This 1949 Cisitalia Colombo Boasts Targa Florio History And Once Belonged To A Sicilian Baron
Story by Laura Ferriccioli
Photography by Achille Cortellessa
By the time this 1949 Cisitalia Colombo was built, the racing driver and founder of the Cisitalia marque, Piero Dusio, had already made the brilliant D46 and D48 racing cars, and was busy developing the 360 single-seater with none other than Ferdinand Porsche—a car which sadly never made it past the prototype stage. The Cisitalia pictured here is also quite rare, and also born from collaboration.
In the post-war 1940s, the Sicilian baron Stefano La Motta was enjoying his privileges and took up some racing with perhaps the most beautiful car to wear the Cisitalia Ibex, 202. As a gentleman driver, he raced the spider version of the 202 Berlinetta—the 202 SMM—which was referred to as the “Spyder Nuvolari” thanks to the strong performance of Tazio Nuvolari with the model at the Mille Miglia.
La Motta the racing baron entered many competitions with the car, and was often met with good results by the end of the weekend. Although the car was damaged in an accident in one of its less lucky outings, legend has it that La Motta managed to salvage the 1100cc engine (four cylinders, two carburetors) and asked the famous Milanese chassis builder Gilberto Colombo (known for his Gilco brand) to make a new chassis for the engine to call home. The motor was mounted in a mechanic’s workshop in Palermo belonging to the Ravettos—also racing drivers and Fiat concessionaires—while the design of the new body taken over by the coachbuilders at Fratelli Tarantino. Put it all together, and you have this, the 1949 Cisitalia Colombo.
As for the white paint, there is another story attached. The most plausible explanation is that the nobleman La Motta is believed to have been a fan of the Borbone family that ruled Southern Italy until the unification of the country in 1861. The color of the flag of the Regno delle Due Sicilie—as the Borbones’ kingdom was called—was white, and that’s likely why La Motta chose it for his cars instead of the Italian national racing color of red.
La Motta moved on to other cars and activities, and the second owner of the Cisitalia was another Sicilian gentleman driver, Mario Cammarata. He repainted the body in red and took the car to the 1951 Giro di Sicilia with Gianni Alterio, who also raced it in the Targa Florio, finishing fifth overall and second in class.
Sadly, that was the same year in which La Motta died in a championship race near Siracusa, in his Alfa Romeo 1900—which, of course, was white. The little Cisitalia was sold again a bit later, to a third gentleman driver from Palermo, Giovanni Casales, who won his class in a race between Catania and Palermo at the Sicilian speed championship in 1952. The car was later raced several more times in “La Cursa”—as the locals referred to the Targa Florio—and in competitions like the Giro delle Calabrie, Salita del Monte Pellegrino, and so on.
Can you imagine how amazing it must feel to drive this car on a road race at full tilt? It’s light, low, and with its added power steering it is very easy to control. The road holding ability is fantastic, the current owner assures me. It’s not particularly powerful compared to other racing cars of its time, but as long as you don’t climb too much altitude you can achieve a good average speed on a hillclimb or similarly twisting sprint course.
The current custodian of the car, who’s owned it since 1982 and keeps it alive and kicking, once had the privilege of an illustrious witness to the authenticity of the restoration he’d made; in the late ‘90s, while the car was right on the grid about to start the Giro di Sicilia, Giovanni Casales showed up in Politeama Square in Palermo and immediately recognized the unmistakeable white Cisitalia he once owned. It had been his until 1955, so he knew what he was talking about when he confirmed it had been restored very well, erasing any doubts the owner may have had.
The engine block wasn’t like the original one however, as Casales noticed a special arm that had been added at the time to hold the distributor in place was missing. But it’s part of the game for a competition car to be modified over the years, and this particular one had many owners and can boast of a long sporting history.
At the end of the event where he met his old car, Casales was able to take a ride in it with the current owner. “He was thrilled, and we ended up on a fantastic journey into the past through the streets of Palermo!” recalls the current owner, who kindly sat in the passenger seat to allow Casales relive a bit of his past.