This delightful little car can trace its origins back to the Bianchi company founded by Edoardo Bianchi in 1885 to manufacture bicycles and still making them today as the world’s oldest extant bicycle manufacturing company. In 1899, Bianchi moved into the manufacture of high-quality cars and continued to do so until the company’s factory in Abruzzi was destroyed by bombing during World War II. A new factory was built, but economic conditions forced the company to give up car production and focus on bicycles, motorcycles and commercial vehicles.
Bianchi, however, still wanted to use their car-manufacturing expertise. Realising that resuming production would need the help of stronger partners, they approached Fiat and Pirelli – and in 1955 Autobianchi was created jointly by the three companies, with a purpose-built modern factory in Desio. Fiat provided the technical know-how and components; their main aim was to capture the premium end of the small car market, at that time dominated by coachbuilders such as Moretti and Vignale who were building cars on Fiat chassis. Pirelli supplied tyres (hoping to increase their presence in the OEM market), and Bianchi prepared the bodies and assembled complete cars.
The Bianchina was the first model to be produced; the first example left the factory on 11 September 1957. It was based on Fiat 500 mechanicals with its two-cylinder, air-cooled engine mounted in the rear, but with a stylish body designed by Luigi Rapi, head of Fiat’s special body unit and responsible also for setting up production in Desio. The Bianchina was positioned above the Fiat 500 and marketed as a “second vehicle in the household” and a luxurious “recreational vehicle”.
The different body styles of the Bianchina were unusual. The only body style until 1960 was a two-door landaulet called the “Trasformabile”. It was then joined by the two-door “Cabriolet” full convertible, followed by a three-door estate version, the “Panoramica” that we see in our Snapshot, and a two-door saloon, the “Berlina”. Finally, two van versions were launched.
Total production of the Bianchina from 1957 to 1970 was a respectable 275,000, of which the Panoramica achieved 160,000, by far the largest proportion of sales.
Bianchi sold out their share of the company to Fiat in 1968, and Fiat continued to use the Autobianchi marque to try out innovative ideas such as front-wheel-drive. Its most famous model to use this configuration was the Autobianchi A112, introduced in 1969 to replace the Bianchina; it was the forerunner of the Fiat 127. Autobianchi was then integrated into Fiat’s Lancia operations and the last Autobianchi was the Y10 (also marketed as the Lancia Y10) that ended production in 1995.
Photo and historical research by Peter McFadyen. See his website: http://petermcfadyen.co.uk
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