When you think about Italy, the first thing that pops up in our minds are the beautiful Italian supercars, namely from brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, etc. However, these big leagues players did not give birth to the automobile legacy in Italy. It was a relatively basic brand called Fiat that spurred the growth of the automobile sector in Italy. Fiat’s role in the growth of the automobile industry was so important that the growth of the industry was almost directly proportional to the development of the Fiat brand. Again, as history precedes history itself, before the contribution of Fiat, Leonardo Da Vinci was the one to come up with the idea of modern era automobiles. His idea of an automobile was relatively simple, as you would expect back in 1478. Da Vinci’s framework of an automobile consisted of a set of gears and springs that aided the machine to move forward. Nicolo Barsanti was an Italian engineer that worked on developing his version of an engine that ran on hydrogen and air back in 1853. Once the basics of how to provide power to a machine with 4 wheels were laid out, the Italians were on it to deliver a body in which the IC engine would be installed. From here on out, the history of Fiat and other Italian brands comes about. Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or Fiat was founded in 1899 and its first car, the Fiat 3 ½ HP was launched in the same year. Back then, owning a car was the epitome of luxury and this led to the production of only 8 units of the model. Fiat in the 1970s was dominating the Italian market and with the oil prices at an all-time high, many other brands were struggling, including Fiat. But, the turning point in the fortunes of Fiat was when it decided to buy other companies during this period and look how well it paid off. By the ’90s Fiat was the 3rd largest automobile manufacturer in the world and today, Fiat is the largest automobile manufacturer in Italy.
Lancia has also played a very important role in the automobile history of Italy, but before we get into Lancia, there is another brand that had its share of importance. Aquila Italiana was opened in Turin in 1905 by Giulio Cesare Cappa, who was the first person to mount an engine prototype on an automobile. The use of ball bearings, clutch pedal for ignition, alloy for piston, etc were a few innovations from the brand. Now coming to Lancia, it was formed in 1906 by a former Fiat driver, Giulio Cesare Cappa. Giulio along with Claudio Fogolin gave birth to the brand Lancia & C. The Lancia Alpha is responsible for the brand to garner attention back then due to the shaft drive system fitted on it. The car also was good for 28 BHP and a top speed of 90 km/h. Not bad for a car in the early-1900s. Again, we know how good Lancia was in motorsports and the rallying legacy it has left behind is unparalleled. This was unmistakably another factor as to how the company made its mark in automobile history.
Alfa Romeo was founded in 1910, named just Alfa back then, the brand did not specifically start with production cars for the street. The first Alfas were sported in racing events in Italy and the first cars were brought to the track at the Targa Florio race. During the First World War, the Alfa brand was taken over by Nicola Romeo who then took up military contracts to deliver military vehicles. He also then renamed the company, Alfa Romeo, as we know of it today. The brand was then under the control of Benito Mussolini in 1941, who diverted the brand’s vision from producing cars for the military to producing cars for the rich, making Alfa Romeo a luxurious brand. The end of World War 2, saw Alfa Romeo dethroned from the title of being the best racing team, but they still were very well versed with making luxury cars. The twin-cam engine was revolutionary and became the trademark of the brand up until the 1980s. Today, the brand is owned by Fiat but that could not have been the case as the American manufacturer, Ford Motor Company could have bought the brand. Brands like Ferrari, Maserati, etc have been pivotal to the development of the Italian automobile industry to a certain extent. Ask any Italian today, he will hand down say that Fiat’s history and the Italian automotive history go hand in hand. Today, Italians give the world a much-needed flair and raunchy appeal through their cars and brands like MV Agusta, Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, etc proffer us with some exquisite cars that cannot be matched in terms of their visual appeal and character. As they say, thank God for Italians and their style