Showing posts with label Italian Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian Cars. Show all posts

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 1950s Italian classic car

In '57 - when the Fiat 500 was released - motorcycles ruled Italian roads. Whether solo - or attached to a side-car - they were the way most people got from A to B. The Fiat 500 was set to change that. It was convenient and economical. Okay, so were motorbikes. But, the '500' came with a roof ... and a sun-roof, at that! By '77 - twenty years later - Fiat had sold over 4,000,000 of them.

The 500's stats were not shattering! It had a twin-cylinder, 499cc motor - producing 18bhp, in standard trim. Top speed was 60mph. Enter Carlo Abarth! His 695cc SS model pushed 90mph. The 'Abarth' featured flared wheel arches, oil cooler, and raised rear engine cover. They were there to prevent over-heating, and increase stability. A pleasant side-effect was that the Abarth acquitted itself well at the racetracks. The roadster, too, handled well. Complete with rear-mounted motor, it delivered a desirable 52mpg. It cruised at 55mph. It was best not to ask too much of it, though - due to the drum brakes, and non-synchromesh gearbox. A modification made to later models was the move from rear to front hinges for the doors. That was especially good news for those still on two wheels!

So far as comfort was concerned, the little Fiat was 'utilitarian'. That said, '68's '500L' came with reclining seats, and carpets. Not exactly 'Rolls-Royce' ... but then a Rolls-Royce did not do 52mpg! The Fiat 500's mission was to provide stress-free motoring, to as many people as possible. That mission, it accomplished ... with petite, but impressive aplomb!

Ferrari California

Ferrari California 2000s Italian sports car

The Ferrari 250 California - released in '57 - was one of the most iconic cars ever created. A tad over half a century later, came another California. Designed by Pininfarina, seamless aerodynamics were key to the new car's styling. And the 2008 California was light. Both chassis and body were aluminium.

The F1-style steering-wheel featured Manettino dials. They modulated the gearbox, suspension and traction-control settings. The latter came in the form of the F1-Trac set-up. Should those systems' limits still be exceeded, an automatic roll bar was deployed. As well as front and side airbags. The California could be set to Comfort or Sport mode, too. At track-days, however - or, indeed, at any other time - the safety controls could be switched off. Apart from ABS braking, that is.

Ferrari's 4,300cc V8 engine made 460bhp. That catapulted the California to 193mph. Torque was on tap from way down low. The 7-speed semi-automatic transmission saw to that. Unlike some supercars, the California's cabin was roomy and comfortable. There was a retractable top. And plenty of luggage-space was provided. So, the Ferrari California was built for speed. To that extent, it echoed its fabled 250 predecessor. But - in common with that design classic - it was kitted out for cruising, too, if required.

Lamborghini 350 GT

Lamborghini 350 GT 1960s Italian classic sports car

The 350 GT was Lamborghini's first production car. It was launched in March, '64. Touring - Italian coachbuilders extraordinaire - were tasked with styling it. Headquartered in Milan, Touring's brief was based on the Lamborghini 350 GTV prototype. Bodywork comprised alloy panels. They were hung on a Superleggera steel frame. The 350 GT's light body was key to its top speed of 152mph. The solid round-tube chassis was supported by coil spring and tubular wishbone suspension. Girling disc brakes stopped the plot.

Gian Paulo Dallara - alongside Giotto Bizzarini - engineered the GT. Power was supplied by the trusty Lamborghini V12. The crankshaft of the quad-cam 60° motor was machined from a single billet. 280bhp was duly produced. The V12 was fed by side-draught carburettors. That, in turn, led to a rakishly low bonnet line. Capacity was 3,464cc. The 5-speed transmission - and steering box - were by ZF. The rear diff' was by Salisbury. Fast, smooth and tractable, the 350 GT handled superbly. So - with both the form and function of their first model sorted - it seemed Lamborghini was off to a flyer!

The 350 GT was eminently user-friendly. There was, for example, a synchro-mesh reverse gear. The cabin was a chic and comfortable place to be. Just 143 cars were built. Exclusivity, then, was part of the package. Of course - in terms of sheer glamour - the 350 GT falls short of Lamborghini's supercars. But - as an opening sports car shot - it had all the allure and panache that would become so synonymous with the marque.

