29 luglio 2022
by Massimo Tiberi

1950, Italy on the Road

Fiat 1400 cabriolet 
Fiat 1400 cabriolet 

Mass production or quality craftsmanship? In the second half of the 1940s, in the midst of post-war reconstruction, the debate began on the future of our automotive industry. Even in the meetings, which at that time animated the commission for economic policies of the Constituent Assembly, the mood swung between the caution of the Alfa Romeo Commissioner Pasquale Gallo, at the helm of a public company in the IRI sector, who looked to niche models in harmony with the brand's vocation, and the optimism of Vittorio Valletta, the authoritarian “professor” boss of Fiat, convinced of the potential of a market inevitably destined to grow.

On the other hand, still in 1947-48, only half a million cars circulated in Italy, compared to two million in France and three in Great Britain, with Alfa surviving by also producing affordable kitchens and metal furniture, while Lancia was adversely affected by the difficulties of its industrial vehicles division. Things were better for Fiat, which benefited from significant funding under the Marshall Plan and from political-industrial ties with the United States. The common denominator for the manufacturers, however, was that the range of cars remained the same as before the war, symbolized by the 500 "Topolino", the Aprilia and the Ardea or the exclusive Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 (just a few hundred made per year).

In 1947-48, only half a million cars circulated in Italy, compared to two million in France and three in Great Britain

The turning point came in 1950, when reservations were abandoned with determination by all manufacturers, giving impetus to choices that would make the automotive industry one of the fundamental pillars of the national economy. The protagonists were three models, which were created between March and October, marking the different vocations that would long identify the respective brands: the Fiat 1400, the Lancia Aurelia and the Alfa Romeo 1900. They were not small cars (veritable mass motorization would have to wait for the Fiat 600 in 1955), but they wagered on the rise of an Italian middle and upper-middle class, concretely demonstrating the desire for a new era of growth.

Fiat 1400

Fiat 1400 The Geneva International Automobile Show was the stage for the launch of the 1400, promoted as the company’s "fiftieth anniversary model", a sedan inspired by American cars such as the Kaiser Special and the first Fiat with a load-bearing body, the result of partnership with Budd in Detroit. For Valletta, obsessed with a possible communist victory in Italy (it was in the midst of the Cold War), this partnership also served as insurance for a possible transfer of the assembly lines overseas.

Sober and modern in its aesthetic features, six-seater, with quality finishes, accessories not taken for granted at the time (standard ventilation and heating system) and a fair price (1,275,000 lire), the newcomer neither excelled nor did it disappoint, not even in terms of performance (44 horsepower and 120 km/h). Nothing particularly exciting technically, but Dante Giacosa, project manager, successfully achieved the objectives for a car of a certain tone, comfortable as well as not very hard to drive.

And in 1952 it was the turn of the 1900, which, essentially maintaining the same body, added fine interior and a five-speed gearbox to the increased cubic capacity and the 58 horsepower. In addition to the sedans, there was also a Cabriolet version of the 1400 (some even used by the police) and the elegant 1900 Granluce Coupé. The evolution of the model involved continuous updates and the arrival, in 1953, of the diesel variant (the first Italian diesel vehicle) with a 40-horsepower 1900 engine derived from the commercial 615/N and the off-road Campagnola. More than 200,000 units were produced in total of both models and, after 1958, the 1400 went on to continue its run in Spain, built by Seat until 1964.

Lancia Aurelia

Lancia Aurelia Lancia instead targeted a more exclusive market, choosing the Turin Motor Show to present the Aurelia, a concentration of avant-garde solutions for the time, in the wake of a tradition of revolutionary milestones, such as the Lambda in 1923 or the Aprilia in 1937.

Despite having to deal with a turbulent business environment, Gianni Lancia, working with two exceptionally skilled technicians, Vittorio Jano and Francesco De Virgilio, followed in his father's footsteps by focusing on creativity and innovation. 

Among the prerogatives, load-bearing body and bodywork with aluminum parts, independent four-wheel suspension, gearbox and brakes in one with rear differential for optimal weight distribution. But the big surprise was the engine: an unprecedented 1,750 cc in-line six-cylinder arranged in a V (absolute world first) with 56 horsepower, which was later developed to two liters (up to 90 horsepower and 160 km/h) and 2.2 liters for the final B12 version.

Such high-quality dynamics were combined with an elegant shape with the characteristic "wardrobe" opening doors and a six-seater interior with quality finishes and fine woolen cloth upholstery. The elite Aurelia (cost 1,830,000 lire) was not to last, going out of production in 1955 with fewer than 13,000 units built. But the sedan was survived for three years by the splendid variations: the Coupé B20 designed by Mario Boano and the Spider-Convertible B24 by Pinin Farina, made legendary by the film Il sorpasso.

L'Alfa Romeo 1900

Alfa Romeo 1900 Alfa Romeo contrasted the aristocratic Aurelia with the feisty 1900, giving rise to an almost Montague-Capulet rivalry between different fans of the two cars. The new car from Milan, the brainchild of Orazio Satta Puliga and Giuseppe Busso, was of historical importance for the brand, with which it began a veritable industrial production in the fateful 1950 in which Nino Farina won the newly established Formula 1 World Championship with the Alfetta 158.

And the 1900 was expensive (over two million lire) but it certainly didn’t betray the spirit of Alfa Romeo, the founder of sports sedans, "a family car that wins races" and police "Pantera", with its 80-horsepower twin cam and performance never seen before for a six-seater sedan, which would improve yet further with the T.I. and T.I. Super versions (just under two liters, 100 horsepower and 180 km/h).

There would also be the Coupé and Cabriolet variations, designed by Touring, Pinin Farina and Zagato, for a total of around 18,000 units up to 1958. Three models, therefore, with different spirits but which, in fact, would lay the foundations of the Italian car market: from the 49,000 units sold in 1949, in 1953 numbers already rose to 112,000, exceeding 200,000 in 1956, after the arrival of the 1100, the Appia, the Giulietta and the boom of the 600.

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