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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Etceterini Files, Part 9------Plain Old Fiats Plus: 1100TV & 1200TV

A reader sent a link to the photo below with the caption, "I bet you know something about this." Well, something, it turns out, but a quite a bit less than the whole story…

By the time Fiat introduced its new 1100 unit body sedan for 1953, Italy's postwar economic recovery was in full swing, and Fiat must have noticed how specialist builders like Cisitalia and Stanguellini were making use of Fiat running gear.  Near the end of 1953, Fiat released  a Turismo Veloce (TV) version of the sedan, with a bit more power and special styling tweaks.  Around the same time, Fiat supplied running gear to Pinin Farina, which made its own coupe body for the 1100TV through 1956.  The PF coupe, with prominent "TV" logo in the grille, was cute enough to sell around 780 copies.

Ghia (the red car below the gray PF) and Vignale also made some coupes, but it was Carrozzeria Allemano who offered a glassy, slender masterwork worthy of comparison with their (similarly rare) bodies on the Maserati A6G2000.  Deft handling of proportions and details concealed the car's small size, and moved beyond the cuddly toy character of the PF.

By this time Fiat management decided to jump into the game of making special Fiats entirely in-house, and Fabio Luigi Rapi, who had designed the Fiat 8V* a few years earlier, produced an American-influenced roadster with panoramic windshield and plunging fender profiles accentuated by a nearly-vertical chrome spear curving back to connect to the rear bumper and recalling the contemporary Cadillac.  This new 1100TV Transformabile (convertible) appeared in 1955.

From the beginning, the new convertible was more a car for transporting starlets to movie premieres than running the Mille Miglia, but gave Fiat something to offer sporting drivers just as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta caught the public's attention.  Perhaps in response, Fiat made frequent improvements. After the first 571 cars, they added 3 horses and a revised rear suspension.  After making 450 of those Series 2 cars, they increased the engine size and power with the 1200TV in 1957.  Those cars, including the red one at the top of the page, also gained swivel seats to help driver and passenger avoid the dogleg shape of the wraparound windshield.  Chrysler would offer the same feature on its 1959 cars.  Fiat made about 2,360 of the 1200TV, for a total of just under 3,400 Transformabile TVs.  That makes them fairly rare cars, very much like the first 3 years of the Corvette.  And like that Corvette, they led to cars which were more performance-oriented and more popular.  During the 1960s, Fiat offered new 1200 and 1500 spiders, the Fiat OSCA 1500 and 1600 spiders, and beginning in 1966, the long-running 124 spider, all styled by Pininfarina. But anyone interested in tracking collector's interest in small, sporty postwar Fiats could do a lot worse than just watching the TV…

*The Fiat 8V and related Siata 208S are an etceterini saga in themselves, and the subject of a future post.

Photo credits:
Top:  1958 Fiat 1200TV (craigslist)
2nd:   1953-54 Fiat 1100TV coupe PF (wikimedia)
3rd:  Fiat 1100TV Ghia coupe (carandclassic.uk)
4th:  1954 Fiat 1100TV Allemano coupe (pinterest.com)
5th:  1954 Fiat 1100TV Allemano coupe (flickr.com)
6th:  1955 Fiat 1100TV Transformabile (Fiat S.p.A., reprinted on tumblr.com)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whatever Happened to Nissans Bodied by Zagato?

Even the most dedicated car enthusiasts may have forgotten (or never seen) the small fleet of Nissan prototypes designed and bodied by Italy's famed Carrozzeria Zagato in the late 80s and early 90s.  The first of these was the the Autech Nissan Stelvio from 1988-89, commissioned by special products arm Autech (which was to NIssan a bit like AMG to Mercedes) and outfitted with outlandish deep tunnels atop the front fenders which do nothing more than house rear-view mirrors. 

At the rear, visual disruption is provided by a deep ledge which runs around the car.  This view shows that the mirror tunnels look no better from the rear than from the front.  With 320 horses from Nissan's twin-turbo V6, the Stelvio was, if not a wolf in sheep's clothing, perhaps a wolf in a clown suit.  It was a finalist in our Worst Car Designs post from 8-11-16.

