Archive | 2010

A Short History of the Fiat 1100

This text seems to be doing the rounds of the internet in one form or another. It provides a nice concise history of the Fiat 1100.

The Fiat 1100 was an automobile produced from 1937 to 1969, by the Italian car maker Fiat.

The Fiat 1100 was first introduced in 1937 as an updated version of the 508 “Balilla” (its real name was the 508C) with a look similar to the 1936 Fiat 500 “Topolino” and the larger 1500, with the typical late-30s’ heart-shaped front grille. It was powered by a 1089 cc four cylinder, overhead valve, engine. Drive was to the rear wheels through a four speed gearbox. Subsequently the car underwent a partial restyling around the front end and gained new streamlined window-shaped louvres and was re-named the 1100B and popularly known as the “1100 musone” (i. e. “big nose”). After World War II, in 1949, the car was re-introduced with a curvy trunk and new name, the 1100E. Both the 508C and the 1100B were also available as the long wheelbase 508L and mainly used for vans and taxis.

In 1953 the 1100 was completely redesigned as a compact 4-door sedan, with a modern monocoque bodywork and integrated front lights. The new model was called the 1100/103 after its project number, and was offered (as usual at that time) in two different versions: “economica” (cheaper) and “normale” (standard). The car became available in a sporty version, the 1100TV with a third light in the middle of the grille and in station-wagon version, with a fifth door.

Between 1956 and 1960 the new 1100 underwent several slight changes in fittings and details, e.g. newly designed grille, more rectangular profile, dual color dressing, and eventually small fintails with spear-shaped backlights. A special version, the 1100 Granluce (i.e. “Large light”), launched in 1959, had both fintails and wider windows. As an option it could be fitted with a new powerful 1200 cc engine.

Retaining the exterior changes of this model, in 1962 Fiat introduced the 3rd generation 1100, called the 1100D. It was a sober yet comfortable 4-door runabout, very similar to the Granluce but with smoother sides and a new simpler rectangular mouth. The 1100D was a successful Italian standard in the early sixties and along with its own SW version survived without any substantial alteration until 1966, when the introduction of the groundbreaking 124 model imposed a further change in styling.

The very last 1100 model, born that year, was the 1100R (R = Redesigned). It had a longer, straighter and slimmer line, with a square back and a front-end look not so different from its bigger sister the Fiat 124. The 1100R finally gave way in 1969 to the new middle-class Fiat 128.

The Fiat 1100D is known as the Premier Padmini in India.


Mrs. Hansberry’s Fiat

By Ean McDowell, March 2010

“1965 Fiat Sedan, unable to get spare parts, is unroadworthy, so cannot be sold. I would give it to anyone who is interested in restoring old bodies. Has done approximately 40,000 miles. White in colour and quite dusty as it has been sitting in a carport for several years; Mrs Lorna Hansberry, Landt Hostel.”

The faded notice was in frail handwriting taken down from a noticeboard long ago. It was said the car was given away four times but no-one ever collected it and sadly Mrs Hansberry passed away in late 2009. There was no family. Eventually the house was sold and to help out one of the nurses at the hostel and her “Uncle Frank” moved the car so the new owners could take possession. One can only imagine the contrast of this sad ending to the day the new Fiat came home for the first time on 7th April 1965.

Frank was a Stock and Station Agent in the Warracknabeal area… the type of guy who knew everyone within 100 kilometres. He didn’t know Mrs Hansberry well but he was aware that she and her husband owned a successful plaster business in the town for many years. Long since retired he had time on his side and started to clean up the Fiat to get it running again. It needed a windscreen and he sourced one in Bacchus March, about 300km away. When the windscreen arrived it had “round corners” from the earlier model so it was returned and replaced. Such is the way in the country. The Fiat also needed a water pump. Enquiries were made and eventually it was removed and sent to Portland, 200km in the opposite direction, for repair. Frank had spent a bit of money which he hoped to recover and his friend Dirk suggested they put it on eBay. Dirk obviously had a way with words and despite all the car sales pitches in history, here was the genuine case of “Driven only to church by a little old lady”.

