Southern Belles

Turin via Buenos Aires /

During the 1960s, Fiat basked in the glory of good times – the Turinese giant had a firm grip on the domestic market and elsewhere in Europe enjoyed considerable popularity. North America was proving to be trickier than expected, but in South
America, Fiat achieved good sales figures. A pleasant and often eye-pleasing by-product of Fiat’s booming business was the appearance of many special-bodied coupé and convertible variants usually designed and built by Italian coachbuilders like Pininfarina, Moretti, Bertone and Vignale to name a few.

Clasicoenescala /Diego Herman

Fiat Concord Fabrica Material Ferroviario, usually referred to as simply Fiat Concord, was founded in 1960 as an Argentine subsidiary of the Italian automaker. Renamed SEVEL Argentina SA in 1980 and since 1996 known as Fiat Auto Argentina SA, Fiat Concord produced several Fiat models for the Argentinian market. Among run-of-the-mill 600, 1100 and 1500s, the pretty Vignale bodied 850 Coupé and Spider styled by Giovanni Michelotti were also manufactured at Fiat Concord.

Introduced in 1965, the 770 (800 later on) was externally identical to the Italian Vignales, but had a smaller 767cc Fiat 600E engine and derived mechanicals. The pedals were therefore not pendulum-mounted as in the European Vignale 850 but came up from the floor just as they did in the 600. Plenty of tin was used in the manufacturing of the Vignale bodies, so specialized tinners were sent from Italy to train the local workforce. /mario-perman

The 770 only appeared in the somewhat DAF-like 4-seat Coupé version. In Europe the Vignale 850 was available in three different guises: Spider, 4-seat Coupé and a 2+2 Coupé with a more rakish rear roofline which was never produced by Fiat Concord.

In late 1966 the 770 was renamed 800; technically revised it was powered by a larger 797cc engine and now also available in the Spider version – the first convertible to be produced in Argentina. The more powerful 800 was treated to a more sporty instrument panel with four round instruments as opposed to the 770 which had simply used the 600’s dashboard.

Over its five year lifespan which ended in 1969 the 770/800 was produced in significantly higher numbers than the 850 at Vignale in Italy: a total of 7807 Coupé and 1201 Spider variants left the Fiat Concord plant.

For those requiring more room and power, starting in 1966 Fiat Concord offered the 1500 Coupé. This was the old Fiat 1500 Coupé Vignale that had been built by the Italian coachbuilder between 1962 and 1965 in two series; Fiat Concord had received the superfluous die-casting tools to manufacture the car themselves but in return had to pay Vignale a franchise fee for every car produced.

Unfortunately the Vignale tools proved to be not very suitable for more large-scale production; numerous fit problems emerged and Fiat Concord was forced to partly re-develop augmented dies. Apart from a Nardi steering wheel and a different centre console and gear lever the Argentine 1500 Coupé was identical to the original Vignale – a total of 5228 1500 Coupés being manufactured between 1966 and 1970. The substantial licensing fee to be paid to carrozzeria Vignale for every unit produced proved to be a significant burden for Fiat Concord however, and they hatched plans to free themselves from it.

To accomplish this, during 1968 Fiat Concord assigned their chief engineer Aldo Periz and his team to come up with a solution. In four months and having to work within a tight budget the car that would put an end to the Vignale licensing fees was presented. The main elements – chassis and mechanicals – of the 1500 were preserved, but the roof, DLO and rear portion of the body were totally redesigned, the end result looking quite similar to the Italian Fiat 850 Coupé but on a larger scale. A 1500-derived engine was fitted, enlarged to a 1625cc displacement and delivering 92 Hp. The name given this fastback Coupé, 3.5 inches longer than its predecessor, was Fiat 1600 Sport.

Initially Fiat Concord encountered several problems in producing the restyled bodies; various fit and construction problems ensued from the new dies not being dimensionally perfect. The problems were such that at first only one 1600 Sport could be completed per day; soon this improved to about ten cars daily but the 1600 Sport turned out to just as labour intensive as the Vignales were. As with the 770 and 800, a lot of tin was used in its construction, necessitating work shifts of no more than four hours for the tin workers because of health concerns.