Anyone who took a good look at the Stelvio likely wondered what the team of Nissan and Zagato would think up next.  When the new car broke cover in 1992, it turned out to be the comparatively soothing Seta, whose gently rounded surfaces and vaguely chubby but   persuasive proportions recalled Zagato's Aston Martin DB4 GTZ from thirty years earlier.  A shot of that green Aston is provided below the silver Seta for an easy comparison.  The Seta's rear view shows a tasteful suppression of visual distraction absent from the zany Stelvio.  Note the small tail lights recalling 60s design...

The front 3/4 view shows the deft articulation of the rear fender fender form which flows into the car's flanks just aft of the door.  This formal device, along with the glassy greenhouse and the way the fender vents relieve the surface aft of the front wheels, also recalls the Zagato Aston pictured below it.  The Seta is less dramatic at the front, owing to the fashionable (but tiny) projector headlamps and the anonymous blandness of the air intakes (none of that on the old Aston).  

Ironically, the turbo V6 Seta was first shown just as the designer of the original Zagato Aston, Ercole Spada, returned to Zagato to take over as design chief.  If he had not done any actual consulting on the Seta project, it seems certain that its designers had his work in mind when penning it...

The next product of the Nissan-Zagato collaboration was the 1993 Bambu, which returned to the wedge theme shown on Zagato's Alfa Romeo ES-30* from the same period (featured in our post of 8-11-16).  The Bambu is less slab-sided than that Alfa, and features a subtle (maybe too subtle) version of the trademark twin-hump roof, plus a raised hood surface running from the windshield to the front air intake. Here however, there's no visual payoff as the shape of the air intake fails to follow the shape of the raised panel which points to it...

The Bambu design was least successful when viewed from the rear, where like the Alfa ES-30, it seemed as high as it was wide, and there was the impression that a nicely crafted piece of automotive art had been rear-ended by some kind of earth-mover...

Also in 1993, Zagato showed the Gavia, intended as a replacement for the hideous Stelvio, which (amazingly) was the only Zagato design to go into series production.  Unsurprisingly, out of a planned production of 200 cars, only 104 Stelvios found buyers.  And by the time the rounded, somewhat bland contours of the Gavia appeared, the Japanese economy was showing signs of a slowdown...

And there may have been no need of it, as Nissan had already been producing the Z32 version of its 300ZX for 3 years.  This car, which combined the smoothly rounded contours and good proportions of the best Zagato designs without any of their odd details, was a product of its own design studios. The Nissan studios had also released a successful series of four retro-themed "boutique cars" on the small Nissan Micra chassis, but these are a story for another day...

*Footnote:  As reported in our post of 8-11-16, the styling of the Alfa ES-30 was by Robert Opron, who then worked at Fiat's styling studio.  Details and interior styling have been credited to Antonio Castellana.

Photo credits:
Top:  autoblog.nl
2nd:  carthrottle.com
3rd:  carstyling.ru
4th:  carstyling.ru
5th:  wikimedia
6th thru 8th:  carstyling.ru
9th:  allcarcentral.com
10th:  conceptnissan.com

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Forgotten Classics: Muddling Through with Bristol

