The Fiat 1100 Zagato is a Worthy Mille Miglia Contender
Photography by Federico Bajetti
Yes, the Fiat 1100 Zagato is a delight to drive. I had the opportunity to take the wheel in the days before the Mille Miglia, in the Zagato headquarters while they were loading it and in the roads around the Garda lake during the training of Scuderia Zagato in Sirmione.
The 1100 is the perfect enthusiast car for those who want to stay under the radar: you can drive it like it is meant to be driven, and you’ll always be in the limits. But do not dare to think that it is slow: it is so light and so aerodynamic that on the highway 100 mph is not impossible!
The performance for a 62-year-old car is truly astonishing: 65 hp, about 1,322 lbs (600 kg) of weight, and a delightful noise coming out from the straight exhaust. Its engine is the tiny 1,100-cc inline-4 found in the normal Fiat, but with a little more trickery: Abarth filters, a full race preparation, and open headers. To me, this is the right recipe for everyday tasteful driving.
Over the days I’ve spent in Sirmione, the car went through some serious testing: from the timing trials training to long highway stretches, and technical scrutineering in both Brescia and on the Lake Garda backroads. It didn’t break a sweat and performed flawlessly, except for a few problems to the gearbox, but nothing too worrying.
Driving the 1100 is an act of pure love: persistent smell of gasoline, torn vinyl on the dash, broken fuel gauge and tachometer, and a delightful hot air coming from the engine—making you sweat more than is required. There is no sense of isolation between the occupants and the motor, plus the holes that were made to accommodate the pedals are larger than necessary. I couldn’t care less, really.
The rounded shape of the rear of the car seems to amplify the sound of the exhaust, and the floors vibrate when we’re at speed, for a hint at what driving through an earthquake must be like. But regardless this, the car never felt it was falling apart and dismantle itself while we were driving. It was in fact, quite solid!
The trunk is impressive: fold down the rear seats and you have plenty of space for luggage, documents, computers, food, water, and everything you may possibly need for four days of driving. Oh, and let me give you a word of advice: do not put chocolate in the back. The exhaust bakes everything, ideal if you want to have some fresh bread along the way!
Driving such a car is an act of joy and pure exhilaration. It is not about 0-60 times, but how you make fly through the corners. It is not a difficult car to drive, but it requires a minimum of understanding about driving. Double clutching, heel and toeing, left foot braking (this is handy in some time trials), and an overall “respectful” style come in handy.
The clutch engages near the end of its length, and the engine revs happily at the minimum amount of throttle movement. Handling is incredibly good, and the ride quality is not too firm—but allows for fast cornering.
The bodywork is narrowly constructed around the chassis: the car sides end right where you sit, the roof is so low that anyone taller than 5’7” will be touching the roof with his or her head. From the outside, the car is so minimal that parts of the chassis are exposed and leave you contemplating the underneath.
That said, it is a true Zagato: it is minimalistic and essential. There is nothing you need other than for competitive driving. Also, if you put our hands on the bodywork, you feel the “metal skin” is so stretched and thin that the car seems to have received a full face lifting. It’s tense and extremely aerodynamic: there is little turbulence around the car when you’re driving it at speed.
Driving the confetto in the roads around Garda Lake, making passes through the tiny town centers, and making every head turn is an experience I’ll never forget. These are the perfect grand touring locations, and I strongly encourage everyone to come down with their classics and have a drive.
The advantage of the 1100 is that no matter how you drive you’ll always be within the legal limits and still have great fun. Even on the typical long stretches of road you find in the area, you’ll experience something truly unique. I can’t wait to find out how it handles in the roads in Tuscany!