1905 Fiat 60 HP 5-Passenger Tourer

Teddy Pieper ©2013, courtesy of RM Auctions
Teddy Pieper ©2013, courtesy of RM Auctions

According to the Registro Storico Fiat, chassis 3003 was accepted on June 7, 1905, by Fiat’s sole American importer, Hollander and Tangeman of New York City. It was the third of only 20 examples of the 4-cylinder 60 HP built on the 2,985-millimeter wheelbase chassis (the shorter of two offerings for the model), and it is the only example known to survive today.

The car was fitted at the Turin factory with upgraded racing sprockets and a unique clutch that had been unseen in any other Fiat. It was then exported as a rolling chassis to Hollander and Tangeman and subsequently dispatched to New Jersey’s Quinby and Co. for coachwork. Quinby designer Herbert Strong had recently patented a new aluminum bodywork process that provided superior weight savings, making the coachbuilder an ideal choice for the performance-oriented 60 HP. Quinby fitted chassis number 3003 with luxurious 5-passenger touring coachwork that featured internally mounted fasteners and brass moldings over its panel intersections, creating a seamless appearance that lacked any visible rivets or joints. The labor-intensive technique justified the body’s steep price of $4,000, and the coachwork was appropriately finished in red paint, the national color reserved for American competitors at the Gordon Bennett Cup (the race that would soon morph into the first grand prix races held at Le Mans). All told, the new Fiat cost over $18,000, making it the world’s most expensive car to date.

The Fiat was then delivered new to August Anheuser Busch Sr., the scion of the legendary brewing company in St. Louis, MO. Mr. Busch’s purchase was based on a strong recommendation of the 60 HP model from his close friend and fellow potentate, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany, who had recently shelved his Mercedes for one of the Italian cars (in what proved to be somewhat of a public-relations blunder).

Busch retained possession of the Fiat until the end of his life in 1934. One year later, it was purchased from his estate by James Melton, the noted tenor, radio personality and car collector, who kept the 60 HP at his Connecticut estate. The car was then sold to Dr. Don Miller, a local friend. Connecticut collector Louis Biondi purchased the Fiat in 1973.

In 2012, after 77 years of minimal use by three collectors residing within 10 square miles of one another, this historically significant 60 HP was acquired by the consignors. They were particularly impressed by the Fiat’s overall originality, as it featured all of its original Quinby body panels and an exhaustive list of matching-numbers components including the chassis, engine, transmission, steering and suspension components, rear sprockets, chains, a radiator, a cooling fan, a belly pan, and even the securing fasteners.

Quinby’s body components were also impressively original, as they featured the coachbuilder’s wood framing, leather seats, mohair floor mats, brass lighting, most weather gear, and at least 90% of the original red paint. Even the wicker basket of the rear trunk rack is an original factory-supplied item that has been decorated with original Fiat logos. Furthermore, in a testament to how little the car had been used over the preceding 107 years, and the overall quality of its original manufacture, the body and chassis bore no evidence whatsoever of any stress cracks or sagging.

Chassis number 3003 won Second Place in the Pre-War Preservation Class and the Meguiar’s Award at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and the Founders Award at the Kirkland Concours d’Elegance as well as the FIVA Most Well Preserved Vehicle Award.