It’s easy to forget that Fiat was a pioneer in America’s post-war import boom, as this 1947 shot confirms. But then I remember all-too well how these little Fiat Topolinos invariably ended up as wild gasser drag racers, with huge V8s and big slicks on the back, thanks to their light weight and short wheelbase.
R.S. Evans is Roy Evans, who had founded the American Bantam Car Company in 1936, based on the Austin 7. He clearly had a strong predilection for small cars, and attractive models.
In case you missed this sort of thing in your youth or are lacking in the necessary imagination, here’s what a Fiat gasser looked like.
And in case you missed a close look at the hubcaps on the featured Fiat, they say “SIMCA”, which may seem a bit confusing but Fiat started Simca and owned them for some time, so this Fiat was either built in France or there were some extra Simca hubcaps in the supply chain.
Baloo was a Fiat altered of my youth, unmolested Fiats like that are quite rare,
It seems to me that the two front bumpers would indicate a SIMCA 5 instead of a Topolino.
These little cars were technical wonders at the time with a 4-speed gearbox, 12V electrical circuit, hydraulic brakes and IFS. They were quite ecomical, too.
It’s a bit curious, given the ad for Fiats on the door. I assume the importer was getting them from both sources perhaps. Or?
I simply think that FIAT was better known in the USA than SIMCA. This might explain the twist.
Interesting to note then Simca did a derivative of the Simca 5/Fiat Topolino known as Simca 6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simca_6
Who in America in 1947 would have bought this Fiat or Simca when a brand new Ford Deluxe Six was $1,154 for the coupe and $1,212 for the two door sedan?
Was the waiting list for a new, post-war Ford so long that “immediate delivery” justified buying this instead of cheapest possible Ford? Or was it in such short supply that dealers marked up prices up so much as to make buying the Fiat seem reasonable?
This is misdated as 1949 (it features ’48s as new cars throughout, no new postwar shapes) but shows that Chevy still had a considerable waiting list and was concerned enough about customers wandering off to make this filmstrip;
I don’t know about Fiat buyers but just a few years later my parents bought a Hillman Minx which as far as I can tell cost about $1600 US. Perhaps they were misguided, but it wasn’t all about purchase price: fuel economy and ease of parking in tight urban areas and tiny 1920’s-era driveways and garages were factors too. These and other things drove the import booms (of which there were several) before the late sixties/early seventies when it finally stuck.
Yeah, the Topolino’s touted price is $16,250 in 2022 money.
Which, interestingly is pretty much what a new Fiat 500 starts at.
From my own very limited knowledge there was a car shortage after WW2 that lasted right to the end of the Korean war. Cars like the Austin A40, Mayflower and the car featured here, soaked up some of that demand.
When the domestic makers caught up, minor brands like Crossley and Fiat were destroyed. The Big 3 ran out many brands by selling cars at or below cost. A behemoth like Chevrolet could very likely sell a car for the price of a Fiat or Peugeot.
nlplaut: Thank you; that film was great. 1949 is 2022.
There is no inventory? Just like my Ford dealer today. (how long do customers need to wait for Broncos or Mavericks?).
There is a parts shortage? Just like today – but it is microchips not steering knuckles or carbs.
Only difference in 2022 is that we have not had four years of no car production due to a world war. Now Ford & GM just screwed up on their own.
How could one get a new Fiat from the axis (which lost the war) country Italy when a Ford from Dearborn was unavailable? I don’t know.
So, would you wait for your Bronco or Maverick or Deluxe six or settle for a Mitsubishi or a Fiat? I know what I’d do then and now; that little Fiat would not work for me in 1947 in any of the places I have lived – Illinois, Wisconsin, Colorado and Wyoming.
I think the sign tells the story. What you get for 1195 is IMMEDIATE DELIVERY, instead of a six-month wait.
Crosley had a similar delivery advantage because it was legallly made of “appliance parts”, which were much less restricted than “car parts”.
Dealers were marking up for sure. My dad bought a ’40 Plymouth coupe in ’48. He paid 700 on the invoice plus 300 off the invoice.
1k , in 1948, was a “chunk a change” for sure!
Love the gasser! I remember when a lot of cars in this class were based on the Fiat, Ford Popular or Anglia and Thames van, and the Henry J. I saw them a few times at local drag strips in the sixties; more often in Hot Rod magazine or as plastic model kits.
