Sunday, October 11, 2015

1958 Fiat 1200 Granluce

"The Fiat 1200 full-light saloon is an elegant car of brilliant performance. Mechanical units derived from the 1100, but with a 1221 c.c. engine developing more power at all speeds. Greater acceleration. Speed about 140 km (87 miles) p.h."

One wonders how the oh-so-emotional Italians could ever bring themselves to advertise one of their cars in such a dry and factual way, especially when the principal reason for the development of the Fiat 1200 was to stir up emotions. Soon after the launch of the "Nuova Millecento", quite a few customers began asking for a beefier engine. The Fiat engineers under Dante Giacosa determined that the light monocoque chassis of the Fiat 1100 could easily handle more power, and decided to mount a 1,221 ccm engine, which should also power the sporty 1200 TV Spider. Yet, they didn't stop there.

Like Sir Alec Issigonis at Morris, Fiat's Dante Giacosa was one of those engineering principals that highly valued aesthetics, and thus, he endorsed a visual "upgrade" of the new 1200. Now, it's common sense that structural body parts of a car, especially roof and glass area, are the most expensive parts to modify, and they usually don't get touched unless it's absolutely necessary. Instead, carmakers change only the outer sheet metal when doing a facelift, while the structural body remains unchanged throughout the life cycle. The Italians, however, went the opposite way: roof and glass area of the new Fiat 1200 became entirely renewed while the outer sheet metal remained unchanged.

This was a costly decision, but the result did prove the Italian engineers right. Compared to its predecessor, the "new" Fiat looked clean and ultra-modern upon its presentation in late 1957, and was clearly a car of the 1960s, anticipating the trend to more angular shapes that should emerge in the U.S. with the Chevrolet Corvair two years later.

Because of its airy cabin, the Fiat 1200 was christened "Granluce" which the respective export markets literally translated into "Full-Light" or "Grande Vue". The U.S.-bound Fiats were imported by Max Hoffmann of New York, and certainly looked strange beside all the BMWs, Alfa Romeos, Healeys or Porsches that usually populated Hofmann's showrooms. Our pictured Fiat, however, as its owner proudly emphasizes, came to Cuba directly from Italy in 1958, and remained within the family ever since.

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