Pizza, Pasta, And Incredibly Fast Cars – The Automotive Geography of Italy
AutoShack.com is proud to take you on a trip around the world to learn your automotive geography. In our debut episode we look at Italy, a country with one of the richest automotive histories in the world. If you’ve ever had a calendar or poster featuring dream cars, there’s a very good chance a vehicle from Italy was part of it.
Basic and Automotive Geography – The Boot
Italy is a country founded in Europe, sharing a border with France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Slovenia. Before even mentioning automobiles, the country has one of the richest histories in the world. Home of the Roman Empire, Leonardo DaVinci (who had early visions of an automobile), Michelangelo, and Galileo Galilei, the country is no stranger to an illustrious history. A history and automotive geography made richer once automobile production began.
Automotive Geography – Italy’s Largest – Fiat
Vehicles were produced in Italy as early as 1890. During that time, small vehicles were produced by the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino group, also known as F.I.A.T. (or Fiat). The Fiat 4 HP was the first model to be produced, a vehicle that featured a 3 speed 679cc engine producing 4 horsepower. During the World Wars and other economic hard times, Fiat bought up many of the smaller automakers as they arose. Fiat has gone on to become one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, ranking 7th overall as of 2014.
Fiat may be the most important automotive manufacturer to come out of Italy, as it in fact owns many of the other names on this list. Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia, and Maserati all fall under the Fiat name. In 2009 Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and began looking for a buyer. As of October 2014, Fiat has been re-branded as the Fiat-Chrysler Automotive Group. This means that Fiat now operates the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep platforms. While some may feel handing the reigns of an American company over to another country is dangerous, there is no need for concern. Fiat has detailed a 5 year plan, involving several new models, refreshes, the re-introduction of the SRT performance editions, and other commitments to the Chrysler lineup.
Fiat currently offers 6 models for purchase in North America, all are variations of it’s 500 lineup. The 500, Turbo, c, L, and Abarth editions all feature various different enhancements. Abarth was at one time another successful Italian automaker, the brand is now used to denote the highest performance package available from a stock Fiat.
As mentioned, Fiat owns many of the other well known Italian automakers, including the high-performance powerhouse Ferrari, and the rally legend Lancia.
Founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia, this company would eventually be bought by Fiat in 1969. The company was the first to market in a number of ways in Europe, including vehicle electrical systems, monocoque frame designs, independent suspensions, and V6 engines. In the 70s’ and 80s’ Lancia won numerous world rally championships. After Fiat’s merger with Chrysler, Lancia began selling Chrysler models as re-badged Lancias. As of 2014, the company has decided to only sell models in Italy, and has no plans to include them in North America’s automotive geography.
Alfa Romeo – The Birth Of A Legend
In 1910, the Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, also know as A.L.F.A. (or Alfa) was founded. Between 1910 and 1915, the company found success in motor racing. It was in 1915 that Alfa converted their automotive production line to produce military goods for Italian and Allied forces during WW1, under the direction of a man named Nicola Romeo. Post WW1, the company was re-branded as Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo can be credited as the company that popularized the term “spyder” to refer to sporty, small sized convertibles. Producing more than just cars, Alfa Romeo’s service record includes trucks, buses, commercial vehicles, ambulances, and airplanes. The automotive geography of Italy changed during WW2, when Fascist Governments lead by Benito Mussolini confiscated many large automakers, like Alfa Romeo.
While Alfa Romeo may not be a common name to our automotive geography here in North America, that will soon change. Alfa Romeo plans to bring it’s new 4C roadsters to customers on this side of the ocean. The 4c features a carbon fiber monocoque chassis holding a mid-engine, 1750cc turbocharged engine, good for over 230 horsepower.
Alfa Romeo have always been positioned as high performance vehicles, and have found success in nearly every level of motorsport from F1 to rally racing. Alfa Romeo at one time had a man by the name of Enzo Ferrari employed to head up one of their racing divisions, Scuderia Ferrari. In 1939, that team went independent, and Ferrari was born.
Italy’s Automotive Geography King – Ferrari
One of the first companies that comes to mind when considering Italian automotive geography, Ferrari is one of the most instantly recognizable brands in the world. Ironically the company never had any intention of producing road cars. Enzo Ferrari only sold some models of vehicles in order to fun the Scuderia Ferrari racing team (racing modified Fiats), and had little interest in becoming a full-fledged automaker. When Alfa Romeo was seized by the Fascist Italian Government under Benito Mussolini in 1941, Ferrari was still a small enough operation to avoid being seized.
In 1969, Fiat purchased 50% of Ferrari’s operations. This allowed for the faster and more frequent development of vehicles. In October 2014, Fiat announced it would split Ferrari from its brand, creating a stand-alone company under the Ferrari name. The automotive geography of Italy remains unchanged, as Ferrari plans to continue on, the sale having little effect on the companies production.
The most popular of Ferrari’s models, the Enzo Ferrari and the Ferrari F40, each have close ties to the companies creator. The F40 was the last production model that Enzo Ferrari oversaw before his death, and the Enzo Ferrari was named as such in his honor. The amount of victories and awards Ferrari has received over the years are too numerous to list here, but it’s safe to say the company is one of the top racing companies in the world. Where ever speed is being measured, you can bet Ferrari is taking some top positions.
You don’t enter and win as many races as Ferrari without creating some competition, and it’s from that sense of competition that another major Italian automaker was born.
Lamborghini – Italy’s OTHER Incredibly powerful, Unbeatable Supercar
Ferruccio Lamborghini created the Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini company in 1963 for the sole purpose of shaking up the automotive geography and taking on companies like Ferrari. When it released the Miura in 1966, the world knew it was serious. To this day, the Miura is considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made, and at the time of it’s release was the fastest production car available.
Lamborghini was sold to the Volkswagen group in 1998, and is now produced in partnership with VW’s Audi division (technically removing it from Italian automotive geography, but at its core Lamborghini is still a very Italian company). Unlike Ferrari, Lamborghini treats a new car release like a milestone, and the number of Lamborghini base models can be counted on one hand, stretching right back to 1966. The Miura, Countach, Diablo, Murcielago, and Aventador are the base models offered by Lamborghini, with other models being revamped or updated versions of those vehicles. The current production Lamborghini, the Huracan, features a 5.2L V10 engine producing 602 horsepower controlled through a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
A little known fact behind Lamborghini is their incredibly successful ventures into other areas, including police vehicles and agriculture. Since 2004, Lamborghini has supplied vehicles to (the world’s luckiest) Italian police force. Other police forces that require faster vehicles also seek the help of Lamborghini, such as the London police force. Lamborghini also produces a full range of tractors for the European market, with features that allow them to excel in vineyard applications. You read that correctly, you can buy a large, slow-moving tractor with the charging bull emblem and Lamborghini name.
Know your Automotive Geography – Italy
These aren’t the only cars that Italy has produced, but they certainly are some of the most memorable. There are few countries that have the rich automotive geography of Italy. No other country produces so many cars that inspire and awe us quite like Italy does. Other countries are catching up though, and in our next issue we’ll look at the time the United States set out with a vendetta to beat the Italians at their own game…and did.
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