Here’s one that I had to reminded about when I saw it earlier this year – a Neckar Weinsberg Coupe.
The Neckar Weinsberg 500 was based on the 1955 Fiat Nuova 500 – the car that put many Italian families on the road for the first time – built by Fiat in Heilbronn, Germany. NSU was initially a motorcycle company that had ambitions to break in the car market and therefore built an additional factory at Heilbronn The venture into cars failed in 1929 (the late 1920s were very tough economically in Germany) and therefore NSU sold the plant to Fiat, along with some informally granted rights to the NSU name.
Fiat built cars there under the NSU-Fiat brand until 1957, when the brand name was changed to Neckar, after the river at Heilbronn. The brand name was changed after legal pressure from NSU, which wanted to use it for cars again, starting with the NSU Prinz.
Fiat built a range of cars at Heilbronn; from the 1950s onwards, most Fiats were produced there in one form or another, from derivatives of the pre-war 500 Topolino to the Fiat 128. By then, the cars were simply Fiats, without any Neckar branding or variations.
The Weinsburg, named after the town of Weinsburg, near Neckar’s base in Heilbronn, was adapted from the basic Fiat 500 by new body work, to create a more formal saloon (known as the Limousette) and this Coupe. Both cars were nominally four seaters, but in practice 2+2 at best.
The initial version was launched in 1959, the same year as the BMC Mini, which was same length as the Neckar but more spacious internally. Bodies were assembled in Germany, using partly complete shells and pressings from Italy and locally pressed Neckar-only parts. Note the suicide doors, replaced on the Fiat 500 in 1965.
The engine was a 479cc, twin cylinder, air cooled Fiat engine, direct from the Fiat 500, with 17 bhp. The car would reach 50 mph in 37 seconds and eventually get to 60 mph. Later versions had 499cc and the capability to reach 63mph. A full length sunroof was standard and white wall tyres optional.
Fiat had a large network of associate companies in the 1950s and 1960s around Europe, including Steyr-Puch in Austria, Simca in France (as seen on CC recently), Seat in Spain and Polski-Fiat in Poland, many of whom produced versions of the 500. These were all created for access to various local markets, often to mitigate import tariffs and to meet local market regulations on origin of content. Some of these became full manufacturers, such as Simca, some were ultimately absorbed by larger companies, such as Seat in to VW and Polski-Fiat into Daewoo, now GM. Steyr-Puch, now part of the Magna Steyr Group that so nearly purchased GM Europe in 2009, has a great history that needs the full CC Automotive History treatment, one day.
Neckar produced over 6000 of these cars from 1959 to 1963; by Fiat 500 volumes this was pretty small and with the growth of NSU’s own rear engine car, the Prinz range, and the increased affluence of the German market and the rise of the German Mark against the Lira meant that manufacturing in Germany was an unnecessary and expensive complication for Fiat, and the plant was closed in 1973.
Looks like a license-built Autobianchi Bianchina, itself based on the Fiat 500.
The Autobianchi 500 was similar, but had different styling and body.
I was just going to bring that up, though not that it’s completely alike. The concept is the same, the execution a little different. An upscale small car, like how the Mini of today have become a lifestyle vehicle and fashion accessory. No, what I was wondering was how there could be room for this and the Bianchina at the same time in what has to be a relatively small market.
There couldn’t have been that many semi-socialite housewifes with a need for a car to go to the hairdresser. Let’s face it, this is a very feminine car, the perfect accessory, the automotive equivalent of a womens handbag. The perfect gift to the secret mistress. I can’t imagine the Coupe being bought as a first and only vehicle for someone, it just has to be the households second or even third car.
Could anybody have been taking these seriously even its life? I understand the fifties need for small and economic motoring, but this is above that in price and style. This is a fashion statement.
Agreed. Add the daughter of a rich industrialist to the list.
Given their price, I could never make sense of them back in the day either. Very possibly a childless couple, but even that’s a stretch.
*VERY* cute ! .
I like the three tone paint job .
True minimalist Motoring in style .
Why is it right hand drive? Was this car exported to the UK?
