A Concept for Sunday – Boating for Beginners.

Fiat tested the waters for their subsequent two-seater offering in 1993 with the Maggiore Scia – a concept car which genuinely deserved the term, ‘little boat’.

Fiat-Maggiore Scia concept. Image: fiatbarchetta

With the 1989 demise of the long-running X1/9 model, Fiat, for the first time in decades, lacked a two-seater roadster in its lineup; a state of affairs which wouldn’t have elicited much concern apart from the fact that such vehicles were making something of a popular comeback by then.

This was largely a result of Mazda’s highly successful MX5, but with a viable market once again opening up, Fiat Auto under the leadership of Paolo Cantarella authorised development of a series of more overtly sporting Fiat models; a move that would culminate in the 1995 Coupé Fiat and the eventual subject of today’s conceptual revisit.

As part of a design competition, a compact two seater was first floated by centro stile Fiat designer, John Kinsey, working closely with carrozzeria Maggiora and was shown in concept form at the 1993 Turin Auto Show. Called Scia, which is believed to have translated from Italian as the ‘wake’ of a boat, the pretty little two-seater looked more ready for open water than open road.

It’s difficult to be certain whether the Scia as displayed was the initial inspiration for the production car which followed or if it was subsequently modified before going on show to act as a teaser for the production car which was then a mere two years away. Theme-wise, it appeared to follow that of Ghia’s Focus roadster concept of 1992, and if the form language was somewhat less polarising, it was certainly no less arresting.

The connection to the production Barchetta is obvious. Believed to have been the work of Andreas Zapatinas, the Greek designer who enjoyed two stints at Centro Stile – the first with Fiat from 1988 to 1994, where he was chief exterior designer for the Barchetta, also contributing to both Coupé Fiat, and Bravo designs. Working alongside, amongst others, a certain Chris Bangle, Zapatinas subsequently followed the charismatic American to BMW. He returned to Turin in 1998, becoming chief designer at Alfa Romeo, overseeing the styling for the 145, 156 Sports wagon, 159 and Brera models.

1995 Fiat Barchetta. Image: honest john

Based on a modified version of the first series Punto platform and suspensions, (no bespoke mid-engined layout this time), the low-volume Barchetta was built at carrozzeria Maggiora in Chivasso from 1995 until 1992, when the carrozzeria went bust. Fiat continued production at Mirafiori after a two year hiatus which then ceased entirely in 2005.

A further strand to the Barchetta storyline is a one-off coupé proposed by Maggiora. Apparently, Zapatinas had originally schemed a similar model but was vetoed by Cantarella as he felt it might cannibalise sales of other models. A neatly executed, pretty, if not particularly far-seeing design, it’s likely Cantarella was correct in his assessment.

It’s somewhat ironic that the car which most likely prompted Fiat to sanction the Barchetta in the first place now forms the technical basis for Fiat’s current somewhat underwhelming 124 Spider offering. But with the market for affordable two-seaters now in rapid decline, it’s rather unlikely to be replaced. But while the 124 will most likely be viewed as something of a low water mark, rest assured, once it’s gone we’re all likely to miss the boat.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “A Concept for Sunday – Boating for Beginners.”

  1. It eventually almost killed off the brand and company, but boy do I love Cantarella’s years at Fiat!

    This may not be the most brilliant concept car of all ages, but it’s got a clear, relatable idea at its core that’s executed with plenty of craftsmanship and creativity in evidence. If I’d come across the Scia at this year’s IAA, it would’ve been one of my highlights of the show.

    Question: Did Fiat lose their way when Agnelli ordered the return of the laurel wreath logo? This one had served them rather well for a few years: http://www.armin-vogt.ch/fileadmin/images/downloads/TheCreationOfTheFIAT-Logo1968.pdf

    1. Kris: I can’t say if the two are definitively connected, but the graphic designer in me is unequivocal that the blue parallelogram was a masterpiece and their flailing about for a clear corporate identity since they dropped it says plenty. I remember seeing what must have been an ultra-late-build Mk1 Punto in Turin with the wreath badge on the nose (the only one I’ve ever seen so equipped), and with the standard yellowing it simply looked generic and unappealing, almost Japanese-like, rather than pert and funky. Funny how that works.

      Anyhow, the Scia. I had largely forgotten about this little gem until Google Images fished it out of the ether just this week – the DTW Effect at work. I am a massive Barchetta fan and this speaks to me as well – and I say this as someone who generally doesn’t care for dropheads. It is clearly differentiated in theme and execution from the norm, but it’s not wilfully different merely for the sake of it – I think this is a design of real merit that has aged very gracefully. It pulls off the trick of being of its time – early 1990s would have been my guess had I not known – but successfully blending historic elements with an aesthetic that conceivably could have been contemporary some years after it actually debuted.

      This era really was the last great hurrah for the coachbuilder. Was it Turin in 1996 where Fiat gave all the major carrozzeria the Bravo/a and told them to have at it? There were some interesting projects that emerged out of that exercise. Who could have known at the time it was the last great hurrah for both Turin as a show and arguably the entire Turin cottage industry?

      I feel like I hardly need to make explicit that I can muster precisely zero enthusiasm for the 124.

  2. What is that wire loop hanging below the Scia – yet another loose parking brake cable? Yup, hang two Evinrude 150s on the back of this beastie and make waves, it really is an odd-looking duck. The front looks like a rear of today’s vehicles.

    The latest 124 has a 1.4 MultiAir turbo in it if you enjoy narrow powerbands, but at least by using the MX-5 underneath one can be assured that the structural details were sweated over and no welds missed at the factory. I have little faith in Fiat Group mechanical and structural design myself, and in addition especially not their assembly methods and procedures. I note that the Punto is now NCAP rated zero stars. If a new Giulia has been perfectly assembled, I’m sure there is a technical team wondering how – the famous Reid Bigland of Cumberland ancestry and current head of Alfa blames it all on poor Body Control Module software. With basic stuff like that subject to at least two updates, I’m surprised the door latch opens the door next to you and not the offside rear, and why does it cause misfiring? What else lurks within the innards of a mechanical nature? Maybe if Hyundai buys FCA, the flair Hyundai really needs could be combined with at least normal reliability on re-engineered Fiat Group stuff.

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