Today we look at a short-lived and largely forgotten automotive artefact.
The Autobianchi A111 was produced for only three years and is notable for being the largest, most prestigious model the carmaker produced – in fact, the A111 was never directly replaced. From 1972, Fiat-owned Autobianchi’s sole offering would be the mini-sized A112.
The genesis of the A111 lay in the 1964 Autobianchi Primula, front-wheel-drive pathfinder to Dante Giacosa’s 1969 masterpiece – the Fiat 128. The A111 also debuted in 1969, and a feeler gauge was required to tell them apart. The 128 measured 385 cm in length with a wheelbase of 244.5 cm, while the A111 was longer overall at 402 cm, but shorter between the wheels at 236 cm.
Yet it appears neither car shared much engineering commonality; the Autobianchi retained the Primula’s lower wishbones with a transverse leaf as the upper link. Leaf springs also formed the A111’s rear suspension, whereas the more progressive Fiat employed MacPherson struts, with a transverse leaf at the rear. The Fiat also featured Aurelio Lampredi’s advanced belt-driven OHC 1100 engine while the A111 was powered by the larger-capacity 1438cc engine also fitted to the Fiat 124 Special.
The similarities continued outside. Appearance-wise, the A111 was a curious amalgam of 128, 124 and to some extent, 130 Berlina styling cues. While the A111 straddled both 128 and 124 dimensionally, real-world differences between all three were marginal. The 124 was a mere 22mm longer, 63mm longer in wheelbase, making the logic behind the model even more baffling. That the A111 sold a mere 57,000 units suggests a car conceived primarily to give Autobianchi dealers something to sell.
Yet the A111 was not a cynical design. It was plainly intended to be a more upmarket car than a 128, but maybe less so than a 124 Special. Was there a market for such a car? It appears not. Perhaps Fiat had other motives behind its development and ridiculously short lifespan. It’s not a terrifically interesting car, the A111, but its curiously short career, attractive styling and eccentric positioning elevate it to a level slightly above pointless, despite falling some way short of fascination.
Autobianchi eventually ended up being merged into Lancia and we all know what happened to them.