The Fiat 600, today mostly overshadowed by its smaller brother the 500, was the car that put post-war Italy on the road. Introduced in 1955, the 600 was one of the many miniscule masterpieces that emerged from the brilliant mind of Dante Giacosa.
Signore Giacosa, like many early automotive pioneers, was a true designer who not only oversaw engineering of the chassis and drive train, but also supervised body and interior design. This resulted in a unity of style, function and clarity of purpose that is all but impossible to find today, when car designs are the product of too many chefs.
Free-flowing cursive script is not often seen on automobiles today. It still survives at Alfa Romeo, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Outside this quintet it is rare indeed. In days past, cursive was common throughout the industry.
Such longhand script was often utilized to enable casting a complete badge out of a single piece of metal. The alternative was to either run block letters together, or connect individual block characters with a bar across the top (à la Ferrari,) a bar at the bottom (typified by BMW and Mercedes-Benz) or through the centre in the style of Alfa Romeo.
Pre-war cars used cursive scripting almost exclusively, although badging itself was generally minimal or nonexistent. In the 1900’s manufacturer nameplates were usually affixed only to the front of the radiator, and model designations were not displayed. In the thirties, even this practice declined, with most vehicles displaying the manufacturer’s name only via a stylized logo atop the radiator shell. After the war, marque and model badging began proliferating and begat its own art form.
1968 BMW 2800CS riding on unusually elegant alloy wheels featuring a polished chrome centre cap discreetly concealing the mounting lugs. Visible fasteners on a contemporary automobile are generally considered to represent a lack of refinement, yet seem to be embraced when they appear on otherwise highly stylized wheels. These were produced for BMW in Italy by FPS (Foundry Pedrini Siena).
Today, alloy wheels are all but ubiquitous and are used by automobile manufacturers as a key styling feature, often used to differentiate model ranges and equipment specification. They started becoming popular with the general public in the 1980’s, but were in fact offered sporadically since 1924.
Previous to the development of the alloy wheel, wheels were formed of two pieces of pressed steel, the rim and the disc, either welded or riveted into a single unit. Or, they were fabricated of a steel or aluminium rim, connected to a centre hub by metal spokes. A transitional design was a hybrid utilizing a steel disc for strength and an aluminium rim for weight saving. Such a design was used by Porsche and Jaguar in the 1950’s. Another example was the Borrani Bimetal, used on several Italian sporting models.
Carlo Abarth poses alongside his Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750
In the 1950’s, long before a Mini Cooper, Lotus Cortina, BMW Alpina or AMG Mercedes ever turned a wheel, two cars debuted that introduced the concept of sanctioning outside firms to design and create modified, high-performance versions of standard road-going sedans. These cars, like their successors that would follow, combined the everyday practicality of the family car with a healthy dollop of the performance and driving pleasure of a sports car.
The first was produced in 1956 by Carlo Abarth in the form of the Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750, based on the recently introduced Fiat 600 Berlina. Far from being simply a repository for a collection of bolt-on pieces, the 750 was heavily modified by Abarth in a very thorough and systematic fashion that would set the standard for future vehicles of its type.
If I asked a group of automotive enthusiasts to name a rear-engined car with colourful body-side graphics, staggered-width wheels, large rear fender flares and a ducktail spoiler; a deafening chorus of Porsche 2.7 RS would likely ring out.
Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS – (M 471 type)
That is a good answer, but not the only answer. In fact all these features came together seven years earlier…