Or back to Italy? By a curious coincidence and by old habits, many Italian cars were right hand drive, up until the sixties. It’s just one of those curiosities of life. Especially when it came to upscale cars, it was just seen as being more posh or whatnot. Lancia didn’t even make left hand drive cars until the sixties.
Well, our friend Roger lives in the UK, and the plate looks UK, so I think you answered it, Canuck, The real question is why? It would have been a pricey little trinket back in the day.
These are definitely UK plates. In the UK and several other European markets of the 50s-60s, your could buy a Fiat 500, or an Autobianchi or a Neckar (but probably not Steyr-Puch? I think they exported to Switzerland, but not sure where else). And that’s not counting the plethora of coachbuilt versions and specials from Vignale, Lombardi, Moretti, Abarth, etc.
Not sure how this worked exactly. Were there separate dealer networks for each brand?
Re: Ingvar’s comment on Italian cars with RHD
The ‘prestige’ models were the only ones with RHD (e.g. Lancias up to the mid-50s, the Alfa 6C 2500, Ferrari 195). All Fiats were LHD though.
This was the same in France: Bugattis, Talbot-Lagos or Delahayes were always RHD, but not Renaults or Citroens.
It allegedly gives the driver of these classics a better view of the curbside… (sorry, just couldn’t help myself.)
I’d be interested to know how the coachbuilt versions were sold. I’m guessing they weren’t part of the official Fiat distribution list; most probably they sold out of their own factory and found individual dealers in other territories.
As a slight aside, I found a Bristol brochure/ad spread that actually featured a Beutler bodied version in the layout alongside the ‘factory’ 406 drophead and coupe. Contact details were Bristol’s.
Correct, too, on RHD. I’m thinking it was something about the driver getting out to open the door for the passengers, but I reckon I’m making that up. RHD was certainly for well-to-do cars back in the day.
Don, you might be thinking about cars where only the passenger door has a key, thereby forcing the driver to open the passenger’s door first. Courtesy by design… The only car I can definitely say has this feature is the Citroen Traction Avant. I don’t know whether if you ordered one with RHD (which you could, at least on pre-war models, for no extra cost) the lock and key would switch to the left door.
Pop quiz: I currently reside in the a country where 90% of the vehicles are RHD, yet drive on the right. Where would that be?
You live in Samoa? hehehe
Never heard of the door/key thing, but it reminds me that the ignition keyslot is on the wrong side of the steering column on my W116.
Nope, not Samoa. They drive on the left…
International trucks in the fifties could only be locked or unlocked on the right hand side. The rationale was enforced safety with the assumption that they were mostly driven by employees of the commercial firm that owned it.
Don’t leave me hanging, T87
Sorry, it’s also pretty bad internet-wise here…
I’m in Burma (now named “Myanmar”), where they switched to driving on the right back in 1970, but still import most of their cars from RHD countries (Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, India).
Makes for some pretty scary driving!
There are fewer and fewer interesting cars around though. They relaxed their import duties and started taking the once-ubiquitous 60s-70s Toyotas, Datsuns and Mazdas off the roads (example below). Chinese cars are gaining ground here — they’re the only ones with LHD and they’re dirt cheap.
Wow, Burma. Would you have even been allowed on the internet a few years ago? (Naive question I suppose, but my understanding is that it has only recently emerged from a North Korea-style situation.)
Yeah, the internet’s only been available here for about 3 years. But it’s the daily power cuts that get tiresome. The whole infrastructure is basically in ruins. But at least some folks here can afford cars now. Five years back, you couldn’t buy anything except old Japanese cars. An early 80s Carina in those days cost US$ 15,000 at least. The overwhelming majority still can’t afford anything but the bus though. And the buses are still pretty vintage!
Sad to know Burma is getting rid of its oldies, like those little taxi Mazdas. It is time from a Curbside Classics Burma Special, Tatra87!
I’ve just checked the number on the DVLA database, and it was registered in Feb 1964, so definitely in the UK from new.
Here’s the link if you need to check out any UK numbers (only vehicles currently registered)
Park this little coupe next to a 1955 Sunbeam Rapier http://www.myclassicuk.com/wp-content/gallery/sunbeam-rapier/sunbeam-rapier-mk1-1955-1958871-bkj.jpg and a 1953 Studebaker Commander Skyliner https://www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/1953-Studebaker-Commander.jpg and you have ’50s coupes in Small, Medium and Large sizes!