Maserati Khamsin

Maserati Khamsin 1970s Italian classic sports car

The Maserati Khamsin was the latest in a line of things automotive to reference the weather. Le Mans has a straight named after the 'mistral' - the cold wind, blowing through southern France. Ford's 'Zephyr' namechecked a gentle breeze - which has meandered through many a piece of poetry over the years. Another car, too, played upon the ethereal theme. The Khamsin was a scorching gust of air, which seared through Egypt each summer. Maserati brought in Marcello Gandini - of design house Bertone - to draft the Khamsin's super-sharp shape. Its fluid bodywork lines were fabricated from steel. Spanning the back was a glass panel - inside which, tail-lights sat in suspended animation.

The Khamsin was a technological tour de force. Its four-cam V8 engine abutted the bulkhead. Front-engined though it was - with a full tank of gas, weight distribution was 50/50. The motor was an all-alloy marvel. Its 320bhp gave a top speed of 153mph. Torque output was 354lb/ft - at 4,000rpm. The V8's powerband stretched from 800-5,500rpm.

When the Khamsin entered production - in '74 - Citroën were still a part of Maserati. A year later - and they were gone. The Khamsin, though, felt the full hydraulic force of the French giant. The steering, brakes and clutch - plus, pop-up headlights and driver's seat adjustment - were all Citroën-controlled. Rear suspension was double-wishbone. Only the Khamsin's dashboard let the design side down a tad. Its haphazard array of dials and switches clashed with the simple elegance of the exterior. Unveiled at the '72 Paris Show, the new Maserati was as stylish as you like. Yet, it was also practical. The huge torque reserves of its V8 powerplant further boosted its already abundant carrying capabilities. And, on top of all of that - as its name implied - the Maserati Khamsin went like the wind!

Ferrari 250 GTO

Ferrari 250 GTO 1960s Italian classic sports car

The Ferrari 250 GTO was about as focused a car as has ever been built. Designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, everything about it was geared to speed. Its cabin, for instance, was conspicuously spartan. The GTO - Gran Turismo Omologato - was made to win races, not comfort contests! Specifically, races in the World Sportscar Championship. The Ferrari 250 GT had been struggling in said series - mainly on account of poor aerodynamics. Which is where Bizzarrini came in. His brief was to draft a more slippery shape. One that could deliver more than 150mph, at any rate ... which was what the GT was currently mustering. Bizzarrini went to work. The grille was made smaller. The headlights were faired in. A foreshortened rear end now sported a spoiler. Ferrari were pleased. The GTO's top speed was clocked at 173mph.

But, Bizzarrini's bodywork was just for starters. The GTO had other weapons in its race armoury. Like a 3.0-litre Tipo 168/62 Colombo V12. The 300bhp it produced took the Ferrari from 0-60mph in 6.1s. That called for a stiff chassis. An alloy-tubed frame was duly installed. The aluminium V12 engine was suckled by six twin-barrel Webers. Because it was dry sump, the motor sat lower - as did the rest of the car. More grist to the aerodynamics mill. A 5-speed gearbox turned the rear wheels. Only suspension let the side down a tad - being somewhat outdated. Saying that, it clearly did not hamper the whole package too much. In '62, the GTO won the World Sportscar Championship. And again, in '63 and '64. At Le Mans, in '62, while it came second in the overall standings, it took the coveted Group 3 GT class.

Bizzarrini also took care that the GTO's styling was suitably seductive. As well as being one of the all-time great racers, as a roadster its low-down looks were sublime. Ferrari played a bit fast and loose with the facts, however … in true motorsport tradition! They passed the GTO off as just a streamlined GT. That got them off the hook, homologation-wise. Otherwise, they would have had to build 100 GTOs, to go racing. As it was, only 39 were built. In truth, though, the new car was unique. While the GTO - and its GT forebear - did indeed share many components, there was enough that was fresh about the GTO to set it apart. It certainly was a streamlined GT - Bizzarrini's wind-cheating wizardry had seen to that. But - should there be any doubt that the GTO was special - a price comparison is telling. When Ferrari produced the car - between '62 and '64 - it cost £6,000. In 2014 - at Bonhams Quail Lodge auction - one sold for £22,843,633. Which made it the most expensive car ever, at the time. The Ferrari 250 GTO was a one-off, all right!