To every old car purchase there is a story. I happened to be browsing on eBay only an hour after the advertisement was placed. The advertisement said it needed a clutch and my initial thought was that clutches don’t wear out at 40,000 miles on a Fiat 1100… it has probably done 140,000miles. The bodywork looked average in the photos on eBay but the interior looked very clean. I thought it was worth a try and I hit the “Buy it Now” button. The adventure was about to start.

The Fiat 1100 Riviera comes home.

The Fiat 1100 Riviera comes home. Click for bigger.

Rainbow, the town where the car was located was about 450km from Melbourne. Dirk said there would be a bed if I wanted to stay but I reckoned I could get there and back in a day. I was on the road by 7.30am on a day that was so typical of Australian summers. The weather forecast was for the mid-30s in Melbourne… probably 37 at Rainbow on the edge of the little desert. On the Western highway the speed limit was 110kph and it was no trouble at all to maintain that, the trailer was empty but the back of the ute was well loaded with ramps, extra wooden beams and blocks, trolley jack, ropes, tools, and two spare trailer wheels. Many people say the western plains are boring with gently undulating broad-acre grain farms as far as the eye can see. I think the opposite and enjoyed every bit of the trip. I pulled into Rainbow just after noon and there was the Fiat on the side of the road … parked as arranged so I would recognize the house. I did a U-turn and pulled alongside…. It was rusty and dirty… not at all as I expected. I had paid too much! I met Frank and Dirk, and Dirk’s wife made us a coffee. Pretty soon we were laughing and joking. Dirk had worked all his life in mines in North Queensland but said “they found two young guys for the cost of an old guy like me”. He and his wife looked on the internet for the cheapest house in Australia and they found it at Rainbow. They had never even heard of Rainbow let alone been to that part of Australia. Within three years they had transformed the dry and sandy block of land into a mini rainforest by recycling everything. It was a fantastic garden. Frank told us stories of the land and the characters of the past. They knew nothing about Fiats but hoped I would save it. Soon we went out to load it up. I set up the ramps and Frank started the car to drive it on… he didn’t make it… he never even looked like making it. I took over and as I felt the steering and eased it into gear it was very obvious that the 39,100 miles showing on the speedometer was genuine. I brightened up. Frank suggested I navigate down the back roads and small towns rather than going via the highway and with a touch of genuine country hospitality came out with two cold soft drinks for the trip back home. This was most appreciated as the temperature was probably well over 37degrees.

Mazda Ute towing the Fiat 1100 Riviera in the Western Plains of Victoria. A 900km trip on one day.

Mazda Ute towing the Fiat 1100 Riviera in the Western Plains of Victoria. A 900km trip on one day. Click for bigger.

The ute with fully loaded trailer still pulled well but 90kph was enough. The back roads were rough but the scenery was great. I was watching the Fiat in the mirror and thinking about it. I stopped for fuel and people came over to look at it. I brightened up even more. About 150km out of Melbourne I was glad to rejoin the highway but then it happened. The inside trailer tyre blew out, the tread came loose, and it flopped around and dragged the mudguard firmly into the wheel. I had all the equipment to jack the trailer and replace the wheel, but the heavy steel mudguard was so firmly jammed against the wheel. To make things worse it was late afternoon and the damaged tyre had ripped out the trailer lighting. With some effort I eventually managed to lever the mudguard away with the trailer ramps, change the wheel and reach home. I drove the Fiat up and down the road and put it away.

