Back in the 1950’s the enthusiast’s source of car news was the Irish magazine, Motoring Life. The Autocar and The Motor were around, but it was well known that they were never openly critical, especially of British cars of the time.
One was left to read between the lines! (Memo to self: Must dig out some classic comments on some of the many Turkeys which were the subject of Road Tests) That said , the technical articles in The Motor were of a very high quality, as I remember.
Anyway, Motoring Life did a Road Test article on the 1100 in their February 1958 issue, Road Test No.66! The article started enthusiastically:
When we last tested the FIAT Elevenhundred(1953 model) we ran ourselves out of both words and ink in an effort to put over our enthusiasm for what seemed to us to be the outstanding motor car of its class at the time.Even now, tutored by the 1958 model, we find ourselves facing a problem no less difficult; for with one wave of a magic wand the Fiat Company has once again leapfrogged its delightful favourite out and ahead of the others.
Wow! How about that! no wonder I was smitten! The technical Editor then tells us that:
the Power output has increased from 36 BHP to 43 BHP, the brakes have been modified and their lining area increased by a cool 48%,that the tail end of the body has been completely redesigned,and the interior trim improved.
He then goes on to say:
Yet it is the omissions from the list that make the difference. There is no reference whatsoever to a truly dramatic transformation in the character of the 1100 from being a throaty,stiff kneed,quick off the mark sporting saloon into a sedate, subdued, supremely comfortable model.
Surely the words of a committed enthusiast! And the description of the 1953 model, with its mighty 36 BHP describes its character exactly! The softening of the 1958 model is said to be the result of market research, which required that:
the older model needed an amount of (Italian) de-nationalisation in anticipation of the European Free Trade Area.
In truth, the most significant change was to quieten the 1953 car’s rasping exhaust note,and one could hardly describe the new model as being supremely comfortable, with its slippery bench seat and badly-angled fixed backrest.
The Millecento recipe strikes us as being just right. There need be no fears on the part of those who dawdle not. No other car of comparable size and price can cruise mote effortlessly in the upper sixties and early seventies (m.p.h.). Without a shadow of doubt there is’nt a car on the marketat anything like the price, and offering the sameaccommodation and fittings, which can put up such an account of itself on a diet as frugal as the Fiat’s. On test, average consumption figures of 37 to 40 m.p.g. were achieved.
The excellent all-round visibility is praised, and there is a lengthy ,if unconvincing discussion about the forward-opening front doors. They are passed as o.k. because the handles have to be LIFTED to open them, rather than the more normal downwards movement!
The comment on the forward-opening front doors, which, of course, were shortly to be abandoned, ends with the hilarious comment that:
Anyway, Fiat can fairly argue that they have met the case , for haven’t they planned it that the rear doors open from their trailing edges!
There is further evidence of the Technical Editor’s practical, not to say unbiased approach to some of the 1100’s foibles in his discussions on the brakes. They are (rightly) praised for their effectiveness, and FIAT is praised for its action in:
placing greater emphasis on the restraint, rather than the increase, of terminal velocity!
However , in (correctly) commenting on:
the ill –disposed angle and rake of the pedals, it was considered disconcerting to discover that daylight shines up through the shaft cuttings in the floorboards when the pedals are depressed.
Fortunately , a first –class heater keeps the intermittent draught pretty well under control.
How reminiscent of comments in modern motoring journals such as Auto Express……fuel consumption was a slightly disappointing 10 mpg, however in compensation, no water top-up was required during our test…….or such like!
Seriously, the badly-angled….sorry, disastrously-angled brake pedal, the result of a botched conversion from Left-hand to Right-hand drive, was responsible for the only mishap in the 50 plus-year life of SYI 67. When, on a very wet day, my father braked on the driveway outside his residence, his foot slipped off the offending pedal, and the car proceeded through the wooden up-and-over garage door. The only physical damage done to the car was a dented bonnet panel; his pride took quite a hit, however!
It is interesting, and a little nostalgic to read of how the 1100 rates in relation to Motoring Life’s pet hates, 1958 style. Semaphore –style indicators are preferred to flashing traffic indicators; however ,the 1100 is praised for having Mercedes style repeater “ears” on the sides of the front wings.
In regard to another ML hate, the steering column gearchange is described as being:
a precision made, properly designed mechanism which works smoothly and feels as positive as it is possible for a column change on a four-speed box to feel
…… high praise indeed.
I wonder what the Tech. Ed. had to say about the typical column changes on British cars of the day???
So far, so good for the 1100 BUT…… the absence of “ our old friend the cranking handle” is “ a serious omission”. You can’t win them all!
Other comments, taken at random from a very comprehensive and well written article include the following.
- Bucket front seats as fitted to earlier 1100s are preferred to the currently-fashionable bench(which,in fact was quite uncomfortable, and difficult to adjust).
- Another fashion gimmick of the day was the ribbon –type speedometer, rightly considered difficult to read, and a backward step from earlier models.
- A “surge of admiration” was felt for the car’s handling ,and the fitting of rear AND front torsion (anti-roll) bars drew favorable comment.
- It is interesting to note that the service interval was 1500 miles(12 greasing points).
Other statistics which highlight the progress since made in automotive technology and ,indeed, make a nonsense of the much stated” they don’t make them like they used to” include :
- 0 to 60 mph, 30 sec.( yes,30!)
- Top speed,78 mph
- warranty,6 months!
Mention is made of a car with 59,000 miles being fitted with a new timing chain, big-end bearings, valve springs,exhaust, and silencer and doing 300 miles per pint of oil!
From my own experience, this must have been a very hard-driven car; mine( YYI 423), which was not spared, covered more than twice this mileage with no engine parts replaced. Its weakness was for king-pin bushings!
Interestingly, mention is made of an article written in an earlier issue of Motoring Life about experiences with an 1100 by Erskine B. Childers, later to become a much-loved President of Ireland. I hope ,shortly, to obtain a copy of this article, courtesy of a gentleman who contacted me through the website.
The M L Tech.Ed. parted with the test Fiat 1100 “with genuine regret”. I conclude this post with genuine nostalgia!