Rear end has definite similarities to my Minx lights window shape but on a smaller scale.
No coincidence the Studebaker and Audax Minx looking similar.. Both Raymond Loewy’s work.
All these minis look like downscaled US cars to me. Here’s a 1958 DAF 600, it even came with whitewalls if you wanted. And it had fins. And a two-tone paint job. And above all, it had the mother of the CVT, the Variomatic. That man was given a cigar, btw.
Great find, Roger. A cinquecento with a wraparound rear window!
Since you mentioned the Mini, it made me think of the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf.
Huh, interesting, I was not aware of these. As soon as I saw it and pictured a Fiat 500 in my mind, I then also pictured a Mini and the new-Mini Coupe variant. The New Mini Coupe is something I never understood the point of and find hideous, but now I see a possible inspiration for it, it kind of looks like this car vs. a regular Fiat 500. Who knows, maybe someone at modern-day BMW had one of these in their history…
How do you pronounce that?; “neck-car wins-burg” ?
(Berg is pronounced like Bear with with a hard G at the end)
Never would of got it.
And the “W” would be pronounced as a “V” in English.
Sheesh I can’t believe I didn’t mention that! You are absolutely correct.
Here’s Neckar: http://www.forvo.com/word/neckar/
And here’s Weinsberg: http://nl.forvo.com/word/weinsberg/
You mentioned steyr puch, can I make a request for an article on this interesting company?
+1. Would be a fascinating read.
That’s inexcusably overdue. I’ve been waiting for a Steyr-Puch to show up at the Cohort, but that might be a long wait.
My aunt had two of the 500-based SPs, including a 650 the summer I was over there in 1969. We took several trips in it; the sound of that little twin at full chat as we wended our way up some alpine roads is stuck in my head forever.
A few already have, in the form of the syncro vanagon 🙂
Count me in on wanting to see this! There are tons of interesting Fiat 500 variants like the one seen here, but Steyr-Puch’s was by far the coolest.
Thanks for another great feature Roger,another car I never knew about.That’s what I love about this site,I learn something new so often.
you know what? I didn’t know about it either!
“Fiat had a large network of associate companies in the 1950s and 1960s around Europe, including Steyr-Puch in Austria, Simca in France (as seen on CC recently), Seat in Spain and Polski-Fiat in Poland”. You could also include Zastava.
Yes, and you could include El Nasr (Egypt), PAL (India), Fiat (Italy), Argentina, Australia, Iran, Morocco, and Taiwan, though most of those were 1100s. Many companies, like Autobianchi, bought parts from Fiat to build their own cars. NSU-Fiat and Fiat sold models in both countries, often rebadged.
NSU-Fiat originally bought parts from NSU (motorcycles), but NSU got their panties in a bunch when Fiat started became the supplier. In 1957 they demanded their name back, which was OK’ed around 1959. 1959-64, a Neckar could be badged Neckar and NSU-Fiat on the same car.
Interesting and cute car that I only learned about fairly recently. I was just reading up on NSU-Fiat/Neckar a few months back and had previously assumed they were only a joint-venture producing Fiats locally like SEAT. Never realized they did some of their own distinct models, or at least distinct bodies. Certainly never would have imagined they built RHD versions and exported them to the U.K.!
Maybe exports are where Neckar had really hoped to make a killing with the Weinsberg, particularly in the U.S., but by the time it got to market that had become an iffy proposition? I really don’t know. I’ve always taken for granted that there were seemingly endless different versions of any given Fiat back then without any real consideration of “why?”
Never heard of this car before – about how many of them were built?
It says right in the article:
Neckar produced over 6000 of these cars from 1959 to 1963…
Bit late to this. My Neckar Weinsberg Coupé is also RHD, currently near the end of a complete rebuild..
It was originally sold to a car rental company in the Channel Isles, and I suspect that a small batch were produced in RHD for that purpose (I have seen 4) Like others, I have no contemporary memory of Neckar being sold in the UK itself. I was the sort of kid who would know.