It is about the FIAT 1100, known as the Millecento, and referred to in Fiat’s advertising of the day as “the magic Millecento”.
There were quite a few versions of the 1100 during its lifetime (further detailed here), though many of these did not reach our Irish shores.
The car featured here was owned from new by my father and was bought from R.E. Johnston of Donegal town in April 1959. He traded in what was his sixth successive Austin, an A40 Somerset (more popularly known as the Somersault for reasons all too familiar to their drivers) to buy this FIAT 1100. SYI 67 was the 1958/9 model which was known slightly confusingly as the 103D, even though it was not a diesel.
The car was bought for £625 with no extras included. The car was, in todays terms, customised to a certain extent however. Normally the FIAT 1100 came with yellow painted wheels, but neither myself nor my father could stand the horrible look of those yellow wheels, so we asked for them to be painted in the body colour of the car.
In buying this FIAT 1100, my father was following, dear man, the expert advice of his son, then an engineering student, who was convinced, partly by the highly complimentary road test report in the February 1958 issue of Motoring Life (see here for more) that this was the best buy in its price range at the time.
This car was a brave buy for a man just reaching retirement. The FIAT brand at the time, and the 1100 model in particular, had anything but a good reputation for reliability.
However, in its 50,000 mile life over 50 years, this car had few mechanical problems and none of the electrical problems which bugged earlier models.
Reminiscing on SYI 67 in its early days, the feature that really stands out was its character. The little 1089cc engine, turning out a lowly 43 BHP produced a lively performance.
Maybe the performance against the stopwatch was nothing spectacular by todays standards, but was of sports car standards by comparison with the Fords, Morris’, Hillmans ,Vauxhalls and Volkswagens of its day. The top speed of 78 mph (at a crazy 5000rpm) was something to boast about!
It was the smooth, willing manner , together with a distinctive engine note, in which the 1100 produced its performance, and indeed still does (to 40/45 mph!) , that made the car so endearing.
It had a superb steering column gearchange, and huge finned aluminium brake drums, which together with well-damped suspension provided a driving proposition which, in its day, always just demanded to be exploited !
Rose –tinted memory? Not really!
I myself drove an identical car, YYI 423, for some 125,000 miles over a 4-year period all over Ireland, so I do feel my assessment is well based.
But of course! Tyre life on crossplies was atrocious.
I finally went to Belfast for a set of Michelin X’s which reduced tyre wear as dramatically they increase road noise and suspension harshness. But one had to make choices in those days!
Other minus points included a dreadfully angled brake pedal, more of which anon, an ineffective handbrake which worked on the transmission shaft, a bench front seat which, though chummy in the right circumstances, was unsupportive on long runs.
The standard equipment is level of the FIAT 1100 is worth a mention. At the time, few cars of its class were fitted with a heater and demister, windscreen washer, boot and engine compartment lights, indicator repeaters, draught excluders, low fuel warning light and so on.
You’re thinking these are all small items by todays standards, but at the time, they all added to the distinctive character of the Millecento!