You probably won’t see it commemorated anywhere else.
Of all the cars which mark their 50th anniversary this year, this is perhaps the most (to non-Italians) obscure and certainly least recalled. Partially a consequence of the marque’s subsequent demise – another piece of bungled stewardship by Fiat Auto – and the fact that the car is not only fairly unremarkable in itself, but lasted a mere three years on the market before being withdrawn in 1972.
Very little about the Autobianchi A111 makes sense. To the casual eye, it comes across as an amalgam of Fiats 124, 125 and 128, (especially in pre-facelift form) which in some ways it was – from a visual perspective at least. Technically however, it differed considerably; Autobianchi having somewhat inadvertently pioneered the favoured layout for the mass-market front wheel drive car with the introduction of the Primula model in 1964.
This car, frequently (and chauvinistically) dismissed in the British press as a BMC copy was, despite its (on-paper) relatively unsophisticated suspension media, a technically advanced motor car, certainly as least as forward looking as Professor Fessia’s Fulvia over at Chivasso.
Why therefore, after a mere five years, it was considered expedient to replace it, considering the advantages of front wheel drive and the fact that its styling hadn’t particularly dated remains something of a mystery – especially given Fiat’s habitual preference for lengthier production runs.
Proving something of a refugee from Fiat’s 123 and subsequent 128 programmes (albeit not from a chassis-layout perspective), the A111 appears as though it was something which had been left lying about centro stile in search of a champion. Utilising an updated version of the Primula’s running gear, mated to the 1438cc engine from the Primula Coupé S, the A111 arrived on sale, just as its Fiat parent introduced the technically more up to date, but cheaper 1100cc 128 model – a car which (justifiably) garnered all the acclaim, but was perhaps at least partially surfing the Autobianchi’s coat-tails.
Orthodoxy suggests that Autobianchi had been employed as Fiat Auto’s litmus paper – a means of testing out concepts in the market without risking the reputation of the parent company. If this is so, it seems not only a rather curious strategy, but also a somewhat inconsistent one. Fiat wasn’t particularly renowned for its consistency anyway – as subsequent events would illustrate – not that this was necessarily the fault of the engineering department, led by the eminent Dante Giacosa, who routinely championed the technical solutions which entered the market under Autobianchi’s purview.
The A111’s 50th is unlikely to be marked elsewhere, which seems a shame, because despite its unprepossessing appearance, it was it appears, a well engineered, technically interesting car – certainly judged by the standards of the time. If its rarity, brief life, and ‘where have I seen that before’ appearance are what now lends it a fascination which perhaps eluded it at the time, that is probably preferable to apathy.
Having profiled the A111 as far back as April 2015, you get two bites at the Desio cherry this Saturday – firstly upon the A111 from this author and secondly, on Autobianchi itself, courtesy of former DTW writer Sean Patrick.