14 October 2014

Autobianchi put a touch of class into little Fiats

Coach-built cars on Fiat mechanicals became very popular in postwar era, laying groundwork for a merger

The Autobianchi: a custom-body Fiat with snob appeal.

That just about describes this rather odd creation named for Edoardo Bianchi, who began his manufacturing career in 1885 building bicycles.

Bianchi moved into automobiles by 1899 and his company manufactured a number of different models over the course of the next 83 years.

Like most wartime manufacturers, his company’s focus was on motorcycles and commercial vehicles, including vans powered by Mercedes-Benz engines. And Bianchi racing motorcycles were very well-known and won many victories.

The company patriarch died in 1946 in a car accident, and the ownership of the company passed to his son Giuseppe. In 1957, the company returned to automobile manufacturing and introduced a small car based on the Fiat Nuova 500, which had been introduced in 1955.

The Fiat 500 was a huge postwar success in Italy and was the successor to the Fiat Topolino, regarded by many as the Italian Model T.

The Topolino, just like the Model T, gave the lower middle class the opportunity to become motorized and mobile.

By the mid-’60s, Fiat had sold 250,000 Fiat 500s.

The Fiat 500 was the base vehicle for a number of Italian carrozzerie (coach builders), enabling them to offer cars that looked different, such as faux sports cars that included some deluxe features.

These coach-built cars became very popular and Fiat did not want to be left out of the lucrative sales opportunity so they formed a partnership with Bianchi and Pirelli in 1955. The cars would be known as ‘Autobianchi’ and were sold through selected Fiat dealerships and with Fiat’s factory warranty.

The first Autobianchi was called the Bianchina, a model that sold at a 20 per cent premium above the cost of a Fiat 500.

In 1968, Fiat decided to buy out the two partners and merged Autobianchi into the Fiat Company.

The model shown in the picture is an Autobianchi Cabriolet, famously driven by the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (played by actor Peter Sellers) in the original Pink Panther movie.

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