 1,400,000 Lire, a rough 25 percent more than the sedan – no small sum back then, but still far from being a king’s ransom. Maybe, if only Touring were to be somewhat richer, as far as finances are concerned, thus being able to risk some money just to show the soundness of this project with more examples built, things may have been different.

But, as we know, Anderloni, Rizzi and all the Touring men were in deep troubles in that very late 1966.

In fact, by the time the car came back in Nova Milanese, Carrozzeria Touring was no more, with its main plants’ definitive closing by 31st December 1966 (with some of the very last units assembled until the end of January 1967). So, yet another glorious Italian carrozzeria did bite the dust, a fact which was becoming an acute problem, with many other firms going the way of the dodo, with glorious old factories facing the same sorrowful fate of relatively young newcomers: this crisis, caused by a slew of factors, would’ve left precious few names by the end of the Sixties; in any case, while Touring’ destiny was one of the most regrettable ones, it was also not a total surprise: simply put, it was yet another example of what was deserved to those not strong enough to change their nature, their attitude, from being an artisans’ brotherhood to a bona-fide industry giant. Bertone and Pininfarina were among the ones which had made such a step forward, while Touring was caught by its terminal crisis in the middle of a transformation process which, if it would’ve been completed, it could have changed its fate for the better. Sadly, this didn’t happen, and for something like 40 years, Touring Superleggera would’ve been a signature of past glories. As anticipated, however, this didn’t last forever: thankfully for the lovers of splendid autos, in 2006 the revered Milanese name reawakened, and since then some audaciously fine machines have again had the honor of wearing the prestigious Superleggera moniker. However, that’s another story, and there are few, if any, doubts that the 124 C4, together with the equally exoteric Lambo Flying Star II, is the last of a really glorious breed.

Despite the obvious problems, Sergio Rizzi was able to enter in possession of this car, also because it was assigned to him as a partial compensation for his previous Touring-related job, so the C4 was rescued, and regularly licensed for road-legal use. This happened in October 1968. From then on, the soft-top 124 enjoyed a pleasant carrier as an alternative auto for the Rizzi family, being also used, at some point, to tow a caravan! However, this especially charming automobile had caught the imagination of Rizzi’s friends too, including Monsignor Aristide Pirovano, missionary bishop, who sometimes borrowed the C4.

Once, Monsignor Pirovano used it to pick a dear friend of him so to accompany him to Rome: this friend was none other than Karol Wojtyla, then Krakow’ Bishop. Yes, the 124 C4 had the honor of hosting future Pope John Paul II on his biscuit-colored seats, thus qualifying itself as some sort of Popemobile, albeit in ad honorem format!
Despite the 124 C4 enjoyed, as anticipated, a mostly cherished life, almost two decades of active – but thankfully not-too-intense – usage and the formidable breakneck workout done on it by Fiat test drivers at the very beginning of its career began to take their toll, to the point that a restoration was in order if Rizzi wanted to see it again in its original conditions: so, in mid-1988, the car was the subject of a complete redo, coming back to its 1966 splendor, and as such it remains. However, its exclusive and dashing lines are a rare sight, even if the car did enjoy its fair share of open road miles, participating in indoor and outdoor shows, meetings, events of various nature, and also accompanying Rizzi during some fascinating holidays’ tours !

The C4 as seen while entering the museum hall where it is exhibited.

You can therefore imagine my marvel when I spotted it, just at the feet of the huge metallic stairs which allows visitors to enter the basement of the Vimar-Bonfanti Museum. What a sight! It came pretty much unexpected: I already knew it, I already had seen its rakish lines, its sleek profile, its suave nature, at least in pictures. But, what a joy to see it in metal ! What a surprising machine it is, exuding charm from every inch of its body (well, almost: its face is just what you’d expected from a stock 124, after all…). And also if it wasn’t below a shiny sun, but safely closed in one of Italian most important institution’ vault, it still made for one superb object.

The front passenger compartment of the 124 C4 was quite roomy for a compact convertible.

There is one great advantage in seeing it inside a museum, instead of spotting it in an open space: it was (and, provided you take a trip to the museum, it still is) conveniently placed so everybody could study and observe it from rather close distance, with no barriers, with no obstacles, with nothing stopping who wants to take a deep look at it. This is quite useful, for it allows everybody to study the simple but effective modifications made by Touring technicians, and it also grants an attentive survey of its interior. In fact, just like its exterior, the 124 C4’ cockpit has received a fair number of modifications, made with deft skill, and without any loss of some of the most alluring qualities of the original sedan. So, despite its exclusive aura, the 124 C4 is as practical as any, at least when compared with other convertibles of similar origins: wide seats and plenty of space for front passengers’ legs make for a commodious two-some ride, while the rear seat allows three more companions, provided they aren’t volleyball players – otherwise their legs would have to endure some problems. In any case, there is a noteworthy amount of room available to travelers, not unlike the standard four door, and this, coupled with the wide luggage space, is one definite plus, maybe the one single reason why Touring designers and engineers chose to preserve most of original 124 dimensions and fore-and-aft volumes. This attention to passengers’ comfort is clearly understandable also while reviewing some other cockpit details: the dash is just like the one found in the original sedan, maybe not too glamorous but arguably practical; here, the main difference is visible in the instrument cluster, where the original horizontal thermometer-type speedo was superseded in favor of a wood-framed binnacle with five round dials, which included gauges instead of idiot lights and an additional tacho, always useful with the hi-revving nature of this auto’ Latin powerplant. This feature also gave the right touch of glitz to an otherwise austere ensemble. The dominant interior color is biscuit, with the dash being offered in the dark brown which was the peculiar color used in early 124s: in truth, the early 124 sedans were somewhat criticized for the Spartan fit and finish attitudes, and the dash was one example of this; anyway, Touring men opted to maintain a similar approach, but with the right touches of class, here and there, touches which made for a slightly more upscale rendition: what few defects remained in this regard in the C4, were more the result of the one-off nature of this auto rather than real drawbacks.

Close-up of the driver’s seat, allowing a view to the punctured upholstery.

Seats upholstery was rendered in a micro-punctured texture, so to improve interior climate; ahead of the doors, under the dash and on the sides of the pavement, a pair of deep pockets offered further place for small items, while for rear passengers convenience, an auxiliary doorhandle was placed so to afford them to open the doors with no hernia-inducing maneuvers. Another nifty detail for rear passengers is the courtesy lamp, conveniently placed at shoulder levels.

Rear passengers can count on a pair of vertically placed courtesy lamps, side, plus the mandatory window crank handle and, just beside the front seat’ back, an auxiliary door handle for easier exit.

In sum, the interior of this car is as delicious as the exterior, a further proof of the superb work made by Touring to develop a proper production automobile. Sadly, Touring’ fate was sealed, and nothing could likely have been able to save the Superleggera firm from becoming another casualty in the troubled Italian small scale manufacturers’ panorama of the era; however, it is equally impressive and surprising to see how effective and how fascinating this small droptop auto was: as an example of the What If species of auto, is as perfect-to-the-point as any. Many thanks to Ingegner Rizzi, who saved and preserved it, and to the Bonfanti Museum, which hosts it, to let us know this relatively obscure yet stupendous piece of Italian carrozzeria art: unexpected and forgotten, maybe, but every inch a great example of a long lost automotive vision.

One last look at this unexpected classic.