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Dante Giacosa

Dante Giacosa next to a Topolino

Dante Giacosa (January 3, 1905 - March 31, 1996) was an Italian car designer. His work covered a large range from minicars to sports cars, using all the different layouts as and when they were the best solution at the time to meet the design parameters.

Born at Rome, he studied engineering at the Turin Polytechnic until 1927. After completing his compulsory military service he joined Fiat in 1928, at first working on military vehicles and then in the aero engine division. The director of the aero-engine division was Tranquillo Zerbi, designer of Grand Prix cars for Fiat. In 1933 when work commenced on the Fiat 500, the director of the aero-engine division was Antonio Fessia. He had sufficient confidence to entrust the design of all the mechanical components of the car including the chassis to Giacosa. Giacosa was engineering manager at Fiat by 1937 and he had become director of the engineering division of Fiat by 1950.

He died in Turin in 1996.

His economy and light car designs

The Fiat 500 was a state of the art two seat miniature car that soon proved popular when production commenced in 1936, earning the name "Topolino". It was a two-seater and had a 569 cc side valve engine, but the chassis with independent front suspension using a transverse leaf spring and wishbones and neat packaging was a big advance, with the engine located over the front wheels and radiator behind it over the four speed synchromesh gearbox, also excellent hydraulic brakes. With fuel consumption around 18 km/l and a maximum speed of 90 km/h, but with handling good enough to allow average speeds of 60  km/h. Between 1936 when first introduced until the end of production in 1948, 122,000 were made of this original version.

Giacosa's next design was the Fiat 508C. A completely new car to replace the 508, the 508C or as it became known as the "Millecento", had a 1100 cc short stroke engine, with overhead valves (the 500 engine had side valves), an outstanding chassis design that earned it a reputation for good handling and ride quality. It was with a 508C chassis that as engineering manager Dante Giacosa led a team that developed the Fiat 508CMM a streamlined coupe. Fiat used the car to win the 1100 cc class in the Mille Miglia of 1938. This model was produced in small numbers until 1940. The 508C was produced from 1937 to 1948, when it was replaced by an updated versions the 1100B and 1100E which was produced until 1953.

A wealthy Italian industrialist Piero Dusio, with a request to design a single seat racing car approached him in 1944, that could be purchased for a relatively low price. This he did in his free time away for the Fiat factory. The design utilised components from the Fiat 500 and 508C. The resulting car the Cisitalia "D46" was on sale in 1946 at a price in Italian lire equivalent to around 1000 pounds sterling. The space frame chassis was designed using steel tubes and the body consisted of light alloy panels - this was the famous superleggera or 'super-light' construction technique. The Fiat 1100 cc engine that was fitted to the car was tuned to produce 60 bhp. A maximum speed of 175 km/h was claimed. A batch of twenty cars was laid down in 1946 and the cars were raced successfully throughout the rest of the 1940s.

Giacosa did the initial design work on the next Cisitalia model, a two-seat sports car, the Project 202. Again he used a multi tube space frame chassis. The design being an adaptation of the single seat model. The prototype was fitted with a coupe body similar to the Fiat 508CMM. Before series production commenced, he passed over responsibility for the design to Giovanni Savonuzzi.

Though Dante Giacosa had become director of the engineering division of Fiat, that didn't mean that he could follow his own inclinations regarding the design of any new cars. The Fiat sales department had an overriding influence on new the model produced. Therefore Giacosa may be excused that his next design the Fiat 1400 of 1950 was only a qualified success. Fiat wanted to produce a car that satisfied the needs of countries with a poor road system that had previously been supplied by American manufacturers before their cars had become bloated. They wanted a car with good stability, good visibility, and room for six people and their luggage, a speed of 120 km/h and a fuel consumption of 10 km/l. Unfortunately they also wanted the car with a modest size engine that wasn't too expensive to run in Italy. Despite Giacosa's best efforts they got a car that nether one thing or another. Only one hundred and twenty thousand examples were produced in eight years.

His next light car design was the 1100-103; this model perpetuated the name Millecento previously given to the 508C. This Millecento was a compact unitary construction saloon fitted with wishbones and coil springs at the front and a live axle and half-elliptic springs at the rear. Its excellent handling and good performance was in the tradition of its predecessor. Of conventional design for its period, with a water-cooled OHV inline four-cylinder engine of 1089 cc, that at first produced 33bhp rising to 44bhp but much more when tuned. Features that would unfamiliar to us today were the steering column change for the four-speed gearbox, and the transmission handbrake. Through a series of models culminating with the 1100R, (The 1100D had a 1221 cc engine.) the Millecento was in production until 1970 and one and three quarter million examples had been produced.

