Italian Enthusiasm for the Specialist Sports Car



Some Striking Examples of Modern Design

It is inevitable that wherever motor-racing is indulged in, rabid enthusiasts will thrive and the more practically minded enthusiasts will produce specialised competition cars. In England various groups or individual enthusiasts produce for us cars like the Coopers, H.R.G., Gordano, Healey, Bond and Alta. Similarly, in Italy the same type of people are building equally-specialised cars such as Cisitalia, O.S.C.A., Testa d’Oro F.I.A.T., Ferrari, Moretti and Siata. Whether the enthusiasts be English or Italian, or for that matter French or German, it is the same love of special competition cars that prompts them to produce hand-built cars of an interesting and individual character. In this present age of line-production and rapidly diminishing individuality among our everyday four-wheeled transport, it is refreshing to look upon some of the special competition cars from Italy. The enthusiasm that prompts the building of cars such as those illustrated knows no political barriers and whether the vehicle is known by some exciting Continental name or an old English name, the quality and workmanship are the same, as are the thoughts and ideas that go towards the evolution of such machines. It is the sport-minded enthusiast with an individual outlook who will always be with us, to build, not in the easiest and most economical way admittedly, cars that still retain interest for those of us who like something different. It is these people who will stave off until the last possible day, the time when even the bars of the radiator grilles of our national cars have taken on a uniform direction.

Perhaps the most classic of Italian specialities is the Cisitalia, for it sprang into being in a most convincing manner at a time when the world had hardly come to rest from the spin that the Axis had put it into. The model illustrated is the successful coupé used in the Mille Miglia, which was timed along a considerable length of autostrada at an average speed of 94 m.p.h. Apart from being most interesting mechanically, the Cisitalia coupé is an outstanding example of the coachbuilders’ art and an object lesson in light-alloy panel beating. When the brothers Maserati left their original firm it was not surprising to find them building a new Maserati-designed car. As the name Maserati had remained with the old firm, the new car designed by the Maserati brothers was named O.S.C.A. A good idea of the proportions of the car can be gauged from the side view of the chassis; the comfortable armchair-type bucket seats are an interesting point, as is the way that the tubular chassis frame rises over the rear axle, the axle being suspended on half-elliptic springs. An unusual feature for a competition car is the use of left-hand drive, though it is, of course, used on the A6G sports Maserati. The 1,100-c.c. engine is a twin-o.h.c. four-cylinder, non-supercharged, fitted with two downdraught carburetters and coil ignition. Independent front suspension is used, being of the parallel wishbone and coil-spring type, as can be seen in the front view of the chassis. It is interesting to note that an anti-roll bar is used at the front, connected to the lower wishbones.

As an example of reducing weight to a point that would appear to be beyond the safe limit, the Moretti 750 is a very good example. Not content with building the body and chassis as a complete framework of rectangular section tubing, all the main cross-members are drilled to an almost impossible extent. The 750-c.c. engine is a twin-o.h.c. four-cylinder fitted with two horizontal carburetters. Front suspension is independent (the popular F.I.A.T. “500” type), while a normal type of rear axle assembly is used, mounted on half-elliptic springs.

Mention of the F.I.A.T. “500” brings us to the diminutive Testa d’Oro, which is based on the well-known “Topolino.” In a chassis of its own, with wishbone and coil-spring i.f.s., the Testa d’Oro has an o.h.v. four-cylinder engine, developed from the “500” model. The radiator is mounted low down at the front and twin downdraught carburetters are used. Some idea of the size of this little car can be judged from the photograph of it being tried out in Italy.

A rather unusual car is the rear-engined 750 Siata, which has a layout similar to an Auto-Union, very much scaled down. For all practical purposes. the Siata is a single-seater, with the driver situated in the centre of the cockpit, in front of the engine. The seat squab extends across the full width of the car and would appear to be built for carrying an occasional passenger on each side of the driver! The rear-mounted engine is an exceptionally clean design, of 750-c.c. capacity, being a twin-o.h.c. four-cylinder with carburation of the single downdraught pattern, a type very popular with Italian constructors. The engine, gearbox and rear-axle assembly are bolted up in one unit and an absence of under-bonnet trimmings and bits and bobs tends to make the power unit look rather lost when the cowling is removed. An unusual feature of the Siata is the use of a surface radiator which forms the nose of the car, sloping from the windscreen down to the most forward point of the car.

Last, but by no means least, we have the Type 166 Ferrari. This car is undoubtedly one of the high-lights of the post-war sporting world, for in an age when people are expending their energy on producing performance from engines based on a production unit, Ferrari’s. introduced a V-12 cylinder engine, boasting every possible complication; small cylinders, o.h. camshafts, high revs, in fact an engine which could justifiably be so described, and, in itself, a masterpiece of engineering. This attitude is carried throughout the car and the result is one of the most outstanding non-supercharged cars of all time and a Formula II winner. The model illustrated is a road version with bodywork by “Touring” of Milan.

No matter in what country or what the conditions, the enthusiasts’ love or specialised cars for a special purpose will always flourish, and as the photographs show, the Italian enthusiasts have their flair for achieving the impossible, in a land suffering from being defeated in a major competition of a not very sporting character. D. S. J.

[We are grateful to M. Constantin for sending the photographs which prompted this article. — Ed.]