We begin our Bristol detour with the shatteringly unattractive Bristol 450 above because while as a racer with a nonstandard chassis design it seemed an exception to the Bristol rule, in all its essentials it followed the Bristol philosophy.  That philosophy could be summed up as, “Make do and muddle through.”  Bristol engineers contrived alloy bodywork which looked like it had been hastily assembled in a dark cowshed, complete with narrow tracked wheels deeply inset from voluminous slab sides, stuck-on headlights, and a narrow roofline trapped between odd fins... But we’ll get back to the 450 later. The Bristol car saga began when the aircraft concern decided to get into the car business to take up the slack from declining aircraft production after WWII.  They jump-started their effort by collecting drawings and engine parts for the pre-war BMW 6 cylinder cars, as well as the consulting services of engineer Fritz Fiedler (initially shared with Frazer Nash, which later split), as war reparations.  The first postwar Bristol 400 was essentially a prewar BMW 327 with a 328 engine.  Note that even the twin-kidney grille was carried over. This was the aircraft maker's shortcut to a foothold in the specialist (read "expensive") car market.  As was also the case at Saab, the Swedish aircraft maker which entered the car business around the same time, there was a serious emphasis on aerodynamics in many of Bristol's designs. This was especially evident once they moved past the Model 400, which was largely a BMW copy, and issued the 401 series, which was derived from styling studies by Superleggera Touring in Italy.  The 401 from 1950 was essentially a 400 with Italian styling.  While Bristol claimed to have made its own contributions to the styling, these seemed limited to making a taller roof for men wearing bowler hats. The rare 402 convertible version below also had the Touring-derived lines, and like a handful of drop heads by Pinin Farina had a sleeker, lower profile. All were appallingly expensive, at more than twice the price of a Jaguar. 

With the 405 in 1954, Bristol seemed to be getting into its stride.  Still with the BMW-derived chassis and engine design from the 1930s, it offered low-slung, streamlined alloy bodywork which finally had a character of its own.  The twin-kidney BMW grille had vanished, replaced with a possibly jet-inspired, deeply-inset intake emphasized by a Cyclops fog light.  At the rear, there were neatly integrated fins, and on the sedan, a glassy fastback roof.  The drophead (convertible to Yanks) was even nicer, with a wide door to access the interior.  There was a shorter 404 coupe version, but the proportions were odd, emphasized by the short door which impeded access and made it look like a chopped 405 sedan, which it was.

No matter, because over in Chicago, import dealer S.H. "Wacky" Arnolt had cooked up a deal to get Bristol to supply the short 404 chassis (initially with 403 brakes but later with optional Alfin drums) for the Bertone-bodied Arnolt Bristol which was offered in the USA and Europe.  Unlike other Bristols, all but one of the 142 Arnolt Bristols had left hand drive.  All shared distinctive styling by Franco Scaglione, with a peaked hood and air scoop to disguise the height of the long-stroke engine, and peaked fenders to harmonize with that hood.  SIx of these were coupes; the rest were roadsters or stripped-down competition bolides, and they did well racing at American tracks. More important, while 142 seems like a modest number of cars, it approaches 3 times the number Bristol sold of the "standard" 404, and it was around half the price of that car.  It could have put Bristol on the map in the US, if Bristol had been interested... 

But let's get back to that 450 racer, Bristol’s only entry in the arena of sports car racing.  Characteristically, they took the shortcut of adapting an outside design, in this case the ERA Type E single seat racer, possibly because of the lightweight tubular frame with 4 wheel independent suspension, or because this ERA used a Bristol engine.   It flopped at Le Mans in 1953, but it would have been a sure-fire winner in our Worst Car Design contest…if anyone had remembered it.  But the next year Bristol came back with a refined car that while not a beauty, had an aerodynamic integrity reflecting wind tunnel studies, and won its class.  This revised 450, like the 405, and like contemporary designs from Saab in Sweden, showed that aircraft engineers could bring unique perspectives to bear on car design, and at Bristol they raised muddling through to a high art…

But then they dropped the whole line of development.  The tubular chassis and independent rear suspension from the 450 never showed up on any other Bristol during the 20th Century, and after Arnolt sold his last Bristol-based car the US connection was dropped.  In 1958 the 406 appeared, but it was basically a notchback 405.  Bristol replaced the obsolete six with a Chrysler V8 in 1961, and there were some interesting Zagato coupes including a sleek 407 (below), but  Bristol stayed with the 1930s BMW ladder frame to the end of its 411 line in 1976 and beyond, with the 603 series produced in tiny numbers through the 1990s.  By then retro cars were the only way you could sell a 1930s chassis design, and the Morgan Plus 8, for example, offered a modern V8 with an unashamedly 1936 look.  In the Postmodern Era the way to sell an obsolete idea was to celebrate its obsolescence; Morgan sold a lot more of its riotously obvious 1936 idea than Bristol did of of a car that was 1936 under the skin...

