{vsig}2010-9_2524{/vsig}Established by Piero Dusio in 1939, Consorzio Industriale Sportiva Italia manufactured and sold a variety of sporting goods. After World War II, Dusio built a number of Fiat-powered racing cars using the extended acronym Cisitalia, and branched out into passenger cars in 1947.

The Cisitalia 202 had a space frame with Fiat 1100 mechanicals, and as bodied by Pinin Farina, was one of the classic designs of all time, becoming the only automobile in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Bankrupt by 1949, Dusio decamped for Argentina to pursue a will-o-the-wisp Grand Prix car project under the patronage of Juan Peron.

The Cisitalia 360 GP car was unsuccessful, but Dusio built a good business with Willys Jeep variants for rural Argentineans. In 1960, he attempted to resurrect the Cisitalia brand with government help and a partnership with Fiat Argentina SA.

Fiat had prepared a 1500S version of their 1,481cc engine Cabriolet with a 1,491 cc twin-overhead-cam engine designed by OSCA, another boutique tuning house started by the Maserati brothers after they sold their namesake business to the Orsi family. Fiat licensed the OSCA engine for manufacture in their own plants, but supplied a few back to OSCA for their more sophisticated chassis.

In addition to the Pininfarina-designed Spider, there were a few 1500S coupes by Carrozzeria Fratelli Fissore, of Savigliano, which developed a close relationship with Fiat from the late 1940s. Dusio ordered a batch of the Fiat version of the Fissore 1500S and had them shipped to Argentina. Estimates of the quantity vary from fifteen to thirty, but they were badged and sold as the Cisitalia DF85.

By the early 1990s this DF85 had migrated from Argentina to Florida. Photographs of the car show it to have worn red paint and seemingly to have been highly original; importantly, all of the attractive trim pieces remained in place. It was repainted in the subtle dark metallic blue it wears today, a color that suits its lines well and accentuates the chrome and aluminum details.

Aside from its repaint, over the course of the last 17 years the car has had an engine rebuild with two new pistons fitted and the brakes overhauled. An exceptionally rare variation on a popular and renowned theme.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Cisitalia DF85 Coupe
Years Produced:1961
Number Produced:15 to 35
Original List Price:unknown
SCM Valuation:$30,000 - $40,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$30
Chassis Number Location:Engine compartment on firewall tag
Engine Number Location:Stamped on right side of block
Club Info:Cisitalia Club of America
Alternatives:1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Special, 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ, 1961 Lancia Appia Sport(Zagato)
Investment Grade:C

This car sold for $35,100 including premium at the Bonhams Greenwich sale on June 6, 2010.

Is a ‘Cisitalia’ ever not a ‘Cisitalia’? Is the question a valid one at all? Was this car the buy of the century or an interesting case of automotive mistaken identity?

The story of Cisitalia, and the dreams, accomplishments and ultimate collapse of Piero Dusio’s adventure is a fascinating one. One might have expected the motoring world in Italy in the late 1940s to be a pretty quiet place, following years of war, invasion and occupation. However, no matter the privations suffered by citizens as they attempted to rebuild their lives and homes, Italy had been bitten by the motoring bug in a big way in the 1930s, and drivers couldn’t wait to get back on the road.

The brilliant Fiat Topolino had not only introduced millions to vehicle ownership, but also, along with the larger Balilla, proved to be infinitely tunable with a host of performance modifications for those who wanted to go racing—or just get to the market a bit faster. A vast cottage industry arose to sate this need, and one of the most inventive among them was Cisitalia. Dusio’s success with the D-46 single seater, based on the 500B Topolino, gave him both the credibility and the cash to take the next step in becoming a manufacturer.

Fiat mechanicals and sleek bodywork

Of the Cisitalia 202, the car most think of when the name comes up, we need hardly speak. One of the best definitions of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the car combined suitably tweaked Fiat-based mechanicals with sleek bodywork. It performed brilliantly in the most important races of the time in the hands of such masters as Tazio Nuvolari. The signature coupe became a design icon for the ages with its Savonuzzi-designed, Pinin Farina-refined body.

The success of the D-46 and 202 led Dusio inexorably towards his Waterloo:  the advanced, but also horrifying complex and costly, 360 Grand Prix car project. It can be argued that between Ferdinand Porsche and Carlo (née Karl) Abarth, the Austrians did to the Italians what the Germans had only started.

After Piero Dusio left most of the company’s Italian assets in the hands of Abarth, and set up shop in Argentina, his son Carlo Dusio (not to be confused with Carlo Abarth) reorganized in Turin. Carlo Dusio  produced a small number of Fiat-based cars in Italy called Cisitalias, from 1948 through to 1964. Some of the younger Dusio’s cars were very attractive, and many were interesting, although not to the level of the original models.

Early badge engineering

As time went on, the actual mechanical differences between the Cisitalia and the Fiat upon which it was based became fewer and fewer— until most were badge engineering at its finest. And so must be considered the DF85 as offered by Bonhams. A disclosure here: I loved the car and was an underbidder, so you might have a hint on where I stand on my opening questions.

The ‘DF’ in the name stands for ‘Derivazione Fiat,’ or Fiat variant, which it most certainly is in the most literal of ways. The variances, however,  were provided by OSCA and Fissore, rather than Cisitalia. The DF85 is virtually identical to coupes marketed by Fissore itself, with changes in the interior trim and of course the addition of Cisitalia badges. So, is that a bad thing? Not at all. I had a chance to briefly drive the car, and although it certainly showed the effects of lack of use, once sorted it is sure to be a very entertaining drive.

The Fiat-OSCA twin cam is a wonderful engine, with lots of character, smooth and with a surprisingly useful power band. The styling is, in my opinion, quite elegant in a typical late-1950s, early 1960s Italian manner. The interior styling of the Cisitalia variant is brilliant. It reminds you of nothing less than a miniature Maserati 5000GT, with the pair of big, widely spaced instruments, and the wood-rimmed wheel with the elegant Cisitalia crest inside. The chrome detailing on the glovebox and trunk handles is delicate and sculptural, worthy of an art gallery.

Rare, but not blue chip

The Cisitalia DF85 is a very rare car, attractive and eminently suitable for either rallies or concours. Finding one in the United States adds to the appeal, as the hard lifting of locating the car, importing it and initial restoration has been done. This example was restored to a good level and would respond quite well to a freshening to bring it to the condition it deserves.

So, is it “a Cisitalia”? Of course it is, as it is a clear part of the convoluted, but continuous, story of the marque. While it’s a car you’ll always have to explain, and it will never be a first-rank collectible, it is the product of no less than three important creative organizations: Fissore, Cisitalia and OSCA. Therefore, the car is worthy of attention and preservation. As finding another in similar condition would be a challenge, I would have to say the new owner has done rather well in his buy.

Comments are closed.