Fiat Register

We invite historical and technical contributions, photographs and corrections from members on the following material.

Registrar:  Alan Baker

Fiat was one of the earliest car manufacturers, with solid, durable touring cars being the mainstay of the business.  There were expensive forays into competition.

  Alan Baker flanked by Brian Wilson (left) and Richard Heher (right) savouring the comfy running board of his                                                            Fiat 501. Robert Phillips looking on.   Photo by Jeremy Morris. 

Alan Baker flanked by Brian Wilson (left) and Richard Heher (right) savouring the comfy running board of his                                                            Fiat 501. Robert Phillips looking on.  Photo by Jeremy Morris. 

Small Fiats

The smaller of the vintage Fiats was the 501 which emerged in 1919.  It was an immensely durable vehicle with a 4-cylinder side valve engine of a little under 1500cc and a pressure-fed crankshaft.  It had a 4-speed right-hand gear change.  Initially it only had front wheel brakes.  The gearbox was one of the nicest and sweetest movements of any car of the vintage years.

These frames usually had rather heavy four-seat touring bodies, mostly of Australian manufacture.  Many Australian cars had the “colonial” or wide track chassis.  However, there was a sporting 501S with a very attractive skiff body, raised compression and higher top speed of which there are a couple of examples in Australia.  There were OHV conversions made by Silvani – at least one of which exists in New Zealand and it performs very well indeed – perhaps equivalent to a 12/50 Alvis.

The 501 performance is usually modest but can be improved by changing the lay shaft arrangement in the gearbox and deploying a later crown wheel and pinion from the 503.  A Chevrolet 4 crown wheel and pinion can be deployed to improve performance.  Four wheel brakes arrived late in the piece as an option, and many have had front brakes of the later 503 grafted in place.

Over the years, the 501 became the 502 then the 503 which was constructed until 1927 when the design of this small Fiat was overtaken by the 509.

The 509 had a lively engine, with 990cc single OHC engine three-speed gearbox.  Four wheel brakes and a 6.1 differential were standard and it had a square radiator with a generator protruding beneath it.  It was a little more technically complex than the 501 but remains a sound entry level car.

Both the 501 and 509 have similar performance which remain good starting points for special construction with the main focus would be, as Colin Chapman once said, “to add lightness” so as to maximise performance.

The emergence of the 514 in the late vintage years saw a return to a side-valve configuration and saw the range move into the post vintage range with the embracing of American styling.

Big Fiats

There were several of these.

The 510 was the mainstay up to about 1928 with a side valve 6 of 3.5 litres.  This became the 512.  Again, they carried large touring or saloon coachwork and their sporting characteristics are elusory although top speed approached 90kph.  It started with a rounded radiator, but progressed to the 512 with a square radiator shape similar to the 509 but of course much larger.  There was a rare 510S with a vee radiator, the top speed of which approached 100kph.  About 400 examples were built and a few survive in Australia.

In 1922 a six-cylinder 4.8 litre luxury car, the 519, appeared.  It boasted servo-assisted brakes.  It was the most luxurious vintage Fiat and had a maximum speed in excess of 100kph.  The standard model had a flat square radiator but the sports version (with a top speed of almost 130kph) had a distinctive vee-shaped radiator.

The 525 arrived in about 1928 with American styling and central gear change.

Useful Books

All the Fiats, by Giancenzo Madaro, Domus Books 1970. Digitised 2007

Useful Links

Fiat Car Club of NSW - www.fiatclub.com.au

Prepared by: Alan Baker, Registrar, May 2018

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