Located in a discreet street in Turin, the Centro Storico Fiat houses many important treasures from the past of one of Italy's greatest car manufacturers
15 June 2014

Fiat has been a major car maker and industrial player for more than a century now, but one of the lesser-known sides to the Fiat story is that the company has its very own museum.

On one level, the Centro Storico Fiat, located discreetly at Via Chiabrera 20, Turin, is a modern, stylish exhibition of some of Fiat's past masters.

Fiat has a collection of some 300 historic cars and around 30-40 are out on show at any time. Some are familiar, such as the ultra-cute 500s and 600s and the heroic aero-engined 22-litre Mefistofele record breaker that has run at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

But many are not and that's part of the appeal. Cars, aircraft and other symbols of Fiat's manufacturing might are artfully out on display, along with nice period adverts and models, while upstairs there's yet another treasure trove.

Fiat's official archives are stored here. Along with many important documents and drawings, there are rows upon rows of catalogues, handbooks, press kits and magazines covering not just Fiat but Lancia, Abarth and Alfa Romeo too. The archive has more than six million images and over 200 hours of historical films.

Up until recently, the Centro Storico Fiat was firmly closed to outsiders. But it's now open one day a week (Sunday) for no charge and fully active on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

In Italy, Fiat has courted controversy with its (mis)handling of the Lancia and Alfa Romeo museums. But the Centro Storico Fiat is a delight and well worth a visit. 

Here are some of the highlights.

Fiat 600 and 500 Topolino

The Fiat 600 and the classic 500 Topolino (little mouse) epitomized small car motoring in Italy for decades, putting millions of Italians on the road. The 600, launched in 1955, was Fiat's first rear-engined car. The Topolino, cute, low cost and economical, with fun, timeless style, first appeared in 1936.

Centro Storico Fiat's art deco roof

The art deco roof of Centro Storico Fiat in Turin. The building, dating from 1907, was the first expansion of the workshops on Corse Dante, Fiat's first home. The Centro Storico Fiat itself was inaugurated in 1963, as the company's official archive, but it wasn't until the mid-1980s that the archive began in earnest. 

1950 Fiat 1400 Cabriolet  

Then and now: rare 1950 Fiat 1400 Cabriolet twinned with a piece of Fiat's modern mass production technology. The 1400 was the first truly new postwar Fiat, with monocoque body and high spec for its day. Fiat's industrial might (Turin is effectively Italy's 'Motor City') is much in evidence.

Dante Giacosa

A pivotal figure in Fiat design and 'father' of the classic Fiat 500. A Fiat engineer pre-war, Giacosa became head of Fiat design in 1946 and was responsible for the shape and engineering of all models up to 1970. Many groundbreaking Fiats, including the 500, 124 and 128, came under his watch.

Dante Giacosa's design office 

The Centro Storico Fiat has this mock up of Dante Giacosaís design office on the second floor. Representing the 1950s and 1960s, working scale models of the Nuova 500 and Fiat 850 are next to his desk. Due to his influence and success with small car design, Giacosa has been likened to the 'Issigonis of Italy'.

Fiat's first car 

Fiat's first ever car, the elegant 3.5hp. Produced in limited numbers from the end of 1899, it could seat 2-3 passengers and was guided via handlebar steering. This version has a 679cc engine with chain drive while others had 837cc. Just 111 cars in circulation in all of Italy at that time, the museum adds.

Shell of 1950s-era Fiat 1100

Fiat has long been numero uno for mass production in Italy and as a reminder, here's the painted bare metal shell of a 1950s-era Fiat 1100, on the line, complete with original manufacturing gantry from Fiat's giant Mirafiori plant in Turin.  Into the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, Fiat was cranking out thousands of cars per day.

Fiat 508S Balilla Mille Miglia from 1933 

Competitive in that era as a simple, elegant, lightweight sportster in the Mille Miglia and other classic road races such as the Targa Florio. With 995cc, 36bhp engine, it went on to dominate the domestic 1100cc class. A few came to the UK in period, too.

Fiat 8V and 1100S Mille Miglia

Exotic Fiat 8V, left, was junior Italian supercoupe of its day. With 2.0-litre V8 engine and 105bhp, the 'Ottovu' was a quick, intriguing GT. This particular one, with plastic body, was built for the 1954 Turin Show. The 1100S Mille Miglia on the right was another streamlined, specialty Fiat coupe of its era.