There are little things that show Mrs Hansberry cared for her Fiat. The boot is in perfect condition… almost never used you would say. The rubber mat in the boot was unmarked and in the little wells on each side there was a plastic “mat” to create a floor. I have never seen a car that still had these. In fact I made a mental note to look in the parts book to confirm they all had them when new. The rear seats and carpets cleaned up and are also like new although the sun has taken its toll on the top of the back seat and the vinyl has cracked and faded. I will try to find a seat from a similar model as there is sufficient vinyl in the lower squab to cut out and replace the damaged section. The tools are all there and the original driver’s handbook and guarantee are in the plastic bag they were delivered in with “Fiat” printed on the front … probably opened once or twice when the car was new but then untouched for 45 years. Being a country car there are a lot of stone chips and some small rust holes that will have to be sympathetically repaired but most of the rust and grime has polished off.

I am in no hurry… in fact I enjoy I leisurely cleaning and refurbishing each bit of the car. I will continue to clean and detail the exterior over the coming months and to run and tune the motor. The clutch is strong but sticking and hopefully it will come good with some use. The rear brakes are also binding. Maybe it was left for 10 years with the handbrake on or maybe the flexible hose to the rear axle is blocked. Generally the need for refurbishment is lack of use rather than wear.

Mrs Hansberry’s Fiat will be looked after in the manner I am sure she looked after it.


Readers e-mail from Australia – part 2

I always say how great it is to be receiving e-mails from Fiat 1100 owners and enthusiasts from around the world. Last week, I published a readers e-mail from Australia.

The reader kindly followed up with some more details about their cars, and the Fiat 1100 in Australia:

I’ll come clean now and tell you I am an absolute Fiat 1100 nut. I have the following:-

1953 1100 103 series. This was made in the first few months of production and you are right. They are nice and light and they go extremely well. Much better acceleration than the later cars. I found this car in Canberra, capital city of Australia and about 800km from where we live. It was a garden ornament for 10 years just collecting leaves and rust unfortunately and it was given to me free of charge if I would restore it. I got it running but still have not finished the body.

1958 1100 TV Spider. I imported this car from Mexico and it is being restored at present.

1959 Stanguellini Formula Junior racing car which was based on Fiat 1100.I imported this one from France. Car 40 in the photos above.

1959 Moretti Formula Junior racing car. I imported this from Florida.

Readers Fiat 1100, Australia

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1959 Fiat 1100 Export… bought in Brisbane and cleaned up carefully. I had to travel 4000km to collect it and bring it back. It is a 70,000 mile original car. I use it in events.

1962 Fiat 1100D. I only got this a month ago… 39,000 miles from new and just fantastic. I have attached an article I wrote about getting it.

You are right about the nostalgia. Every time I drive an 1100 someone will come up and say “I learnt to drive in one of those”, or “we went for our honeymoon in one of those”, etc.

I might also tell you I have a large collection of other Italian cars but I really enjoy the Fiats. We used to have a farm where I had lots of sheds and could store cars. The Australian climate is reasonably favourable provided they are covered. When we sold the farm I bought a factory in the city to store my cars and to restore them.


In the Select club

Another story from The Hindu related to the Fiat 1100.

In the Select club

The Hindu
September 1st, 2009

Owner of a 1960 Fiat Super Select, Damodaran holds the key to Premier Padmini’s past

In the pantheon of timeless Fiats, the 1100/103 occupies a minor throne. It can’t be mentioned in the same breath as the Alfa Romeo, the Grande Punto, not even the Il Topolino. The 1100/103 was among cars Fiat S.p.A began to make for third-world markets in the 1950s. Functionality was the watchword. The frills were kept to the minimum.

But the Italian automobile major tried to make the 1100 as nice-looking as a limited budget would allow. A spurt of models from 1953 to 1960 is evidence of this effort. These models differed from one another in a minor way.

The Hindu | In the Select club

Click for bigger.

The changes primarily involved the grille, the rear lights and the car’s overall shape, which gradually moved from slightly round to strikingly rectangular.

Introduced in India in 1954, a year after its launch, the 1100 was known by many names, depending on the changes. So, we had the Millecento, Elegant, Select, Super Select, 1100 Delight, Premier President and Premier Padmini.

