Coachbuilt Compacts: Cruising Through Tuscany With A Pack Of Unique Fiat 600s
Photography by Andrea Casano
Between a push toward mass motorization, the consequent levels of production to get there, and the need to keep costs down for the average driver, the early post-war period saw coachbuilt cars becoming even more distinctive. Having custom bodywork or a car from a very limited series was considered a sign of wealth and taste, and a good many of the European automakers were including coachbuilt bodies in their sales brochures.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, manufacturers might list their models for sale with bodywork and also without it, such that the customer could bring the chassis and mechanicals to his preferred coachbuilder for completion. To have one of these “off-series” bodies was to elevate oneself above mass production and conformity, or at least have a car that symbolized as much.
Italy has long provided the industries of craftsmen and artists with talent, and in the automotive sector, coachbuilders at Zagato, Touring, Vignale, Bertone, Pininfarina, and the rest are still regarded as some of the most influential in the world. Their work with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and all the other sporting brands of their countrymen is as definitive as ever, but the more humble cars got their share of attention as well. Which brings us to this gathering of special Fiat 600s.
Born in the mid 1950s, the 600 was an innovative automobile. Affordable, pragmatic, good-looking, and more substantial than a moped, it was a car perfectly suited for its time.
And in no time at all, it becomes a national icon: the Italian family car that stood as a proud icon of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery and enduring aesthetic sensibilities. For quite a while, it was almost impossible to find a street in Italy without a Fiat 600 on it.
And it is in this context that the first Fiat 600 special carriages are born. The standard car was all but ubiquitous, but for those looking for something extra without giving up the 600’s practicality, there were a few more options. On the day of this photoshoot, four of them came together for a reunion: four Fiats bodied by Viotti, Scionieri, Moretti, and Vignale.
To be able to appreciate them to the fullest, we’d decided to take these city cars into he countryside, to indulge in their charms somewhere far away from modern context. That’s not to say there isn’t great fun to be had in driving a tiny old Fiat in a big modern city, but our meander through the hills and fields and the occasional ruin felt much closer to timeless.
We are in Tuscany for the shoot, more specifically in the countryside of Livorno, on a road surrounded by tall cypresses and deciduous trees turning with the season. It evokes a sense of freedom and laconic happiness that these Fiats are so well suited for.
At first glance, they may look very similar to one another (except the Vignale coupe of course), but if you purse closely will see that they have very unique characteristics.
To me, the details are the main allure of these cars. Though the identity of the original 600 remains on the other three, seemingly every part of them that can be styled has been restyled, resulting in a comprehensive but subtle program of customization. It is said that no two are the same, even if they left the same workshop; the coachbuilder would often propose his ideas to the customer, but it was then the customer’s chance to weigh in with the the requests that turned the cars into truly personalized pieces.
The Viotti-bodied 600 in our group, with its metallic blue paint and very special interior, is the most elegant. While the Scionieri’s two-tone livery and red interior stand out while maintaining elegance. Besides the Vignale, the Moretti looks like the most sporting of the lot, mostly due to the overall Abart-like sharpness of the body compared to the original 600.
The Vignale is clearly the most radical departure from the norm, as it has a body completely redesigned and built from the ground up. Though it’s based on the standard 600 chassis and mechanicals, Vignale adopted a solution with two new uprights between the chassis and body to get it to function properly.
No matter which one you peer into, the interior will impress. Each is extremely detailed for its time, even though these were still compact cars designed for frequent use. Contrary to what you might think if you’ve never been in one, Fiat 600s are quite comfortable and spacious, and these coachbuilder editions were not about to repurpose the car by removing functionality and space (well, except in the case of the Vignale).
Each of the coachbuilders that produced these 600s has a history that was defined by much more exotic automobiles, but these little economy cars show how rich and full those histories are.