Photo credits:
All photos wikimedia except: 
Top photo: autoimages.org
Image of red Arnolt Bristol Bolide and blue coupe:  Rich Taylor reprinted in Consumer Digest
3nd from last (Bristol 450 roadster): Bristol Owners Club Heritage Trust.
Last Photo: the author

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Etceterini Files, Part 8-----Bandini: The Art of Endurance

Endurance recalls the Bandini saga not only because Bandini contested several endurance races (the Mille Miglia, the Sebring 12 Hours) but also because Bandini lasted longer in the business of making sports racing cars than most of its Italian competitors. Ilario Bandini's workshop in Forli, a city in the Northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, was one of the first after World War II to begin producing race cars based on Fiat mechanicals.  In 1946 Bandini offered the 1100 Siluro, a cycle-fendered torpedo which would soon find competition from similar cars offered by Cisitalia and Stanguellini.  By 1950 New York importer Tony Pompeo had imported the first Bandini 1100 Sport, with wind-cheating envelope body by Rocco Motto and Fiat engine block, to which Bandini added a twin cam head with inclined valves adapted from Alfa Romeo designs.  The photo below shows driver Giovanni Bracco with that car in New York.
But Pompeo wanted to get Bandini to offer a 750cc car, and sent him an American Crosley engine to study and modify.  Bandini liked this engine, to which he added his own twin-cam head design. It became the basis for most subsequent Bandini engines, which eventually shared little with the original Crosley template.
By the time Zagato bodied the Bandini 750 Veloce coupe in 1955, the Crosley-based twin cam engine had become the standard Bandini power plant.  Here's a shot of the curvaceous coupe racing at Sebring in 1960. The curved side glass and rear window vents resemble the rear-engined Zagato Fiat Abarths which came a bit later, but the overall proportions on this front-engined car give no clue to the tiny size.
Bandini built only one Zagato coupe, but followed it with a number of the sleek Saponetta with engines of 750, 850 and 1000 cc, starting in 1957.  The name Saponetta ("little bar of soap") may have referred to the car's slippery contours.  Alloy bodywork produced in Bandini's workshop formed a tight, elegantly elongated shell over the somewhat conservative chassis design, still with a rigid rear axle and drum brakes.  Still, the car succeeded as a racer, and some came to the USA.

The closest thing Bandini made to a practical road car, the '63 1000 GT pictured below featured 4 wheel independent suspension and front disc brakes along with its wind-up windows, heater and bumpers.  It was also the first Bandini with a 5 speed gearbox, and if it had advanced beyond the prototype stage would have made an interesting alternative to the overpriced ASA 1000GT (see our post for Feb. 2, 2016) and the underpowered Lancia Appia GT Zagato.  While bodywork resembled Zagato’s efforts on Abarth and Lancia, it was by the undeservedly obscure Corna.
The independent-minded engineer, having been one of the first etceterini builders to look beyond Fiat for engine blocks, may have been the first Italian builder to apply the mid-engine formula to sports cars.  Drawing upon a design for a Formula Junior racer, Bandini adopted the mid-engine configuration in 1959, earlier than Abarth or Ferrari.  The 1000P was in limited production until 1965, and was successful in hillclimbs.  In the photo, one of the last 1000P spiders sits next to the last Bandini built, a 1000 Turbo from 1992.
This Saloncino competition coupe, a 1968 design, was based upon the 1000P chassis.  Like the 1000P, the Saloncino featured alloy bodywork designed and built, along with engine and chassis, in the Bandini garages.  Unlike it, the Saloncino remained a singular prototype.
The glassy, curvaceous shell resembled a 7/8 scale version of the Dino Ferrari 166SP...
…and put the mid-mounted engine and transaxle assembly on display.
This is the 1300 competition spider.  With the singular exception of a Masserati-engined 6 cylinder 1500 which raced at Sebring, this car from 1980 had Bandini’s biggest engine.  By now the design had outgrown the cast iron Crosley-based block, and consisted of an aluminum block, 4 valves for each of the 4 inline cylinders, a dry sump and fuel injection.  Fiberglass composite* bodywork was by Bandini.  Nearly all the other makers of etceterini had long disappeared by the time Bandini made this car, and all had disappeared when he made his last car in 1992.  Today, the Bandini family museum displays 10 Bandini cars.  The 46 known survivors include this 1300 competition spider.