Fiat 1500 Cabriolet

Pininfarina styled the elegant Fiat 1500 Cabriolet, dating from 1963. Power came from Fiat's standard 1481cc, 72bhp engine but the cognoscenti could also order a hotter OSCA twin cam edition with 90bhp. Pininfarina spun off an almost identical looking car for Peugeot, which became the 404 coupé/cabriolet.

Ziguli's Fiat 124

This looks like a Fiat 124 but it's actually a Russian-made Ziguli, built through an agreement Fiat signed with the Russian government in 1966. The deal was signed in Centro Storico Fiat on May 4, 1966. The Lada Riva was another 124 derivative and remarkably the design still lives on in Russia and eastern Europe. 

Fiat advertising posters

Advertising posters adorn the walls of the Centro Storico Fiat in Turin. Here's a cool selection from the Fiat 600 and 1100 era dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. Many fine posters from the pre-war era are also out on show. History is something Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT) has plenty of.

Original Fiat Multipla

"Six hundred for six declared" was the inspired UK road test headline of the time. Here's the original, still captivating Fiat Multipla, with small rear engine, rear-drive and yes, just about room for six. This is a second generation 600D from 1964 with uprated 767cc engine. With 32bhp, however, performance was still modest.

Fiat Dino Spider

Voluptuous styling by Pininfarina still evokes that dreamy 1960s Riviera style. This is one of the later 2.4-litre V6 cars, actually assembled by Ferrari and built alongside the Dino 246 which used the same engine. Reputedly only 424 were made, so hugely rare and coveted now, and at a price.

Fiat 2300S coupé

In the early 1960s, Fiat and the Ghia design house collaborated over this elegant 2300S coupé. Spun off the Fiat 2300 floorpan and with straight-six, twin carb power (136bhp), the 2300S was good for some 120mph. Dubbed the 'poor man's Ferrari' for a time, it effectively predated Fiat's cult 130 Coupé.

Nuova 500 model

Wood master model for the bodywork dies of the classic Nuova 500 of 1957 which, in turn, inspired today's Fiat 500. This is a full scale model in solid mahogany. Computer design has long since bypassed the need for such styling bucks. Inevitable, of course, but still a pity as this in itself is a true work of art.

Mefistofele

The mighty 22-litre Mefistofele which in 1924 took the land speed record under the command of Sir Ernest Eldridge. With 6-cylinder, 320bhp Fiat aircraft engine on board, it achieved 237.98km/h (147.9mph) and in recent years has been a crowd pleaser at Goodwood, although at slightly slower speed.

Fiat aircrafts

Though best known for cars, Fiat also has a long history in the aircraft industry and the Centro Storico Fiat has a big and impressive display of models and even a G91 jet fighter on display. Aircraft engines, ship engines, bicycles, fridges and washing machines, the giant Fiat empire has made them all, and more.

Italian car memorabilia

The archive at Centro Storico Fiat contains not just key company information and documents, but a big selection of manuals, press kits, brochures, magazines as well, covering not just Fiat, but Lancia, Alfa and Abarth too (enough to send Ebay into meltdownÖ). More than 6 million images are also stored there. 

Fiat 127 advertisment

Stylish contemporary ad for the Fiat 127 which won European Car of the Year in 1972. From the Centro Storico Fiat vaults, there are also many evocative photos to set the mood and videos to watch. The Storico is now highly active on social media too and you can follow its activities daily on Facebook and Twitter.

Our Verdict

Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 is a deserved success story for the brand, offering bags of style, a fine drive and low costs

Join the debate

Comments
4

16 June 2014
But where did it all go wrong? It's sad to see this once great marque knocking out 21st century replicas of the 500 and not much else of any note.
I want to see something new and innovative, something a bit more in keeping with those pioneering cars of the past. Where are the successors to cars like the 500, 128 and 130 Coupe?

16 June 2014
I understand that FIATs other engineering divisions, outside of Automobile (such as Aeronautics) have been generally more consistently high-performing. All the more reason perhaps for the feeling of massive underachievement. For instance, the Science Museum has in it's large items storage, an example of the world's first petrol/electric hybrid car. It's pre-war and it's a FIAT!

18 June 2014
The world's first petrol/electric car was the 1901 Lohner-Porsche.

18 June 2014
shame fiat these days arent exactly what i call good

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