Inspired by the aesthetics of the Cisitalia 202, this unique example hides a few tricks under its bodywork which enhance its speed
Once upon a time there was a Fiat 1100 S Berlinetta. The engineer who designed it, with its svelte lines and refined mechanicals, was the brilliant Dante Giacosa, father, amongst others, of motoring icons such as the Fiat Topolino and the Fiat Cinquecento. The model was based on the pre-war 508 C Mille Miglia, with the more powerful 1089cc front longitudinal in-line 4-cylinder engine. The configuration was so lively that its 51 hp at 5,200 rpm required a centrifugal oil cooler and water pump. Other mechanical modifications, such as the gear-driven camshaft and the use of shell type bearings, also hinted at a racing character. The result being, with its 825 kg, the car was capable of up to 150 km per hour.
High performance and personality. This goes to explain why, at its first participation in the Mille Miglia, the model enjoyed significant success: four 1100 S finished in the top ten overall, in fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth position. It was in 1947, the same year in which production began (and continued until 1950) – that the example we have here first saw the light of day. Once upon a time there was a Fiat 1100 S we said – and happily it’s still around to today, albeit now as a highly refined one-off. It is a destiny that’s common to many of those surviving examples of the 401 built in total by Fiat. However, due to racing attrition over the years, these cars are now seriously rare, with their unmistakable frontal design – featuring bold chromed strips running horizontally and vertically forming the large radiator grille. The body lines are aerodynamic and streamlined; with a clean, bumperless design and smooth rear haunches featuring spats covering the rear wheels on some examples.
Center of gravity rearranged. This Fiat 1100 S appears never to have raced at the Mille Miglia, but according to the penultimate owner it participated in the 1949 Giro di Sicilia. After that, given the good performance that led it to rank among the top 15 overall, it was transformed into a Barchetta, according to the car’s saviour and pro tempore custodian. At that point, in addition to converting the car to right-hand drive, an enhancement was applied in the search for even greater handling efficiency: the mechanical running gear was relocated 20cm further back in the chassis. “I realized that when I bought the car in 2002,” says the enthusiast. “It was all dismantled. The engine, although complete, was sitting on the ground. When I tried to reassemble the engine in the chassis, which is all strategically drilled to make the car lighter, I fitted the gearbox and the pedals, but when I got to the drive shaft and the differential, there was 20 cm missing. So I bought another shaft thinking that it wasn’t the original one but going to put the body back on it was clear that the engine had to slide further back. So, by studying the frame better with some expert mechanics, we came to identify the right holes in the pedals and the motor and we bolted everything back into its original positions. At that point I had to modify the drive shaft again since I had thrown away the original! “. After all, who would have thought of such an eventuality?
A great work by the Carrozzeria Motto. Driving this 1100 S is an emotional experience. “With the center of gravity more central, the weights are balanced optimally, and you feel the effect very well”, says the former owner. According to him, even for everyday use the car would be eminently suitable. He also personally took care of the restoration, although it was for a new buyer. He actually made it a “sine qua non” condition of sale that he had to take care of all phases of the rejuvenation of the car, which had been found in a dilapidated state. “In my opinion it remained in service until the seventies, perhaps even the eighties – he says – because I have a photo of the time when the car is seen parked up on a sidewalk”. Nothing had to be restored in the frame (see picture below), which is a real gem of an example: “It’s a work of art!”, enthuses the expert. While the chassis has been simply cleaned up and repainted, the engine has undergone a total restoration. The two seats were also found complete, but …with headrests. Therefore they have been replaced by reproduction examples more akin to the models of the time and also the upholstery is all new, as are some of the instruments. In the meantime, the driving position had been reverted to the left-hand side at some point in the early 1950s, when the car changed its body again, this time at the hands of the Torinese coachbuilders, Motto. It’s imagined that as the magnificent Berlinetta Cisitalia 202 by Piero Dusio had been released (in 1947), this beautiful red Fiat wanted to emulate its captivating looks.
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Photos: Lucia Potenza