*Possibly meaning a mix of fiberglass and aluminum panels, not carbon-fiber...

Photo credits:  Wikimedia

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Forgotten Classic----Isotta Fraschini 8C Monterosa: Sunset for a Dream

Lovers of classic films may remember the 1929 Isotta Fraschini 8A laudaulet which appeared in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" in 1950.  In a way, the car was one of the stars of the movie...

In it, fading silent film star Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) and screen writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) are chauffeured around Hollywood by servant Max (Eric von Stroheim)* while they plan Norma's return to the big screen.
When Norma finally gets a call from the studio, she imagines this is the moment for her big comeback.  But she is sadly mistaken; the film producers just want to borrow her Isotta for some scenes calling for a Roaring Twenties car.
The Isotta 8A and 8B were, like Norma Desmond, stars in the grand manner, with custom coachwork built to order on an imposing chassis powered by an overhead cam inline eight cylinder engine.  Styles included the elegant Flying Star below, which was built by Superleggera Touring on the 8A and 8B chassis.  This was in 1931; three years before the Mussolini government would force Isotta to abandon a potential manufacturing agreement with Ford, and turn its attention from car manufacturing to military contracts.
Like Norma Desmond, Isotta Fraschini wanted to recapture the glory days of the Twenties and early Thirties. During the war years, Isotta engineer Fabio Luigi Rapi encountered the advanced, rear engined lightweight V8s designed by Hans Ledwinka for the Czech Tatra firm (featured in our post "A Word or Two on VW" from Nov. 27, 2015).  When Rapi announced plans for a design to relaunch Isotta's car business in the postwar period, the designation "8C" gave the impression that it might be, like many postwar cars, just a warmed-over version of the prewar 8B.  Instead, it owed far more to the Tatra than to any previous Isotta.  Maybe for this reason, it was also given the name "Monterosa."  The first, somewhat clumsy prototype by Zagato featured side-mounted radiators to cool the rear-mounted V8…
Zagato's second prototype, with a conventional front-mounted radiator, was less slab-sided and more harmonious, and Isotta Fraschini announced its return to car manufacture with an exhibit at the Paris Show in October 1947...
But Superleggera Touring created the most balanced and coherent bodywork for the new chassis, in both coupe and sedan form.  The roofline and subtly integrated fender forms reflect some of the work produced by Touring for Alfa Romeo during this era by designer Felice Bianchi Anderloni.
The front-mounted radiator, while a bit too square, combined with the balanced massing to give little hint of the engine location.  
The 3.4 liter ohc V8, gearbox and differential were assembled of light alloy castings into a single unit which fit neatly behind the passenger cabin.  Output was 125 hp.
There was at least one convertible bodied by Boneschi, and perhaps two...
But the dream of production faded when Isotta was denied production financing; no more than 6 prototypes had been built.  The old firm declared bankruptcy in 1949, the year before "Sunset Boulevard."  Ironically, the movie was so successful that it might have done for Isotta Fraschini what "Goldfinger" did over two decades later for Aston Martin.  

*Footnote:  Another irony is that Erich von Stroheim didn't know how to drive, and so in the driving scenes the grand old car suffered the indignity of being towed down the street. 

