Last month Humbers, this month it is Fiats. The occasion was the First International Fiat Register Meeting, with 13 cars from the UK Fiat Register, ten from the Registro Fiat Italiano and the same number from the Club Amateurs Fiat d’Epoque converging on Eastbourne on July 1st. This memorable event was supported with the utmost generosity by the Fiat organisation and run with unflurried efficiency by Alfred Woolf and his staff.
For me the “Gentlemen’s Sussex Trundle” on the Saturday, when a competitive element was introduced by issuing each crew with a Polaroid Swinger II camera and asking them to take artistic pictures of various beauty spots, was a pleasant drive in an historic sportsracing car, namely George Liston-Young’s Fiat BaliIla, an ex-Arthur Dobson car driven in the 1935 TT by Elsie Wisdom and in the 1936 TT by its owner. Speed, as indicated on its big central speedometer, was kept down in deference to the bearings, but the eager, taut feel of the little red car, which was doing 90 m.p.h. at 5,000 r.p.m. on the occasion of its memorable Goodwood marathan some years ago, was readily apparent. A well-equipped instrument panel showed 50º oil temperature, 20 lb. oil pressure and 85º water temperature on the appropriate dials. The original type spring-loaded strap holds down the steeply-tapering bonnet, the centre-lock wire wheels have their correct 15 in. rims and the doors possess the external and internal locks to guard against the effects of chassis distortion. The car’s TT ancestry is apparent in straight-cut axle gears and gate-type back-front central gear change and naturally the screen will fold flat, A typical “period” feature which the latest vintage replica eschews, while a vest tail fin, cycle wings and front springs shackled at the front are typical 508 practice. It was a draught-free, firm ride, a fine introduction to this assembly of the three Fiat Registers.
Lunch on Saturday was at the Ducilla Zoo, where some of the Continental crews took a ride on a train drawn by an 0-4-0 petrol-locomotive with a very vintage radiator but a s.v. Ford Ten power unit under the bonnet.
The Sunday Concours d’Elegance took Place at Mickelham Priory, where this finest-ever gathering of the older Fiats came together effectively on the well-kept lawns.
There were five open sports Balillas, including the aforesaid Liston-Young car, the Fitt/Savill job with ugly but original hood, and Westwood’s “Black Diamond” team-car with MG back wheels, headlamp stoneguards, luggage grid and Ace of Diamonds motifs on its bonnet, and Dubarry brought a 508CS Balilla Aerodynamica, that little Fiat coupé like a baby Alfa, with red steering wheel rim to match its body and glass-knob on the gear lever.
In this country we go in mostly for the smaller Fiats—501, 502 and Balilla. So the very big Fiats from the Continent were an eye-opener, seemingly a match in size for Packards and Rolls-Royces. For example, there was a very fine 1930 525, a vast 7.00 x 18 Pirelli-shod tourer with space for occasional seats. It had Rubberflow Watson Stabilators, mounted transversely as favoured on several Fiats with ribbon-type snubbers, a gear-lever lock, and a truck containing two fitted suitcases still bearing the labels of its former owner, a Costa Rican Ambassador. It has American-style bumpers, as on quite a few later Fiats, and is thought to have run only 30,000 kms.
Another big one was a 2800 Presidenziale with Farina cabriolet body with division and the 1940-type radiator grille; it was King Victor Emmanuel’s own car. Almost as over-whelming was Locci’s 2800 Berlina with the lift-up door handles (one was missing), an internal telephone, and the grinning grille. Capet’s Simca-style 518 Ardita had a Triumph Dolomite-type grille, styling that had a distinct touch of Chrysler/Horch about it, and Aerolux Marchal headlamps. Carella’s 522C Berlina resembled a De Soto but has four forward speeds, and a 521C Berlina had a twin-tube front bumper and fins on head and sidelamps, while Pichetto’s 525S saloon, another spacious one, had a big ventilator door gaping from its scuttle.
Backing up the unusual Fiat models were Ian Smith’s 501 coupé, probably the oldest 501 still running, Pearce’s white 570 cc. Topolino, Miss Towell’s metal-bodied Tomlino estate car, a 509 tourer and fabric saloon, the saloon French version, Poupon’s neat 521 saloon said to have been on a scrap heap a month ago, two OMs, Lincoln’s 1929 model and Hancocks 2-litre, the latter winning the travelling clock for best car in the Concours d’Elegance, and a 1912 Georges Richard tourer with period treaded Michelin tyres, Phares Besnard gas headlamps, fuel tank-cun-scuttle, and a Unic radiator made by the Liotard brothers which was apt to steam gently on hills, this car, also called a Unic being driven up front the South of France to take the magnificent large scale model of an Edwardian racing Fiat for the oldest car to arrive.
Two more Unics (this company is now Fiat subsidised like OM) were present, both enormous and of great rarity. One was Houdayer’s 1934 U6B with Henri Binder coupé de vill body, Cotal electric gear change with its minute gate on stalk under the steering wheel, and Zenith carburettors feeding into separate three-branch inlet manifolds, these being coupled by an outboard balance pipe for the air cleaner. Of, if possible, even greater bulk, was Carsell’s 1932 Unic U6CL with Louis Dubos saloon body and a Wilson-type selector lever for its Cotal gearbox. Both these Unics were s.v. six-cylinder cars on Michelin tyres, with vertical oil-radiators in the centre of the water radiators, like those that used to feature in illustrations which accompanied Paris Salon reports of long ago. In sharp contrast was Cordin’s little s.v. Fiat BaliIla two-seater from Switzerland, its mottled leather upholstery carried into crash-padding on each side of the facia. Costantino, the indefatigable curator of Fiat’s Museum in Turin, brought a very good example of s.v. BaliIla tourer. It was a significant Fiat occasion, at which the guest-of-honour was the new V6 Fiat 130 coupé. — W. B.