When the Premier Padmini was in production, it was easy to maintain the older 1100s. Owners used mechanical parts manufactured for the Padmini. Padmini’s meters also made it to the dashboard of these cars.

K. Damodaran’s 1960 Super Select does not use a tape, but a pointed needle to indicate speed. Not just the speedometer, the car has borrowed the whole dashboard from a Padmini.

Damodaran bought the Super Select in 1990 and sourcing a Padmini dashboard, complete with the meters, was not a challenge. As he runs an automotive garage and consultancy, fitting in the alien piece and making the corresponding alterations were not difficult either.

He has given the driver’s corner a makeover — the sporty wooden steering and a cabinet are some of the elements of this alteration.

In his defence, he has preserved certain features that are highly characteristic of this model. They include the side beadings, thinner than those of a Padmini. The car retains its emblem — a stainless steel rod that bisects the bonnet and is crowned by the shape of a bird. Most 1100s such as the Elegant have emblems that are not crowned by any intricate artwork in metal.

These features, together with the front-opening front doors, the less pointed taillights and the convex grille with checks, help you distinguish this Super Select from any of its closely resembling cousins, older and younger.


Readers e-mail from Australia – part 1

This most recent e-mail from a reader of this website came from Australia – making it three e-mails from three continents. I’m thrilled already at the responses I’m getting from people about the little Fiat 1100. This e-mail came from quite a Fiat nut in Australia. This was the first part of our correspondence:

Readers Fiat 1100, Australia

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I found your web site today and wanted to let you know I have several Fiat 1100s in Australia. From 1959 through to 1962 they were imported in knocked down condition and assembled in Sydney.

They were quite popular here but you never see them now. My earliest is a 1953 103 model and just recently I have purchased a 39,000 mile one owner 1962 model.

I have a very large quantity of new parts if you need help. I will be happy to send you details and photos of the cars if you wish.

I know of about 12 others in Australia.


Man & Machine – Back to the Fifties

Following on from the story I found about the Fiat 1100 on The Hindu website / newspaper, I checked out to see if there were any more. And, given the prevalence of the Fiat 1100 up until more recently, it’s no surprise there’s more stories available from that publication.

Man & Machine – Back to the Fifties

The Hindu

March 9th, 2010

Jayaram and his sons patiently sourced one part after another to give their Fiat Millecento a fine makeover

The Hindu | Man & Machine – Back to the Fifties

Click for bigger.

In the 1950s, the Fiat 1100/103 was subjected to a series of changes and re-launches. Despite the redesigning frenzy, the models were not radically different in their core design. Yet each variant has special features which attract serious collectors, who generally have preferences for one model over another. Knowledgeable collectors, Jayaram (in picture) and his sons Srikumar and Jaikumar love the Millecento more than any other 1100.

“In contrast to any other car in the 1100 family, the Millecento supports the spare wheel on an L-shaped bracket in the boot. The upper and lower portions of a taillight are uniformly red. In the Elegant, the upper portion is orange and the lower, red. We also loved the triple slat grille and the dashboard which sported a Millecento badge,” says Jaikumar. “We resisted offers of Selects and Super Selects for Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000 and waited for a Millecento.”

They found their car in Puducherry; but the 1956 Millecento displayed signs of capricious maintenance.

“A square lattice Super-Select grille had taken the place of the triple slat grille. The dashboard was studded with Ambassador Mark IV meters. The knobs on the dashboard were not Millecento’s. All lights, on the front and back, had been replaced.”

Patiently, the men sourced one Millecento part after another. “Millecento knobs are of ivory colour. We sourced from eBay knobs that come close to the original.”

From paint to upholstery, the Millecento underwent a thorough change.

When Jaikumar and Srikumar went to Puducherry recently on a rally, the mechanic who had sold the car to them was stuck with disbelief. “He took our permission to take the Millecento and show it to his friends.”

They consider this the best compliment they have ever received.


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