Imagine going down your street, on a sunny Sunday morning, and seeing a gorgeous late ‘60s Ferrari stopped at the lights. Well, that was last year. So far, I was finding 2021 rather tame. But spring has come slightly early, so we’re already entering prime classic car season in Tokyo. Right on cue, a couple Sundays ago, this obscenely rare Fiat rolled up.
At first, from a distance and with another car in the way, all I could make out was that it was an old sports car. I figured it might be an MGA, maybe an Alfa. But I soon recognized the unmistakably strange face of the factory-bodied Otto Vu. It’s one of those machines you read about, or perhaps see in a museum, but certainly not on the street, even in its birthplace of Turin.
Speaking of which, the last V8-powered Fiat I ever saw was in a small museum in Thailand. It was a Ghia-bodied car, which gave the Fiat chassis a completely different (and much more modern) appearance. By comparison, this factory body, designed by Luigi Rapi, looks stuck in the past. The clearly separate wings, the two-piece windshield, the rear wheel spats, the fuselage-like fastback – it’s all a bit 1940.
Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. The second series coupés, like our feature car, also look like no other and pioneered the slanted quad headlamp setup that became all the rage by the end of the ‘50s. And if nothing else, the slippery Rapi body was perfectly suited to the car’s nature. It was actually tested in a wind tunnel, which was rarely the case for the ones made by Zagato, Vignale and all the other fancy Italian houses.
For a more thorough look at this amazing car, I would suggest revisiting the piece I wrote about the Ghia version. The TL/DR is that Fiat’s Dante Giacosa created an all-alloy V8 with a view to win the Italian championship 2-litre class, which Fiat won in 1954 and subsequently dominated for years, long after production was halted. The small 105hp V8 (115hp on the later cars) was mated to a 4-speed gearbox and installed in a low-slung chassis with all-round independent suspension.
The car was premiered at the 1952 Geneva Motor Show (above: at the Paris event, six months later) and sales were immediately… modest. Well, it was a risky gambit by Fiat. The 8V cost way more than anything else coming out of Turin, and Fiat had to compete with more established sports car makers, such as Ferrari, Maserati or Cisitalia. As soon as the word got round that the 8V was a great car, it went out of production.
Fiat provided their V8s for to SIATA to make a few (probably less than 40 units) of their exclusive 208S spiders from 1953 to 1955. Other than that, the 8V had no descendants and probably cost Fiat a pretty penny – they could afford it, but it’s telling that this would be the only 8-cyl. Fiat ever devised. All in all, just 114 chassis of this ultra-sophisticated sports car were made from 1952 to 1954, 34 of which got the factory body. Half of those are thought to still exist today, and at least one of these has migrated to Japan.
Car Show Classics: Indigestion Part 1 – The Fiats of Como Park, by Don Andreina