Cohort Capsule: Autobianchi Bianchina Panoramica – Hey! Look At Me and Not That BMW!

Yes, it’s hard to keep ones eyes from a BMW E12 coupe, especially such a fine example as this one. But there’s something much more exotic across the street, that NickyD spotted, shot and posted at the Cohort: an Autobianchi Bianchina Panoramica (good opportunity to try out your Italian with that name). And where was this Bianchina spotted? In Sausalito, California, of course.

Well, seeing that this is the first time this Fiat 500 in a designer Italian suit has made its appearance here, we’re going to have to give the little Bianchina some amore.

The Bianchina was born in 1957, the very first product of Autobianchi, which had been created in 1955, and owned in equal thirds shares by Bianchi (famous for its bicycles), Fiat, and Pirelli Tires. Its purpose was to build higher-end versions of Fiat’s small cars, a niche that had been exploited up to that point by coachbuilders such as Moretti and Vignale. By 1968, Autobianchi was fully integrated into Fiat.

The Bianchina was of course based on the prosaic little Fiat 500, including its 479cc vertical twin (laid over on its side in these cars) making all of 15 hp. The body was designed by Luigi Rapi, head of Fiat’s special body unit. The Bianchina was essentially the same as so many small Autobianchis since: to be stylish, compact city cars targeted especially at affluent women and to be the second car in the household. Something for her to go shopping in, while hubby drove the big Alfa sedan (or Ferrari) to the office (or to see his mistress). It came in a surprisingly wide variety of body styles, which we’ll peruse thanks the Wikipedia.

Probably the one that most epitomizes the Bianchina is the Trasformabile, a 2+2 coupe with a large, roll-down roof center section, or cabrio-coupe. This is the one, and the cabriolet are of course what that target demographic most likely would be seen in.

In this case, it’s Audrey Hepburn, in “How To Steal A Million”.

And here’s a cozy foursome at the water’s edge. The Cabrio dates to 1960, by which time its engine was increased to a full 499cc, and 18hp. There was also a special version of the Trasformabile with two-tone paint and a hotter 21hp engine.

The Berlina was of course the sedan. Maybe the least successful of the body styles.

The Panoramica wagon had an extended rear, which made it the most practical of the bunch. It works a lot better for me than the Berlina.


And there were two van versions, called Furgoncino. This is the low-roof version, based on the Panoramica.


The high-roof version is of course a bit more utilitarian, something the plumber might arrive in. Just why Autobianchi was building such utilitarian trucklets when its main mission was to compete with the carrozzieri is a bit odd, but most likely Fiat just wanted to stick to the high-volume models.

This final shot gives a good frame of reference as to just how small these cars are. They were small in their day, but now they’re positively microscopic.