A section devoted to old car matters…
A rare Fiat:
At the 1919 Olympia Motor Show, Fiat showed two new models. There was the excellent Tipo 501 10/15 h.p., which turned out to be one of the most reliable and popular of small cars. Also shown, was the large 20/30 h.p. six-cylinder Tipo 510. One of these was a Berline on an 11′ wheelbase, but there was also a sports model with a well-shaped V-radiator and very clean lines. This was the 510S, with a 10′ wheelbase. Unfortunately, no pictures of this model were shown, and over the years, photos of this very attractive car have been conspicuous by their absence.
My interest in this Fiat, with its V-radiator, began in the 1920s when my parents, after a succession of Zeros, bought 510S, usually two at a time, in 2-seater, 4-seater, coupé, and saloon forms. We also had one particularly smart aluminium-bodied 501S.
With the schoolboy’s usual avidity for catalogues, I gratefully accepted from H. J. Jones & Co., who were the local New Zealand agents, those showing the larger 505 15/20 and 510 20/30 Fiat models, which they, and I, hoped my parents would buy.
The 510S with its V-radiator and beautiful Italian body was looked on as almost the ideal carriage, and it was well up to any of the other more-complex luxury models shown at this first post-war Show. No price was mentioned for the Sports model, but the 11′ wheelbase open four-seater touring model was priced at £1,500 and no doubt the 510S was approximately the same price. At this time, the 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce chassis was priced at £1,550. I note, however, that in 1920 the price of the large Fiat five-seater tourer had been reduced to just under £1,000.
This sports version, really a fast tourer, had a bore and stroke of 75 x 130, and a capacity of 3,446 c.c., side valves, a c.r. of 5 to 1, a double-choke Fiat carburetter of fine appearance, and a Marelli magneto. It developed 53 h.p. Maximum speed was quoted in the catalogue as 60 m.p.h., so its cruising speed would be 50-55 m.p.h. It must be remembered that the 3-litre Bentley at that time only claimed 70 m.p.h. with its 65 h.p.– so the Fiat was not far behind, and I am sure that it was a much more comfortable and reliable vehicle than the complex and noisy Bentley, with its sketchy body.
Before raising the ire of Bentley owners, I freely admit that the Bentley went on to much greater things and that the Fiat was handicapped by very low 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, no doubt good for Alpine passes, but poor for main-road hills. I am the owner of a Bentley, but of the civilised Crewe variety. I am told The Motor tested a 501S once and reached 70 m.p.h., but I have not been able to find the article.
The Italian body — designated a “Torpedo Sport Luxe”, is described in glowing terms in the catalogue — “a straight-lined body with streamlined bonnet and scuttle, four seats, special inclined-shaped windscreen, double extension hood with rear lights, side curtains carried up to the windscreen and provided with lights. The hood, when down, concealed in rear of body. Upholstery of antique leather, cabinet work on back of front seats. Map pockets. Luggage carrier. Petrol-tank protector. Two toolboxes.” The finish was claimed to be “extra special luxe”.
From 1919 to 1925 414 of this model were made, the last ones having four-wheel brakes. Quite a number of these came to Australia and New Zealand, but only five are now officially known to exist, two in Australia, two in New Zealand and one in Kilkenny.
Those coming to New Zealand were mostly imported as chassis and fitted with quite handsome locally-made bodies, rather similar to some English bodies fitted to this chassis. Open two and four-seater coupés were produced. I know of no saloons here, but the Queen of Siam had a rather unattractive limousine, illustrated in the Bolaffi Fiat catalogue.
My own car, of 1921 vintage, is the oldest 510S officially known. It has a body by Richard Mann of Kensal Road, London, and has been converted to well-base rims and front-wheel brakes from a 520. The latter were an optional extra, anyhow. It has a long history of owners, but was mechanically restored by David Barker of Palmerston North, from whom I purchased the car. Subsequently I arranged for a Fiat carburetter to be fitted (2nd Series) and for complete restoration of the upholstery, dashboard, and I fitted a rear windscreen. The car was then painted Torino red.
Driving this car is pleasant, once on the move. Cruising speed is 45 m.p.h., but not much more than 25 m.p.h. is safe once reduced to third. The steering is very high-geared, one turn from lock to lock. It is not, therefore, a car for vintage gymkhanas. Once on the move, however, a few degrees of movement get you round the corner.
Petrol consumption is 15 m.p.g. as claimed in the catalogue, and oil consumption is negligible. The gear change needs some practice but is soon mastered and the engine is commendably smooth.
The other 510S in New Zealand belongs to Mr. Alton Harrison of Levin. He has recently had the car smartened with a new coat of paint and general refurbishing. This car has the original beaded wheels, and a V-windscreen similar to the Italian sports model. It is much faster than mine, having been fitted with twin SUs. It is a 1922 model and it has had the radiator stripped down to bare copper, which gives it a rather striking appearance.
Both 510S’s competed in the International Rally held in the South Island in 1972. My car suffered from a defective magneto and it was expedient to stop at the top of a hill, or near another competitor who did not mind giving you a tow. I also had some difficulty with the fuel supply, due to a defective float chamber in the dashboard tank. In this model there is a mechanical pump which creates positive pressure in the rear tank. This forces the petrol into the dashboard tank, whence it goes by gravity to the carburetter. The defective float in the dashboard tank led to a terrifying experience every now and again, heralded by a strong smell of petrol. On opening the bonnet, petrol could be seen spraying plentifully over the hot engine. For some reason no fire ever occurred. This fault has been corrected and the car is now very reliable. (I have heard of this inflammatory tendency on a 40/50 Fiat — Ed.)
Fiat made many famous sports cars in the past, including the 75/90 h.p. Taunus of 1908/09, the S61 of 10-litres in 1911-1913, the 519S of magnificent appearance, and the 8V of 1952-1954, not to mention the Ballila. Many still consider the Fiat Dino as the most attractive sports saloon.
I have no doubt that they all gave as much pleasure as I get, trundling along, perched high, behind that V-radiator, with the wind whistling round me, giving a much greater impression of speed than the 45 m.p.h. indicated on the speedo of my 510S Torpedo Sport.
Graham B A Cowie