Originally a bicycle manufacturer, and probably best known as a maker of fine racing motorcycles, Edoardo Bianchi built his first automobile in the early 1900s. A wide variety of models followed over the next 30 years, though by 1940 the firm was concentrating on motorcycles and commercial vehicles.
Car manufacture resumed in 1957 under Fiat auspices, Autobianchi's debut model being the Bianchina, based on Fiat's new 500. Positioned up market from the Fiat, the Bianchina debuted as the Trasformabile coupe, with full-length folding sunroof. The Bianchina showed clear signs of American influence, its size excepted, exemplified by two-tone paintwork, whitewall tires and plentiful chromework.
In 1960 the newly introduced and more powerful Fiat 500D engine became standard equipment on the Bianchina range, which was augmented by two new models: a Cabriolet and the Panoramica estate car that used the Fiat Giardiniera's space-saving horizontally-opposed engine.
A fourth version, the Quattroposti saloon, arrived the following year. This Autobianchi Bianchina Cabriolet is the same model as that used in the original "Pink Panther" movie starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling inspector Clouseau. Restored some 5-7 years ago, it is reported as running great and driving well, and is offered with Certificate of Title.
|Number Produced:||9,000 (Cabriolet)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$150|
|Chassis Number Location:||Left side of firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Left side of crankcase support|
|Club Info:||Registro Autobianchi, Casella Postale 252 - 10043 Orbassano (Torino) Italy|
This 1960 Autobianchi Bianchina Cabriolet sold for $23,400 at the Bonhams & Butterfields sale at Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley, CA, August 18, 2006.
The Fiat “Nuova 500,” introduced in 1955, was the post-war successor to the legendary “Topolino”-a car regarded by many as the Model T of Italy. The Topolino allowed the country’s lower middle classes to become motorized in numbers far greater than ever before.
The new model found similar success after its initially under-powered and spartan character was changed a few years after the launch. It was clear that Topolino buyers may not have had much money but they still wanted to personalize their car and make it as comfortable and “upmarket” as their budgets would allow.
A host of suppliers offered the solution through accessories, trim packages, and even mild bodywork modifications to dress up the humble car. The pattern continued with the Nuova 500-a number of Italy’s leading carrozzerie offered cars that ranged from slightly tarted to completely different-looking faux sports and luxury treatments.
To get a piece of the action, Fiat joined with Bianchi and Pirelli to form a new company to build Autobianchi cars based on the 500, sold through selected Fiat dealers. The Autobianchi featured the previously described “transatlantic”styling by Rapi, designer of the Fiat 8V sports car, as well as better interior materials and thicker seats than the standard cars.
It wasn’t all visual, however. Enhanced soundproofing and modified suspensions to help cure the 500’s tendency for dramatic rolling in turns meant that Autobianchis also offered a more upmarket driving experience as well. Priced at a 20% premium over the base cars, they sought to be a custom-bodied car with full factory backing for the smart Italian who wanted to be the “Jones” his neighbor had to keep up with. With over 250,000 produced by the late ’60s, Fiat bought out its partners in 1968 and absorbed Autobianchi into the main company.
In 1969 Fiat launched the successor to the Bianchina, the A112. Based on the mechanicals of the Fiat 127, it even spawned a “hot” Abarth version in 1971. The A112 was made until 1985, at which point it was developed into the Lancia Y10. At that point, the Autobianchi name disappeared from dealerships.
Given the shocking rise in values of the Fiat Jolly ($48,386 is the record so far), interest in the other 500 “specials” has also begun to increase. The Autobianchi cars offer a distinct advantage over the Jolly in that they are actually real cars that can be used far more often-keeping in mind the limitations of the “hot” 25-hp powerplant. They may look like smart luxury sports models, but they go like the standard sedan.
At least you get to enjoy your leisurely progress much more thanks to the modifications in suspension, sound deadening, and interior. We have begun to see very high level restorations done on Bianchina Cabriolets, but the cosmetic side can be expensive to do-the little trim bits are particular to the marque and most are impossible to get outside of Italy.
The mechanicals of course are quite simple and robust and are not problematic. Bianchinas rust like any other inexpensive European car of the period, but as there isn’t much body there, repairs are not generally costly.
The 1960 Autobianchi Bianchina Cabriolet sold here was a mixture of nicely done and quickly done. The catalog reported that the car had been restored some five to seven years ago, and the catalog photo showed it in the typical and correct two-tone treatment with contrasting black paint inside the chrome side spears. However, as seen at the auction, the car had just been freshly painted in a solid red-orange without the contrasting color strip. It also arrived missing the front “grille” trim, as well as that for the rear license plate light and the pair of engine compartment latches.
During the preview, a somewhat incorrect reproduction grille was fitted, along with a formed stainless piece in the place of the license plate light holder. It lacked any cutout provision for the lamps themselves, which were also not in evidence. The engine lid latches failed to arrive at all. Nevertheless, the car was clean and attractive and seemed to run well. With a little time and detective work, the proper trim pieces could be found and the black paint added to the sides and you wouldn’t be much out of pocket.
I really liked this Autobianchi Bianchina Cabriolet and was an underbidder, hoping against hope that “Jolly fever” wouldn’t infect my rival bidders and launch the car into orbit. The fact that it didn’t make it into my garage tells you all you need to know about where I valued it, but as a delightfully over-restored Trasformabile coupe sold this year for almost $40,000 at another Monterey auction, perhaps this one has to be rated as a pretty good buy-as long as the Jolly stays a “flavor of the month” and keeps the prices rising.