Fiat 130 Coupé

Fiat 130 Coupe 1970s Italian classic car

When Pininfarina consider a design one of the best they ever did, you know it was a bit special! That was the case with the Fiat 130 Coupé. The simplicity of its styling was its strength. The 130 said it all in just a few clean lines. They gave it gravitas - as befitted a first-rate luxury car. Sadly, though - in terms of sales - Fiat simply did not have the cachet of, say, a BMW or Mercedes.

The 130 Coupé's imposing exterior was matched by the opulence within. Velour seats were drawing-room dapper. Veneer door cappings blended with electric windows. There were dual-tone town and country horns. Plus, acres of space for four well-heeled occupants. Comfort was the Coupé's stock-in-trade. Power steering pampered the driver. And for the passengers, independent suspension provided a smooth and stress-free ride.

Performance-wise, the 130 was no slouch. Top speed was 118mph. A 3.2-litre V6 gave 165bhp. Torque was plentiful. The 'box was a Borg-Warner 3-speed auto - with a 5-speed manual available. Mechanically, the 130 was solid, sound and dependable. But, it was aesthetically that the 130 shone. Classic Italian styling cues were written all over it. Commercially, though, the car was hard done by. Fiat, of course, has a fine and prestigious back catalogue. But - had it been built by a bigger, more 'luxurious' brand - the Fiat 130 Coupé would have received more of the plaudits it deserved.

De Tomaso Pantera

De Tomaso Pantera 1970s Italian classic sports car

Elvis Presley shot his De Tomaso Pantera - when it would not start! 'Pantera' is Italian for panther. To be fair to Presley, he was far from the only owner to lose patience with the car. The Pantera did have a bit of a 'rep'. Build quality - or the lack of it - was a topic which came up a lot. Mainly, in terms of rust and overheating. Then again, 10,000 Panteras were built. They must have had their good points, surely?

Ghia is one of the most illustrious names in coachbuilding. The firm was owned by Alejandro De Tomaso. He was an Argentinian business magnate, who had moved to Italy - home to the design icon. So revered was Ghia that Ford of North America sought to acquire it. De Tomaso did a deal with them. He sold them the rights to Ghia - in return for their distribution of the new Pantera. Ford, of course, had a huge US dealership network. Fittingly, the Pantera was powered by a 5.8-litre Ford V8. The automotive giant signed up to the deal. Not the wisest move, as it turned out. At first, things looked good. In short order, Ford shifted 4,000 units. But then the rot set in. Literally, in some cases! Before long, the Pantera became a liability. Ford were snowed under by customer complaints. By '74, they had had enough. Time was called on any more imports.

But - as indicated by the number of cars made - it was not all bad. The Pantera's top speed, for example, was a more than acceptable 160mph. Handling was excellent - in part on account of its mid-mounted engine. And should anything go wrong with that engine, breakers' yards were full of Ford V8s. As for the car's styling - it was certainly striking! De Tomaso was a maverick. Before the Pantera, he had overseen the Vallelunga and Mangusta. They, too, were one-of-a-kind cars. Later in his career, De Tomaso took over the reins at Maserati and Innocenti. The Pantera stayed in production for 25 years. That suggests that - for all its flaws - the De Tomaso Pantera had a good side. As for Elvis taking a potshot at his ... he was probably just having a bad day!

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Alfa Romeo Montreal 1970s Italian classic sports car

Montreal - in Quebec, Canada - hosted the '67 Expo show. It was there that the Alfa Romeo Montreal made its début. Designed by Marcello Gandini, there was never a doubt that the car would turn heads. Gandini's employer - coach-builders Bertone - built the body. For all that, the Montreal did not sell in shedloads. But it did give Alfa a much-needed publicity boost. Following its 1970 launch, the Montreal stayed in production for seven years. Ironically, Montreal's showrooms were a no-go - on account of the city's strict emissions regulations. Not the best of marketing messages!