Next Giacosa and his team designed a replacement for the Fiat Topolino. The last version of the 500C had been discontinued the previous year 1954. The 600 was a totally new car, and for Fiat a new layout with the engine at the rear as well as unitary construction. When the 600 were introduced in 1955, rear engine cars had been produced for well over a decade and their advantages and disadvantages [were] by then well known. Giacosa used the advantages to produce a four-seat car, although with limited luggage space, that had a reasonable performance from an engine of only 633 cc, due to its low weight of 585 kg and also compact dimensions. Capable of almost 100 km/h (62 mph) and returning a fuel consumption of 16 to 20 km/l and the ability to cruise at 80 km/h (50 mph). He overcame the stability problems associated with other rear engined designs by identifying that the problem was not the weight distribution of the cars, but the simple swing axle rear suspension used in those designs. His answer was to use a semi-trailing arm type of rear suspension that eliminated the large change in the camber of the rear wheels that was inherent with the simple swing axle suspension system.

The mini people carrier may seem to be a concept of the twenty-first century, that is not so. Within a year of the launch of the 600 a six-seat version was in production, the Multipla. By replacing the transverse leaf spring used in the front suspension by upper links and coil springs, the mechanic components of the 600 were utilised in a forward control unitary body, removing the front luggage compartment and any trace of crumple zone (similar to the VW Type 2 Kombi/Bus, but considerably smaller), therefore needing only a small increase in wheelbase to accommodate three rows of seats. Over seventy six thousand of this first version of the Multipla were produced by 1963. The 600 was replaced by the 600D in 1960. The engine size was increased to 767 cc, with a maximum speed up to 110 km/h. Production ceased in Turin in 1970, but carried on in the SEAT factory in Barcelona. Before then the 600 had been produced by NSU/Fiat in Germany, Zastava in Yugoslavia and Concord in Argentina. Over two and a half million were eventually produced.

Giacosa's next rear engine car for Fiat was the Nuova 500 of 1957, with a similar layout to the 600, but with a two-cylinder air-cooled engine instead of the water-cooled inline four-cylinder unit, and an unsynchronised 4-speed gearbox (the shortcomings of which being blunted by its own low inertial mass, plus that of the engine and entire vehicle), a layout kept for the entire lifespan of the model. Being a two/plus/two-seat car, it was the true replacement for the "Topolino", at the bottom of the Fiat range. With a wheelbase fractionally over six feet and a length under nine feet, it was also a lightweight weighing less than five hundred kilograms. The 479 cc engines in the early production cars were so underpowered with only 13bhp that they were recalled and an uprated engine that produced 16.5bhp was fitted. The final 500-F of 1965 had a 499 cc engine producing 18bhp, sufficient to get to 110 km/h and a fuel consumption 20 km/l. In 1960 Fiat introduced the "Giardiniera", a 499 cc station wagon with a similar inline twin cylinder engine as the "500", but with cylinder horizontal. The engine was located under the floor at the rear of the car. With a slight increase in wheelbase and the weight increased to 570 kg, it was newer a four seat car with a luggage area over the engine. In parallel with the Fiat models, the "500", platforms where clothed in prettier bodies by Autobianchi at their Desio factory. Named the Bianchina, a convertible, later a convertible, a four seat saloon, an estate car and a van version on the Giardiniera platform where produced. A version of the Nuova 500 was made by Steyr-Puch in Austria in 1957, with their own boxer air-cooled engine and swing axle drive and suspension. The Steyr 650TR of 1965 to 1969, was the hottest 500 model made and a competent rally car.

Fiat introduced a roomier four-seat two-door saloon in 1964, to run alongside the "600". The "850", had an 843 cc engine and a 270 centimetre increase in the wheelbase, but the specification was the same as the "600". An 850T version of the "Multipla" was also available the following year. Fiat also produced coupé and spyder versions using the "850", platform with an engine that produced 47 bhp at 6200 rpm, later 52 bhp from a 903 cc engine. A total of over a half of a million of these were produced by 1972. Spyder production had ceased by 1973. Many special versions were produced by the legion of specialist coachbuilders at work in Italy at the time. The "850", saloon and coupe models were also produced by SEAT in Spain. The "600" had been discontinued by Fiat in 1970.

