F. W. Champion enlarges on a subject dealt with in ” Motor Sport ” of January, 1944.
Originally a Riley Nine enthusiast, I was seduced away from this marque by things people told me and things I read about these little Fiat, cars — I am referring to the 10/12 “1,100” model. Better steering, superior roadholding lower fuel consumption and lighter weight were promised by my tempters. My little Riley Nine went to a friend who, though he did not appreciate the fact fully, got a grand little car in fine fettle. A brief search produced a 1939 de luxe “1,100” Fiat with 20,000 miles to its credit, at a fair price. On checking up I found that the dealer who sold me this car made only £25 on the transaction, which was not exactly profiteering I thought, and for this price he trued and balanced the prop.-shaft and fitted a new timing chain. Timing chains on these cars get noisy very quickly owing to the short distance between the crank and camshaft centres.
A brief test showed what delightful little cars these are, a wonderful sense of control and safety being given by the combination of first-class steering, good roadholding, excellent cornering and, of course, the grand view forward due to the low “falling away” bonnet and the highish seating position. There is something delightful about driving these cars which I fear cannot be said about the popular British small car, which tends to be a pain in the neck for travelling any distance. Acceleration and maximum speed seemed very poor on my car, which was strange as compressions were good, ignition O.K. and carburation very fair, though not quite all it should be. Of this more anon. Circumstances dictated that the car could not be put into use, so it was stored away.
Shortly after this I had an opportunity of buying Fiat No. 2, a blue car of the fixed-head variety which I prefer. The price was low, in fact extraordinarily so, so a trip to Birmingham on a pouring wet day, a run round in the car and the purchase was made on the spot. This car had done about 50,000 miles and had seen lots of hard work in the hands of a bad driver. In spite of this, condition was fair, the engine was not smoky, it used no oil (which is not usual with these engines, which are of an oily type), compressions were good and valves in perfect condition. There was a good deal of rumble from the main bearings and the prop.-shaft dithered not a little. The body was very quiet and rattled less than No. 1; perhaps the fixed-head roof had something to do with this. It seems wrong to me to spoil a nice body by cutting (literally in this case) a great square hole in it and fitting a sliding panel which one never uses, and never needs to use with these cars, as, in spite of a fixed windscreen, ample ventilation can be secured from the scuttle ventilator, the inside of the car always remaining fresh and free from fumes.
Anyway, car No. 2 was put into use on essential work, rumbly mains and all, and put up a big mileage with no attention except relining the clutch, whose linings were as smooth as glass. Careful adjustment of the Italian Solex carburetter’s variable main jet produced 32 m.p.g. in suburban running — not as good as my Austin Seven but only 4 m.p.g. less and with much better performance. The normal maximum of 72 m.p.h. was cut down to a bare 60 by this adjustment, but it was considered worth while.
This car had oversize tyres, which gave it a very fine performance in third gear; one could drop down into third for quick main-road overtaking, and shoot past other cars at about 50, changing up as one passed. I imagine many lorry drivers and others wondered what this small cheapish-looking saloon was that could pass them with such celerity in a gear lower than top. Nothing was done to this car in some 10,000 miles except greasing and an occasional wash and polish. It stood out in the open all winter and never failed to start in the mornings. Steering, in spite of its big mileage, was perfect. Eventually it was decided to get Fiat No. 1 on the road as the rumbly mains of No. 2 were a bit wearisome, so No. 2 was sold to the same dealer who supplied No. 1, and he gave a very fair deal once more. No. 1 Fiat being a very clean car and in good condition all round except for the “woolly” engine. it was decided to strip the engine. fit the. pistons, fettle up the valves, etc. The engine was accordingly stripped and found to be in excellent order, bore wear not being excessive. The white metal of one big-end was cracked, so all rods were remetalled. A set of 7.5-to-1 h.c. pistons was supplied by V. H. Tuson, who had had very good results from these pistons; these have deflector heads and look very like a two-stroke piston. The effect of the head is to raise the compression ratio and to alter the combustion chamber shape, giving a more turbulent effect. The shape is roughly a wedge, with the plug firing at the deepest part. A single “Cord” laminated ring was fitted to each piston, in addition to two compression rings and one slotted scraper. The purpose of this was to combat the “oiliness” of these engines which, even in good condition, tend to oil plugs occasionally. All went well with this job and at last the engine was erected and ready.
