June 7, 2011

A rear-engined Fiat for every need and budget.

Once upon a time when hand-built cars were still plentiful it was a popular activity in Italy to take mass-produced Fiats and rebody them. The Turin Motor Show was full to the brim with small artisans showcasing their latest creations. Throughout the years Fiat’s popular rear-engined economy cars have loaned their platforms to become small trucks, sports cars, off-roaders, people movers and even luxury cars. We’re passing on the well-known Abarth and Seat models and taking a look at some of the more obscure ones. This is the first part of a series and covers mostly older models; a second part covering later cars will come soon.

Savio Jungla

The Savio Jungla was commissioned by Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli as a vehicle to compete against the Mini Moke and later the Citroën Mehari. Agnelli did not want to develop the vehicle in house so he outsourced both the development and the production to Savio, a coachbuilder in Turin. Savio essentially had unlimited access to Fiat’s parts bin and as a result, the Jungla is a mix of parts from miscellaneous Fiat models.

The first car was presented at the 1965 Turin Motor Show under the name Giungla. Production started in 1966 and the name was changed to Jungla.

The 500’s two-cylinder engine was judged too small to power such a vehicle so Savio used the 600D’s 767cc water-cooled four-cylinder. It goes without saying that the drivetrain was mounted in the rear, something the French magazine Auto-Journal praised when they tested the car against the front-engined Renault 4 Plein Air and Citroën Mehari in 1969. Top speed was a scant 95km/h but few who bought the car needed to go much faster.

The off-road nature of the vehicle called for the use of a bigger wheel/tire combination so both were borrowed from the Fiat 1100.

The doors on early versions were metal frames covered in fabric but later ones could be ordered with metal half doors. A soft top was the one and only top option throughout the car’s production run and was fairly easy to install but rumored to be fairly fragile.

When production ended in 1974 about 3200 Junglas had been built. A decent amount of them were ordered by the Italian government and used by the Carabinieri and other government forces. Fiat toyed around with the idea of replacing the Jungla with an A112-powered one but those plans were cancelled, though Savio did go on to build another Jungla based on the 126.

SIATA Spring

The Italian coachbuilder SIATA designed the Spring to mimic English roadsters like the MG TC. Startnig with an 850 platform with an 843cc water-cooled four-cylinder, SIATA added a retro body that they built in-house. To complete the vintage look the car could be fitted with wire wheels. The Spring cost roughly the same as an 850 Spider when it hit showrooms in 1967 and many of them were exported to the U.S.

SIATA went out of business in 1970 so production theoretically ended then but there’s a twist: the Rivolta family of ISO fame bought the SIATA assembly lines and continued to produce the Spring using Seat mechanical bits. Seat was part of the Fiat group at the time so the parts were similar but several details changed, including the use of a slightly more powerful version of the 843cc. The car was rechristened the Seat-ORSA Spring Special. Production lasted until 1974, when ISO went under.

Moretti Sportiva

Introduced in 1967, the aerodynamic Moretti Sportiva looked like a poor man’s Dino from the front. The Fiat 850 emblem on the back of it betrayed its origins: it was powered by the 850’s 843cc four-cylinder. A beefed up 982cc (62hp) version of that engine was also available.

The first version of it was the Sportiva S2, a two-seater available either as a coupe or as a Transformabile, essentially a coupe with a large cloth sunroof. By popular demand Moretti launched the Sportiva S4 2+2 a year later.

A big selling point for the Sportiva was the possibility to customize it as one pleased, a tendency that is making a comeback today in premium small cars such as the Citroën DS3. The Sportiva could be ordered with metallic paint, Borrani wheels, electric windows, an entire panoply of interior upholstery and so on.

Production ended in 1971 and it is estimated that less than 1,000 of them were built.

Ferves Ranger

Ferves stands for Ferrari Veicoli Speciali. There is no connection between them and the Ferrari that probably came to mind as you read that, the name is simply a coincidence; Ferrari is a common last name in Italy, and the man behind the Ranger’s full name was Carlo Ferrari.

The tiny 4x4 Ranger was launched at the 1966 Turin Motor Show and like the Jungla above it was a melting pot of Fiat parts. The suspension and brakes came from the 600D, the front driveshafts came from the Autobianchi Primula and the 499cc air-cooled two-cylinder was borrowed from the 500 F. It also used the 500’s four-speed gearbox-differential unit though the Ranger’s differential ratio was shorter than of a standard 500. Ferves claimed the Ranger was good for approximately 50mph. It had an unbelievably tiny wheelbase that gave it a bad tendency to roll but that aside, it was a fairly capable off-roader.

Later versions came with a five-speed gearbox and that included a granny gear and a system that permitted the front wheels to be locked in an effort to simulate a locking differential. As odd of a setup as it may seem, it was said to be effective. A 4x2 version was also available towards the end of its production run.

Most of the Rangers built were four-seaters but a two-seat pickup was also offered. Both versions came with a windshield that folded down and with a soft top.

Production ended in 1971 and it is estimated that less than 1,000 of them were built.

Francis Lombardi Lucciola

Francis Lombardi’s story is an interesting one. He fought for Italy in WWI was a decorated pilot in the Italian Air Force. In 1938 he started his own airplane company called AVIA (Azionari Vercellese Industrie Aeronautiche). The company built a twin-seat training/touring plane called the L3 that Lombardi designed himself. After WWII he turned to building wood-paneled station wagon versions of Fiat 1100s.

His first 600-based model was the Lucciola (firefly in Italian) that he presented in 1956. It was based on a standard 600 but was much more upscale. Its rear window was larger than that of the standard 600 and it was available with two-tone paint. A very interesting convertible version of this car was also made in extremely limited numbers.

In 1958 he presented a new Lucciola: it was an elegant four-door 600 and the rear doors opened in a suicide fashion like in the Lancia Appia. There was no B-pillar. The front seats were swapped out for a single bench seat to create the impression of sitting in a large, luxurious sedan. The Lucciola wore a non-functional chrome grille on the front and chrome trim decorated the car all around.

He updated the Lucciola in 1963 by fitting a larger 767cc engine from the 600D. A concept car with four forward-hinged doors was built but never saw the light of production.

Much like the two-door version precious few Lucciola four-door sedans were built. However they were successful enough that Lombardi went on to modify a lot of other Fiats including the 850, the 126, the 127, the 500, and even Alfas, Volkswagens and NSUs. His carrozzeria is a good example of what was being done with Fiats during those years. He built pickups, sedans, convertibles, coupes, and so on.

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