Visual comparison of the 1500 and 1600 Coupé.

The body forward of the A-pillars was left largely unchanged save for a different grille with an extra pair of headlights; this earned the 1600 Sport the nickname Torinito because of its similarity with the popular IKA-Renault Torino Coupé. There are no reports that Vignale objected to halting the royalty payments upon the introduction of the 1600 Sport even though it could be argued that almost half of the car was still very much Vignale’s intellectual property.

In 1972 the Coupé underwent a slight facelift and was now based upon the Fiat 125 floorpan and mechanicals instead of the old 1500; hence the name change to Fiat 125S Coupé. A few years later a more powerful potenciado variant became available with an extra 10 hp.

Near the end of its life the ultimate and today rarest version entered the Argentine Fiat showrooms: the 125S Coupé SE78. The addition of a ducktail rear spoiler, front air dam and bold striping were of questionable aesthetic value but the 110 hp engine made it the best performing Argentinian-made Fiat yet. The last 125S Coupé rolled out of the Concord factory in 1980, an occasion that would also see the era of sporty Fiats of Argentinian design come to an end.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

13 thoughts on “Southern Belles”

  1. What delights! Most of all, how refreshing that people wanted to buy these cars in relatively large numbers back in those days rather than the predictability of just going for some form of Crossover/ SUV.

  2. They certainly went in for diverse customer adverts; the hunting set, a counter riposte under the trees and a beleaguered mother of three . The Vignale 1500 is peachy. Do we consider many survive?

  3. Interesting to read but also a little bewildering. Could you label the photos to say which car is in the image. Sorry to be pedantic, but I assume the dies were for stamping not casting. Presumably the whole process of making these relatively small-run cars was labour intensive but simple. Today we have complex processes light on labour. I notice the rear end of the cabrio has a kind of box-section edge all the way around. This must have been fiendishly hard to press. Jaguar used on the second last XJ (the 2004 car, I think). I saw one the other night and decided they must have spent big on achieving that effect.

    1. Hello Richard,
      Thanks for pointing that die-casting mistake out; you’re not pedantic at all. I’m puzzled how I a) wrote that down in the first place and b) let it slip past in several re-readings. As for the labeling of the accompanying photos: I have taken your suggestion to heart and will add captions in future to indicate what’s in the picture.

  4. What nice looking South American Fiats.

    Did wonder if any Carrozzeria made any coachbuilt Fiat 500s and Fiat 600s that resembled the larger Fiat 850 Berlina, the same does for anyone improved the Fiat 1300/1500 saloon in the same way the Vignale did with the 1500 Coupe.

  5. Lovely article about far away Fiats, Bruno. It rather boggles the mind that Fiat has a much more complete and recent line-up of cars and pick up trucks in South America than the (mostly long in the tooth by now) variations on the theme of 500, and the Panda, it sells in Western Europe.

    The rear of the 125s reminds me very much of the Skoda Rapid, although that’s a very different concept of car.

    1. Agree, visited Buenos Aires in 2019 and was impressed with variety, both current and classic, of Fiat cars in the city

  6. Great article. Thanks for enlightening us on this largely unknown subject. It seems that after 1980 there were only hatchback style in production even for the special, sports, etc cars. I mean that the gti era did not focus on special carrosserie design. Was it a decision based upon customer research? There is a feeling that it was a cheating of the customer to fit a spoiler and some minor details on the regular hatchback and sell it as an exclusive offering. Before that, it was different. What had changed?

    1. gpant, I think it is no mystery why the Golf GTi had a hatch, the base car happened to have a hatch. But the carrosserie part of your question way more interesting because the first VW GTi was the Scirocco Mk1 (also a hatch). That could be considered to be a special carrosserie design because it was designed by Giugiaro and made by Karmann.

      My impression is that VW only needed to sell enough Sciroccos to keep Karmann solvent, while the market case for the Golf GTi had already been well established by Ford’s Escort RS series cars.

  7. For its owner and user, a car is a reality. The mechanical and dynamic characteristics is the way of interaction between them. For the rest, the interaction is visual, shape and colour, and acoustic. Nothing else.

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