American Bantam was located in Butler, PA – my hometown…so I’ll assume that this pic is from the general area if not Butler itself.
The Bantam plant (birthplace of the Bantam Jeep!) eventually became Pullman-Standard. Nearby was the Butler Armco steel mill (AK Steel today).
Seems that Butler’s a longtime hotbed for imports, at least as far back as I can remember. We’d left the area after I was born but moved back in 1966 so there’s your context…when “import” pretty much meant “Volkswagen.”
My dad bought a Volkswagen Beetle from McDonald Motors, north of town.
There was a Datsun dealer at the west end of Jefferson Street. I remember Toyota as well, but don’t recall where they were.
I don’t remember if anyone was selling Fiats, and of course, in 1966 Simca would’ve been under the purview of the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer, whose name I can’t recall. Think they changed hands several times, unlike Kelly Chevrolet-Cadillac or Butler County Motor Company, one of the longest-running Ford stores on Earth.
Our family moved to Canada in 1968, then to Vermont in 1970. After I graduated high school, I returned to Butler for a couple years in 1975.
Kerven Subaru was established by the high school. And another mile or two west was a place whose sign read “Honda AUTOMOBILES.”
Today, both Kerven and Honda North are in gigantic dealerships less than 10 years old.
Butler, PA isn’t a huge population area. just over 13,000. It was 20,000 in 1960.
County population’s under 188,000, growing steady for decades. But it’s a little fascinating how they were early adopters when it came to import cars.
Especially since Western Pennsylvania was a hotbed for steel, coal, and ‘Murica!” Foreign cars weren’t exactly welcome in the area. My hometown (Johnstown) had a Volkswagen dealership starting around 1955, and the Oldsmobile dealer took on Renault. Mercedes-Benz was available in Indiana. And the town’s current Subaru dealer started out selling British cars, almost entirely MG sports cars.
Other than that, absolutely nothing that wasn’t American. An attempt to start a Saab dealership in 64-65 failed completely, and nothing else happened until Toyota showed up around 1966, and the Oldsmobile/Renault store added Datsun.
The only other foreign vehicles in the area were Triumph and Royal Enfield motorcycles in Johnstown, and BSA in Ebensburg. They were accepted a lot more than foreign cars.
Still remember the historical market in Butler for the Bantam factory, right on US422, I seem to remember. I’d drive thru there every August heading out to Cooper’s Lake Campground for the Pennsic Wars.
Wow!! Haven’t heard “Coopers Lake” in longer than I can remember.Got to Johnstown once. Was about 1988-89.
The “Fiats” were sold , almost, right across the road from McDonald Motors. The dealership was next too the Dodge dealer.
I think , about 1972. would have been the last year they sold the “Fiat’s”.
Kerven Subaru building is now state rep “Mustello’s” office.
I was born in Butler in 1960.
BHS , class of 79. BC 3 in 1981.
BTW “Toyota” was sold by “Trostle Olds, Toyota”, next to Kelly Chev/
Cadillac . Diehl bought out “Trostle”.
I only knew those FIATs as Revelle gasser models as a kid. I eventually got to Italy and went for the real thing in a big way.
The Fiat was mostly known for racing in the “F/A” Fueled Altered class. The Revell model even had “F/A” on the decal. Altered’s were like gassers on meth. They were usually, but not always, supercharged and they ran nitro. Preferred body styles besides the Fiat were American Bantams and Ford Model T’s. Gassers were typically Willys Americans or English Fords or Austins and they were supercharged but were obviously fueled by gasoline. There are many photos of Fuel Altered’s on one wheel or none at all. The NHRA banned them around 1971 but they still run at independent events.
Thanks to the drag scene, some of the rarest antique cars out there are Willys Americars, Fiats, Ford Anglias and the like Austins. I’ve never seen any of those in the metal that aren’t hotrods.
A few years ago I saw an online ad for an original, unmolested Willys Americar. I’m sure they’re rare, but I question whether the seller got his $85K asking price.
Right after WWII, european carmakers had no other choice than export their cars. Almost nobydy could afford them in their original countries where gasoline was still in short supply. Also, money from export taxes was badly needed by their respective governments. SIMCA became à big contender in the league as they were still exporting half of their cars at the end of their run.
So many of these Topolinos donated their front suspensions (transverse leaf + wishbones) to make the first Cooper racing cars in the early 50s.
Wow, I’ve not seen a Topolino in like 35 years…..