Car Show Classic: 1966 Neckar 1200 St Trop – Michelotti’s Marvellous Mutt

What do you call a Fiat drop-top, designed by Michelotti, built by OSI, sold by Neckar with a French name to cater to that market? A bit of a headache. But just look at this thing! When I saw this rare and delightful Euro-hodgepodge over the summer, it was impossible not to give it a lot of attention – and ensure it would have its five comments minutes of fame on CC.

We’ve looked into the history of the Neckar marque in the European Deadly Sin series (link below). Suffice to say it’s a bit of a convoluted story, but in a nutshell, these were German-made Fiats. Prior to about 1958, they were called NSU-Fiat, but the name had to change when the other NSU started to manufacture a completely unrelated line of cars. Hence the name Neckar, which is a German river (and the “N” part of “NSU”) where the Heilbronn factory was located.

Thanks to a very active importer and Fiat’s own troubled relationship with its own French branch (Simca), the Neckar brand started selling very well in France in the late ’50. Slightly better versions of the Fiat 600 and 1100 were crossing the Rhine with ever growing frequency. Sales in Benelux were also pretty good and some Neckars even made it to the UK and beyond Europe, but France was where demand was highest. This export drive led to an increased demand in new models, which is where the OSI connection comes in.

The Officine Stampaggi Industriali was created in 1960 by Luigi Segre as a branch of coachbuilder Ghia. OSI’s main role was to produce Ghia designs using the most up-to-date carmaking methods, unlike the more traditional carrozzeria. Some OSI products were large-scale industrial projects, such as the Ford Torino (bottom left) or the Fiat 1500 wagon (top left) and had little to do with Ghia. The Fiat 2300S (top right) and the Innocenti 950 (bottom right) were also big contracts, but were marketed as Ghia designs.

Smaller runs were also part of OSI’s remit. These included the 1963-67 Ghia-Fiat 1500 GT (top left), the Chrysler-based and Exner-designed 1962-63 Ghia L6.4 (top right), the surprisingly successful 1967-68 Ford 20 M TS Coupé (bottom left) and the very discreet 1965-67 Alfa Romeo 2600 DeLuxe (bottom right). Our feature (Ne)car, along with its coupé counterpart, falls into this category. As the ‘60s wore on, the OSI name was given more prominence, and the link to Ghia seemed murkier, though in effect the two businesses were still linked.

OSI was even credited with a bunch of prototypes and one-offs, some of which were among the most interesting of the era. These included a curious ’65 Mustang (top left), a DAF-based city car (top right), some wild Alpines (2nd row, left), a surprising 1968 Autobianchi coupé (2nd row right), a series of radical Alfa racers (3rd row right), a fine Fiat 125 wagon that never got its chance (3rd row left), a cubist 1967 Fiat 850 beach car (bottom right) and a very odd Fiat 1500-based 1965 Quattroruote Secura safety car (bottom left). Despite this flurry of activity, OSI pulled out of the car business in 1968 – probably because Ghia was bought by De Tomaso around this time.

Brief though it was, the OSI story was quite glorious. Michelotti’s pen was often behind these designs, as it was for the little Fiat 1200 S Spider OSI presented to the public at the 1963 Turin Motor Show. Series 1 cars as seen above had high-mounted turn signals, a faux hood scoop and two-piece bumpers.

André Chardonnet, the Neckar importer in France, saw the OSI spider at the show and immediately thought the German Fiat subsidiary ought to slap a new badge on it and give it a trendy name so he could sell a few in France, to give the range a much-needed dose of Italian glamour.

Photo credit: KoyaPop


The Neckar “St Trop” – both in drop-top and coupé form – was ready its official launch at the 1964 Paris Motor Show. The name refers to the ultra-fashionable Riviera town of Saint-Tropez, where the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Romy Schneider liked to hang out between cocktail parties. Sales in Germany, France and Benelux started at that point. It seems a handful even made it all the way to Japan, but today, the overwhelming majority of Neckar-badged survivors cars are to be found in France.

The St Trop’s well-proven bones are those of the Fiat 1100D, consisting in a 50hp (DIN) 1221cc 4-cyl., a 4-speed gearbox, drum brakes, coil suspension all around and a live rear axle. To the buying public on either side of the Rhine, this was just like an old Simca Aronde in an Italian-cut fancy dress and bearing a German last name and a French first name. In a word, followed by a punctuation mark: exotic?

Can’t complain about the looks, whether inside or out. A full complement of gauges is also part of the deal here. The three small ones were added by the owner – very tastefully done.

If the somewhat older and more conventionally-styled Pininfarina-made Fiat 1200/1500 spider was not your thing, Michelotti and OSI had a solution for you. With the 1200 engine only, that is, but Fiat weren’t about to undercut their own PF drop-tops. Production of the St Trop was short-lived anyway, ending in the fall of 1966, just a couple years prior to the retirement of the Neckar marque.

OSI seems to have made 700 convertibles and coupés, but that’s both Fiat and Neckar together. Convertibles apparently outnumbered the coupés four to one, but it’s not clear how many wore what badge exactly. It’s a pity that OSI did not continue designing and producing cars. Competing with the likes of Pininfarina and Bertone would have been a struggle, but it might have given us even more cool Italian designs. Just not with German branding.


Related post:


Carshow Capsule: 1964 Neckar Weinsberg – A DeLuxe Fiat 500 For Germany, by Roger Carr

Automotive History: German Deadly Sins (The Neckarsulm Chronicles, Part 1) – Fiat Get Their Neckars In A Twist, by T87