Curbside Classic (For Sale): 1964 Fiat 1500 – Corvair Styling Arrives In Italy

tbm3fan sent me a link to a CL ad for this 1964 Fiat 1500 Berline, a model that was never sold in the US. This is a rare opportunity, not only for someone to buy this one, but to write up a car that has not yet graced our pages. It’s certainly familiar to me, as they were very common in Austria when I spent the summer of 1969 there. Fiats had always been popular there, and the 1300/1500 sedans were roughly the counterpart to a nice big American sedan in the US: Roomy, good performance, comfortable, and stylish.

It’s the last part that was a bit of a surprise when it first appeared in late 1961, as it marked a very stark departure from the Pininfarina-designed/influenced Fiats that preceded it. Gone were the very angular flat sides, pointy rear fins and high-mounted headlights, now replaced with the very distinctive horizontal character line that wrapped all the way around, thanks to the very influential 1960 Corvair.

Just two years earlier in 1959, Fiat’s 1800 had arrived with all the classic Pininfarina-inspired hallmarks, although it was designed by Fiat’s own Dante Giacosa. It’s obviously also in the mold of the PF-designed Peugeot 404 and the whole range of PF sedans by BMC at the time.

As I’ve written about in considerable detail here, the 1960 Corvair was a smash sensation when shown at the Paris Auto Show in September of 1959. No one had ever seen anything like this, stylistically (the rear engine was no big deal). It was the one and only time when Detroit upstaged the Italians, as normally they were the trendsetters that Detroit copied or gleaned for inspiration.

The Corvair set off a rash of copy cats as well as cars heavily influenced by it, for many years to come yet. The Fiat 1300/1500 was the second new car to arrive in Europe with Corvair influence, after the restyle of the NSU Prinz. The Fiat was not a blatant crib like the Prinz, as it had some unique features, especially its C Pillar. But the key elements are all there, right down to the “Flying Wing” of the overhanging rear roof.

Obviously the proportions are a bit different, as the front engine RWD Fiat was a much more relatively upright sedan, with 53.7″ of height compared to the Corvair’s 51.3″. It looks even taller, since it was significantly shorter and narrower. The 1300/1500 slotted in just above the 1100/1200 and below the 1800/2100.

It was ambitious technically as well as stylistically. Under the hood was a new four with an alloy hemi head operated by pushrods. The 1300 (1295 cc) made 60 hp, and the 1500 (1481 cc) upped that to 73 hp, keeping the tradition of brisk Fiat sedans that almost invariably outran their German competition.

As was the tradition, the spider version (CC here) was commissioned to Pinifarina, both to design as well as to build.  It was classic PF, evoking the Ferraris of the time.

Rather advanced for a mainstream sedan in 1961, the 1500 had front disc brakes.

It should be noted that the Fiat 125, although major elements of its body mid section are from the 124, its floor pan and suspension is from the 1500. And the similar-looking Polski Fiat 125 actually used the engine from the 1500 too.

The front compartment of the 1500 looks quite typical for a mid-range European sedan at the time. And like the Peugeot 404 and others, its four speed manual was shifted from the column.

The 1300/1500 was 60.8″ wide, which makes itself apparent in this shot. Visibility was of course superb.

The back seat would have been cozy for three, but I can assure you that was an all-too common reality back then in Europe. This car would have been way over the purchasing power of the overwhelming majority of Italians at the time, most of whom still hadn’t bought their first car yet, which would almost invariably be a Fiat 600 or 500.

Meanwhile, in Germany this was just a step up from a VW, and would have competed directly against the Type 3 VW (1500/1600), which it would run circles around too. And of course the Opel Rekord and and Ford Taunus.

If you’re now intrigued, here’s your chance to buy this 1500. From the ad:

Thinking of selling my 1964 Fiat 1500 Berlina. 4 cylinder engine, 4 speed on the column transmission, front disc brakes, nice interior. This model was never sold in the US.

In 2015 I got this car back on the road and daily drove it for ~5 years. At that time I went through the engine (new head, pistons, etc.); new clutch; new brakes with calipers rebuilt by Goldline; radiator cleaned out, new tires, front end bushings; new gas tank; basically everything to make it a good driving car.

I’ve used it less in the last year or two, and its drifted back toward the driving project end of the spectrum. Has a million little things that can be addressed. Paint is fading, body has bondo here and there, and obvious surface rust on the roof and trunk. Not much rust but has a soft spot under the driver’s feet. Trans has an occasional bearing noise that has been there for years, but will need to be addressed eventually.

Its a fun uncommon car to drive while you work on it, with good parts availability. I just renewed the registration so its good through July 2022.

Asking $5500, make an offer and drive it home.

Related reading:

How the 1960 Corvair Started a Global Design Revolution  PN

CC 1964 Fiat 1500 Spider   PN