The Autobianchi Bianchina Transformabile Speciale Is A Symphony Of Italy
Photography by Michael Potiker
The community that surrounds classic cars is hands down one of my favorite things about the hobby, and I’ve been incredibly privileged to meet great people who’ve sometimes pushed me into incredibly fun projects. One of these people is Donnie Callaway, a Ferrari expert in Los Angeles who somehow talked me into actually pulling the trigger on a tiny Italian car with a name that has half as many syllables as the horsepower its engine produces; the Autobianchi Bianchina Transformabile Speciale.
This car is the first one I’ve attempted a full concours-level restoration on; I have a motor-swapped Facel Vega as well as a 190SL that I’ve built into the four-wheeled version of a Café Racer, and Donnie, who’s obsessed with factory perfection to the extent that he has a framed Ferrari box in his living room, told me pretty much point blank that this one would have to be made totally period-correct. Clearly he convinced me, as it’s now sitting up at his ranch/workshop just north of LA.
It all started, innocently enough, with a Craigslist search that unearthed a solid example in Miami, which I then had to buy site-unseen. While we could tell from the images that the body was in great shape, there remained significant “sorting” to do to elsewhere to return the car to total period perfection. This process of restoration required massive amounts of time spent on Google Translate in an effort to make sense of all the old manuals, advertising catalogues, and enthusiast sites I had recently become privy too, as well as purchases and communications vie Italian eBay.
Beyond the general satisfaction of learning the ins and outs of my new car, one of the most rewarding things about the research I did was learning about the way that people who bought these cars lived; even in the depressed post-war era and with modest means, Italians took great joy in coach-building and driving these glorified economy cars, and often in fantastic pastel colors like this one. In a lot of ways, these cars share a similar spirit with the first Vespa scooters; while they could’ve ended up terribly ugly and utilitarian to a T, the Italian la dolce vida spirit led to fantastic creations that celebrated personality and style while (slowly) buzzing down the road.
Once research commenced in full on my Autobianchi, I quickly learned that the combination leather and carpet interior wasn’t original to the car, or correct for it, and in fact had been finished to a much higher standard than what had been done at the Autobianchi plant; this car was for the upper-middle class, and would’ve featured a light blue vinyl interior with a stylish contrasting “V” in white on the seatbacks, and due to infrastructure damage and an overabundance of dirt roads, the car needed rubber mats instead of the very nice carpet the Italian shop had installed in mine at some point.
After obtaining an original Autobianchi advertising piece, we were able to move forward with having the upholstery redone to match our classic photos by a shop outside Milan. When he detected that I was even a little upset about cutting out a fairly fresh interior with a straight razor, Donnie helpfully told me to shut up and keep cutting as our replacement mats were on the way (as of now, they’re in customs, because nothing is more sensitive than a few pieces of rubber for a small Italian car).
Although the blue paint is perfect, we’re actually planning to re-paint the top of the car in a brighter white to match the advertising photographs I’d bought on Italian eBay. It’s a new experience modifying something that is already finished so well, albeit incorrectly. However, as we put pieces on the car I’m reassured that it’s the right thing to do. Once the paint is complete and my mats are confirmed safe by the government, we’ll complete the car with an assortment of period-correct accessories before unveiling the completed car at a concours, something I am very much looking forward to!