When you think of Classic cars, you tend to hark back to the 50’s and 60’s but whatever about those that came before, the forerunners, the cars that really started it all. One such motor from the FCA Heritage archives is the Fiat 3 1/2 hp, a car that still graces our roads today, albeit in the likes of the London – Brighton run.
The 3 ½ HP was the first car made by the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. It was built at the end of 1899, several months after a group of ten or so aristocrats and notables from Turin interested in automobiles had founded a new company specifically dedicated to this innovative product on July 11.
It was the dawn of motoring and the first cars were reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages. They had large, thin wheels with wooden rims and double leaf-spring suspension, quilted leather seats to comfortably accommodate passengers, awnings to shelter them from the rain, control levers also for steering and small displacement petrol engines.
In particular, the Fiat 3 ½ HP designed by Aristide Faccioli was a compact car that could accommodate two or three people sitting facing each other, two on the seat in direction of travel, one of whom was in charge of operating control levers, and one in an open-top seat facing the opposite way. The bodywork, known as a “Duc”, was made by the famed Turin coachbuilder Marcello Alessio.
The first Fiat car was a link between the horse-drawn carriages the 19th century and the engine-powered mobility of the 20th. Twenty-six cars were made, four of which are still in existence today.
While the chassis and bodywork were still heavily reliant on the design of the 19th century horse-drawn carriages, the petrol engine of the Fiat 3 ½ HP had all the features of the cars that would follow. The power output was modest but the engine was technologically modern and sophisticated.
Positioned at the back under the seat, the engine had two cylinders arranged horizontally with overhead valves. The exhaust valves were controlled by cams while the intake valves were opened by vacuum. Despite the rudimental fuel feed system, the engine delivered 4.2 horsepower and the 3 ½ HP could touch a top speed of 35 km/h.
Twenty-six cars were made from 1899 to 1900, four of which have survived to the present day. Three are part of the FCA collection and are kept in the National Automobile Museum in Turin, at the Fiat Historical Centre also in Turin and at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Great Britain.