Photo Credits:
Isotta Fraschini 8A: Paramount Pictures, reprinted on coachbuild.com
"Sunset Boulevard" Actors inside Isotta: Paramount Pictures on pinterest.com
Isotta 8A at movie studio:  Paramount Pictures, reprinted on imcdb.org
Isotta 8A Flying Star:  Superleggera Touring, reprinted in prewarcar.com
Isotta 8C Zagato prototype:  carstyling.ru
Isotta 8C Zagato 2nd prototype:  carstyling.ru
Isotta 8C Monterosa Touring coupe:  classiccarcatalogue.com
Isotta 8C Touring sedan:  autos.howstuffworks.com
Isotta 8C engine:  woiweb.com

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Takata Air Bag Disaster Part 2: Do Air Bags Really Work?

About a week ago we discussed the ever-expanding Takata air bag recall.  Since then, another person has been killed by a Takata air bag, bringing the total to 14, and the New York Times has published a front-page story on this scandal which highlighted the frustrations of consumers seeking a satisfactory solution.  During that week I also read a statistical study of the performance of air bags in accidents which was published by the American Statistical Association's magazine Chance in 2005.  In their study of accidents from 1997 through 2002 (before the first reported Takata explosions), Mary Meyer and Tremika Finney concluded that air bags did more overall harm than good.  Among their conclusions:  Air bags were most likely to do damage when deployed when car occupants were not belted in, that even used with seat belts they were more likely to cause injury in low-speed accidents and in non-frontal collisions, especially side impacts, and that they were least effective in accidents involving children, other people of small stature, or old people.  After digesting 15 pages of numbers and analysis, I came upon this memorable analogy: "Making everyone have airbags and then verifying the effectiveness using only fatal crashes is like making everyone have radiation and then estimating lives saved by looking only at people who have cancer.  Overall, there will be more deaths if everyone is given radiation, but in the cancer subset, radiation will be effective."  And remember, this study was conducted of accidents which did not involve apparent air bag malfunction; that is, no grenade-like explosions spraying the car interior with shrapnel.  One element of the safety equation was consistently vindicated in this study:  the use of seat belts. This brings our discussion back to the question of passive vs. active safety.  Here are some pioneers from the Active Safety Hall of Fame...

The 1956 Citroen DS19 was the first car produced in large numbers to standardize power disc brakes.  It also featured this early version of a collapsible steering column; when the front wheels were pointed straight ahead, the wheel was at 7 o'clock.  In a frontal impact, this directed the driver (before seat belts) to the center of the car.  

Nash had offered lap belts as an option as early as 1949, and Ford in 1955.  In 1958 Saab became the first manufacturer to standardize lap belts, in the GT750.

Volvo made a major step forward, and cemented its reputation for active safety, by standardizing the now-familiar 3-point seat belts in 1959. 

England's Jensen took a brave leap into the future in 1966, standardizing the Dunlop Maxaret anti-skid system, combined with 4 wheel disc brakes and all-wheel drive with a torque-sensing center differential, on its FF.  Mercedes-Benz offered a similar braking system, by then called anti-lock brakes, a dozen years later.  At the dawn of the 1980s, Audi offered a similar all-wheel drive system to the FF on the first of its Quattro series.

Unlike the case with air bags, the jury is not out on these features. We know that this stuff works, and that it works especially well when combined with pro-active driver education, and even better in societies where drunk drivers routinely lose their licenses.  Meanwhile, consumers who call Honda or Subaru about removing their air bags while awaiting replacements get told that removing the bags is illegal, because the air bags are part of "an integrated safety system."  And the New York Times reported that unlike during the unraveling of the VW emissions software scam, dealers are still allowed to sell cars with recalled (read "defective") air bags in them. Apparently we've all got to have that radiation whether we have cancer or not.  Someday, after Takata has gone into the bankruptcy it richly deserves, we may look back and see that using ammonium nitrate in air bags was about as sensible as using hydrogen as a lifting medium in airships.  I'm there already; it looks like it will take awhile for some car manufacturers to catch up.

Photo credits:
Citroen DS19:  drive-my.com
Saab 750GT:  Saab ad, reprinted by swedecars.com
Volvo 122:  Volvo ad, reprinted by brightcreatives.nl
Jensen FF:  bringatrailer.com