Teething troubles set in — totally unexpected ones. The starter motor did not like cranking the engine round with 7.5 to 1 compression ratio as against the standard 6 to 1, the compressions of all four cylinders feeling like a brick wall when tried on the handle. The war-time “non-copper-asbestos” cylinder head gasket blew between No. 1 and No. 2 cylinders, carburation was uncertain, and starting not what it should be. The battery was having it really hard time trying to cope. Fortunately I was able to find a couple of pre-war copper-asbestos gaskets made for these cars by a well-known gasket concern. These were very thin gaskets and it was decided to fit both, a most unprofessional business of course, but needs must when the devil drives. The engine was found to be nicely free from oil, the single “Cord” ring holding it back very effectively. On testing again a great improvement was noticed, the engine being somewhat smoother, less sensitive to ignition setting, and quieter, all due, of course, to the lowered compression ratio due to fitting two gaskets. The starter-motor could now cope with its job and a much more “worry free” car resulted.
As regards performance, careful comparison with a standard Fiat “1,100” with flat-top pistons has shown that the deflector piston engine is quieter, better on acceleration, and on flat-out maximum, which is about 75 to 78 m.p,b., and is immeasurably superior on hills. The way the power output utterly fails to fall off on gradients must be experienced to be believed; long uphill grades can be stormed at 40 to 45 m.p.h. with no falling off in speed, as is found with the standard car. This attribute cannot be too strongly emphasised and, of course, it results in much better averages in town and country running.
The car is very quiet and compares with good-quality English small cars in this respect (Fiats tend to be somewhat noisier, usually), and driving is a real pleasure. The sports-car enthusiast who enjoys a raucous exhaust is welcome to it, from my point of view.
A carburetter tune-up by the little wizard at Solex’s cured the bad starting and flat spot low down, and carburation is now all it should be. Fuel consumption has not been checked, but without cutting down the main jet seems to be in the region of 37 m.p.g. Cutting down the main jet will improve this, but with the present inferior petrol it is thought better not to do this. Now for some criticisms of these cars, which are my own personal opinion — others may not agree. First, let us not spoil a good saloon body by a sliding roof which, of course, was added, as the Italian Fiats are not fitted with sliding. roofs. I sincerely hope that this feature will die a natural death on all cars; other countries don’t seem to need it or even want it. The pillarless saloon body I don’t like; it seems very weak without the central pillar to brace it. My personal preference is for a two-door saloon with wide doors. The doors on these pillarless saloons seem to rattle in spite or catches at top and bottom, one of which (the lower) often fails to catch unless one closes the door with the hand pushing below the centre line of the door. The stark, plain finish of the interior I like, and I would make this plainer and more serviceable still, if possible. I don’t like the cloth trimming on the backs of the front seats, which chafes very badly if anything rubs it. Let us have good hard leather or a “board” type of backing as fitted in the standard models of 1938. A method of hinging the doors should be found which does not cause a frightful dent in the body if’ the door flies open when the car is running. This dent is almost impossible to get rid of satisfactorily once it is done, and the door does not fit properly again. The fabric universal joints don’t seem quite up to the job, judging by the amount of prop.-shaft trouble suffered, and could with advantage be of a modern type. I would scrap the “trafficators,” wvhich never seem to work, or fit a normal solenoid-operated type. The five-pint capacity of the sump seems inadequate for such a high-performance car with such a high cruising speed (50 to 55 m.p.h.). Apart from these failings, the Fiat “1,100 ” is a fine job, much superior to the small English car except perhaps for paintwork and plating which do not stand up well to our wet climate. Who knows, we may see this jotb on our roads again in even greater numbers. I deeply deplore the abandonment of the steeply sloping bonnet, which seems to me the best feature of these ears, giving exceptional vision forward and, when one gets used to it, being much more pleasing than yards of high bonnet in front of one. This is a matter of taste, but experienced motorists endorse this view, and it seems a great pity that the Fiat concern have ldience.ided to adopt the normal high bonnet
Note. — As an afterthought – the engine woolliness in No. 1 car was found to be due to very late valve timing.