It would be fair to say that the Fiat 8V caused a stir when it was introduced at the 1952 Geneva Motor Show. The reaction it provoked was wholly positive, but it came as a surprise when Fiat — at the time renowned for mzaking cars in high volume, such as the diminutive yet popular Topolino — revealed a sports car with a powerful engine that was also visually stunning.
The concept for the Fiat 8V was born out a proposal from the company’s chief engineer, Dante Giacosa, who suggested that the Turin marque should make a limited-production sports car for a new 2-liter Gran Turismo racing class in 1951. The first 34 examples of the 8V, known as “Series I,” wore bodywork manufactured in-house by Fiat’s Reparto Carrozzerie Speciali department and designed by Fiat’s Head of Ufficio Tecnico Carrozzeria, Luigi Rapi. Later examples, from chassis number 35 onward, were planned as a “Series II.” These were ultimately sold as a rolling chassis and bodied by famous coachbuilders such as Ghia, Vignale and Zagato.
The advanced, overhead-valve light-alloy V8 engine — internally coined Tipo 104 — was a 2.0-liter powerplant that was paired with a 4-speed manual gearbox. Weighing in at just under 1,000 kilograms and sitting on a chassis made by Siata, the Fiat was designed for poised and reactive handling thanks to its lightweight frame and relatively powerful engine. The first iteration of the Tipo 104 produced a claimed 110 horsepower, giving the car a reported top speed of 190 km/h.
With its sporting characteristics and impressive configuration, the 8V was popular among privateer racers. Many 8V models would go on to compete in motorsport campaigns from hillclimbs to road races — including this example, chassis 11.
This 8V was documented to have left the factory on 24 April 1953, finished in Grigio Rosato over red seats with gray and beige carpets, destined for its first owner in Milan, Italy. But the car was not registered in Italy and was exported to its next owner in Gentilino, Switzerland, Mr. Franco Franzi, in 1956.
Under this ownership, it is understood that the grille was adjusted with handmade modifications to allow greater airflow to the engine. The Fiat was immediately entered into motorsport events. In the 1956 running of the Ollon-Villars hillclimb, Mr. Franzi is recorded to have finished second in the 1.6- to 2.0-liter category. The car would stay in his ownership until 2008, when it was purchased by Mr. Edoardo Borla.
The vehicle was photographed undergoing a complete body-off, nut-and-bolt restoration by Gabriele Artom of Italy, beginning in November 2011 and lasting until 2014. As part of the process, restorers used caution to retain the originality of the car — appropriate for an example with, per the Fiat 8V registry, its numbers-matching engine.
In 2014, the Fiat made its first appearance at a significant event since its restoration, appearing at that year’s Concourso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este in May. In October of that year, the car was sold again, with Mr. Borla passing the car to the incumbent owner. In 2017, the car was presented at the Masterpieces Concours at Schloss Dyck, the German concours event, where it won the “Coupes of Class” category.
|Vehicle:||1953 Fiat 8V Berlinetta|
|Number Produced:||114 (34 Series I)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Stamped on firewall, upper right side|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped just under the distributor|
|Club Info:||FIAT America|
|Alternatives:||1951–55 Alfa Romeo 1900 coupe, 1951–58 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, 1954–57 Mercedes-Benz 300SL|
This car, Lot 119, sold for $1,460,241 (CHF 1,355,000), including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s St. Moritz sale on September 17, 2021.
Before we get to the Fiat 8V, it is important to understand why RM Sotheby’s held this auction in Switzerland. The country has something of a parallel market for collector cars, due to the high costs of importing and exporting classic cars there. Because Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it requires a ton of paperwork and extra charges from the shipper, with duties and VAT to pay, as well. This can amount to 25% of the value of a car. So Switzerland-based cars like this Fiat tend to stay in-country, trading hands among Swiss collectors who wish to avoid this folderol.
Thus, RM Sotheby’s offered a beautiful selection of 24 cars, all locally titled. The auction was attended by a mostly Swiss crowd gathered for the St. Moritz Motoring Week. This is a fast-growing series of events, headed by the Bernina Gran Turismo, and the sort of attraction capable of assembling a passionate, competent and affluent crowd of bidders. The auction company was rewarded with a healthy 74% sales rate, an excellent outing for the first of three planned annual sales.
No replacement for displacement
The Fiat 8V is quite a rare model, with only 114 manufactured from 1952-54. With its full independent suspension, the 8V was years ahead of period competitors. Fiat had hoped to use the model to enter the American market, but this was not well planned.
One of the miscalculations was that the refined 2-liter Italian engine was quite small and fragile when compared to its American counterparts. It had only three crankshaft main bearings, and the engine suffered from problems with lubrication. Paired with the limited appeal of the Fiat brand overseas, this proved to be fatal.
After only 34 complete units, Fiat decided to stop direct production of complete cars with its own bodywork. It began supplying the rolling chassis to coachbuilders, Zagato above all others. Among these early Series I cars (also known as “Rapi 8Vs”) was our subject car.
Restored and updated
It is a quite beautiful-looking car, well kept and repainted in the original Grigio Rosato. In Switzerland since 1956, it was restored about a decade ago, when it was already a quite decent car. Part of the work was completed by Italian specialist Gabriele Artom, whose name serves as a sort of warranty on this kind of car. He provided his expertise for re-creating some missing parts and painted the car. The body and metal preparation was completed elsewhere and under close inspection the paint can be judged a degree away from perfect.
The car has aged well and the mechanicals seem to be sorted, completed by a clean engine bay and correct details. Having being through Artom’s shop, it is easy to believe that the engine was “updated” with improved oil distribution and more-stout main bearings. Care must be taken not to over-rev these engines, which most definitely require an experienced specialist to tune.
A good deal
A Series I is not the most valuable 8V, as that would be one of the Zagato-bodied cars or a Ghia Supersonic. Nor has our subject car’s value been enhanced by an important competition history. On the other hand, any 8V is a great car to drive.
And that is the point: An 8V is rare to see, wonderful to look at and fantastic to own. A Series I 8V allows you to drive, rally and show one of these magnificent cars, all without spending quite as much as for a special coachbuilt model.
None of these cars come to auction that frequently, with only a handful offered in the past decade. Still, Rapi 8Vs show a slow but constant increase in value, selling today for what you might have spent for a carrosserie-bodied car just five years ago. Regardless, this is a rarefied market — you are buying, at Ferrari money, what is still a Fiat.
The buyer got one of the best 8V Series I cars, and the seller got out of a not-so-easy car to sell at current market value. A good outcome for both parties. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)