Performance-wise, the new Alfa lived up to the hype. Its fuel-injected V8 engine gave 132mph. That was quick - particularly since the Montreal was no lightweight. Its motor was taken from the Tipo 33/2 race car ... suitably de-tuned for the road. That said, it still made 200bhp. And revved up to 6,500rpm. Torque was abundant throughout.

The Montreal's engine, then, was hard to fault. Sadly, the same could not be said of every component. The live axle rear suspension, for instance, was too softly sprung. To the point at which cornering could be compromised. At speed, steering, too, was an issue. Its gearing was set up for a more sedate pace. However, the ventilated disc brakes were fine. Overall - as Grand Tourers go - the Montreal passed muster. Which was important - as GT cars were a new market for Alfa. One thing no one complained about was the car's looks. Dubbed the Montreal, it may have been. But - in styling terms, at least - the new Alfa Romeo was as Italian as cars come!

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura 1970s Italian classic sports car

The Lamborghini Miura is considered the world's first supercar. It was conceived - in '65 - by Lamborghini's trio of star engineers. Gian Paulo Dallara, Paulo Stanzani and Bob Wallace wanted a road/race hybrid - equally at home in either environment. Developing the new car after hours, the prototype was dubbed the P400. Boss Ferruccio Lamborghini, though, took time to be convinced. He saw the future in terms of elegant GT cars - rather than the more performance-based products of Ferrari. Eventually, however, he conceded that the P400 may have marketing miles. Somewhat against his better judgement, he gave the Miura the green light.

Aesthetically, the Miura had strong credentials. It was drafted by Nuccio Bertone's legendary design house. A young Marcello Gandini headed up the team. Even at that early stage in his career, he was the pick of Bertone's stylists. The Miura's supercar lines flew freely from his pen. It mesmerised onlookers at the '66 Geneva Show. Named after a Spanish fighting bull, the Miura's muscular beauty demanded respect.

The Lambo's 4-litre V12 pushed out 350bhp. Top speed was 170mph. The mid-engined configuration was installed transversely - behind the two seats. That reduced the wheelbase - and optimised the centre of gravity. All grist to the mill of high-speed handling. The set-up subsequently became the gold standard for sports cars and supercars. The original P400 was released in '66. It was duly followed by the P400S - and finally, by the P400SV. Unsurprisingly, all three were a resounding success in the showrooms. Production stopped in '73. Just 764 cars had been built. The Lamborghini Miura, then, was powerful - but user-friendly. Glamorous - but refined. Well, apart from the S model's false eye-lashes. He had taken persuading, but - finally - Ferruccio had called it right!

Cisitalia 202

Cisitalia 202 1940s Italian classic sports car

The Cisitalia 202 has been on display in NY's Museum of Modern Art since '51. Innovative styling, then, was a given. That came courtesy of Pininfarina - based in Turin, Italy. Their coachbuilding concept was 'integration'. Features flowed into each other, as never before. Front mudguards and headlights, for instance, bled seamlessly into the front wings. In a few strokes of 'Pinin' Farina's pen, automotive design had moved on.

In terms of the 202's form, then, things were just fine. But functionally, too, it excelled. A solid round-tube frame supported 'slippery' bodywork. The car cut through air like a scalpel. As a result, it was good for 105mph ... 120, in competition mode. All from just 50bhp - and a tuned in-line four Fiat 1100 motor. A 4-speed transmission eased the 202 up to such speeds.

Pininfarina's input finessed the fine detail. Flip-out door handles were a typical flourish. The 202's cabin was a paragon of minimalism - and safety. No redundant, distracting dials here. On the 202's launch - in '46 - Cisitalia was still a new company. Short for 'Consorzio Industriale Sportive Italia', it was founded by Piero Dusio. He was a businessman/racing driver. Cisitalia's first specialist product was a single-seater racer. Built by Fiat engineers Giacosa and Savonuzzi, it would subsequently serve as a template for the cars that followed. Sadly - just a year after the 202's release - Cisitalia was already in trouble. Boss Dusio already hankered after a GP car, to be designed by Porsche. That did not sit well with his fledgeling firm's finances. By '63, it was over. As car companies go, then, Cisitalia was a flash in the pan. The 202, though, burned brightly - not least, as an exhibit at MoMA. A mechanical masterpiece, it lit up the car world for years!