Tuesday, June 3, 2014

1957 Fiat 1200 TV Spider

"One of those rare cars that you appreciate more as each minute goes by . . .", concluded a period road test about the Fiat 1200 TV Spider.

Notwithstanding the dominance of mass products from Detroit, Cuba's roads always had their share of exotic cars. Especially in and around Havana, you'll find a surprising number of small sports cars from Europe. These cars clearly were the "boy's toys", purchased as the second or third car, and driven purely for fun, rather than necessity.

Among these sports cars, one tiny Fiat model seems to have enjoyed a certain popularity, as you can witness here and there (thanks, Caristas). In 1953, Fabio Luigi Rapi, design director of Fiat's "Carozzerie Speciali" department, began working on a small roadster that should become the Fiat 1100 TV Trasformabile, presented in 1955. On our battered example, there's not much left of it, but the design of the Fiat was noticeably influenced by American design trends of the time, such as a panoramic windshield or the vertical chrome strip on the rear fenders that resembled a Cadillac styling theme. Even swiveling seats to facilitate entry and egress were installed. Years later, they should appear on American cars, too. Just the proportions of the Fiat and its forward-leaning stance were a bit too odd: even by European standards, this thing was too tiny to look elegant. In the flesh, it truly looks like a toy, rather than a serious sportscar.

Our pictured Fiat 1200 TV Spider was built in 1957. Visually, there were only minor modifications to the predecessor, but under the hood, a new 1221ccm engine now delivered more torque than the anemic engine of the Fiat 1100 TV. This revision also featured a ribbon speedometer, instead of circular instruments. It wasn't a very sporty addition, but certainly in tune with the time's taste. 

Among collectors outside Cuba, the tiny Fiat Trasformabile today commands prices that by far exceed its size. Rather than its questionable beauty, it's certainly the rarity that attracts the car enthusiasts worldwide: altogether, only 3,393 were built between 1955 and 1959.

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