Dante Giacosa's first front wheel drive car was the Autobianchi Primula. Autobianchi was a subsidiary of Fiat. Ready for production in 1964, it had a four cylinder water-cooled engine of 1221 cc that was already fitted in the Fiat 1100D. The rest of the car was of all new design. The engine was transversely mounted with the four-speed gearbox located inline with the crankshaft. With a gear train to the offset differential and final drive and unequal length drive shafts. This is the arrangement we see under the bonnet of most front wheel drive cars today. Other features of the design are not so familiar, such as the gearchange on the steering column, also the wishbone and transverse leaf spring front suspension and the rear dead axle with half-elliptic springs. The steering was by rack and pinion, a first for Giacosa, but almost twenty years after its first use by Issigonis. The "500", series of cars was twenty-five years old by 1972 when Fiat introduced their last rear-engined saloon car the "126", a four-seat car the size of a BMC Mini on the wheelbase of the "500". The engine was increased in capacity to 594 cc, producing 23 bhp (17 kW) and a top speed of 105 km/h. The 126 was in production until 1987 and almost two million examples were produced.

The Fiat 128 of 1969 was the final break through by Dante Giacosa. After a lifetime of exceptional car designs both conventional front-engined and also rear-engined cars. In the 128 he brought together all the features that are considered conventional today. Transverse engine/gearbox/ offset final drive with unequal length drive shafts, in conjunction with MacPherson strut front suspension. Rack and pinion steering and disc brakes on the front wheels. The 128 had wishbone and transverse half-elliptic spring independent rear suspension.

Fiat had dealt with all the bugs associated with a new concept in the Primula and the 128 was a great success with one and a quarter million were produced by 1972. Although the wheelbase was 2.45 metres, the overhang each end was minimal, resulting in a compact car but with ample passenger space.


Cars involved in the design of which

It is perhaps the area where more work and for which he is remembered by the public is not professional, although only one of many to which he devoted himself.

Fiat 500 (Topolino)

It is the first car of the development of which is fully responsible. Small car, which must be so inexpensive to be purchased by one of the workers who built it, so think Agnelli and Valletta. The 15 June 1936 is presented to the public under the name Fiat 500, once dubbedMickey. In 1937, the draft proposes a truck version. 1948 is updated in the 500 B engine with overhead valves, also offered as Giardiniera with wooden sides. In 1949 and further updated in the third series, the 500 C.

Fiat 508 C/1100 "New Balilla"

Average sedan that replaces the Fiat 508. The engine, with various upgrades, will be used up to 1969 by the Fiat 1100 (103). Will be updated in 1939 with the new front "bow of the ship" and became the 1100 A, again in 1948 with a new engine that gives rise to the 1100 B and 1949 with the change of command of the wheel and modifications to the tail the series E. Is built with different body styles, including convertibles, convertible, commercial vehicles, limousines for private use or long taxi and some versions sport.

Fiat 2800

Built in just 620 units between 1939 and 1943, with six-cylinder engine, is an imposing representation or a torpedo sedan for senior military officers.

Cisitalia D46

Single-seater racing, designed for Cisitalia, with mechanical components of the Fiat 1100. Construction began in 1946 was a demonstration of how with a relatively simple and inexpensive it could create a category of racing cars accessible to younger drivers with fewer financial resources, even during the difficult years after the war .

Cisitalia 202

Granturismo derived from mechanics of the Fiat 1100 with the body of Pininfarina, is considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made. A sample exposed to the Museum of Modern Art by New York as "sculpture in motion."


Fiat 1500 D

Evolution of the 1948 Fiat 1500 pre-war in this project Giacosa had not participated. The following year, is further amended in 1500 E.

Fiat 1400 and 1900

Concluded the period of the World War II dedicated to the Fiat 1400, then known asthe European car,which is presented to the Geneva Motor Show in 1949 and produced by 1950. From it comes the Fiat 1900, with less body and more powerful engine. The 1400 is also conducted in cabriolet version and, since 1953, Diesel, and the 1900 version of "Granluce", or sports sedan. In 1954 he was made the second series (1400 A and 1900 A) and in 1956 the third (1400 B and 1900 B).

Fiat Campagnola

The project of the Fiat Campagnola is 1951. Derived from it is off-road calendar, the Campagnola precisely, and a military call to second in the series AR 51, AR55 and AR59.

Fiat 8V

Coaches, high performance building strangely craft for FIAT (experimental building was constructed from the workshop), was released in 1953.

Fiat 1100 103, 1100 TV, 1100 Family

Also in 1953 Giacosa deals with 1100 103, car great success. In 1954 is the time of the 1100 TV (Turismo Veloce) and the 1100 Family. The 1100 remains in production for several years, and updated in 1956 as 1100/103, 1100/58 in 1957 as in 1960 as 1100 and Special Export, in 1962 as a 1100 D and finally in 1966 as R. 1100 It also stem from the 1200 and 1100 and 1200 Granluce Spyder.

8001 Fiat Turbina

Experimental prototype of 1954, turbine engine.

Fiat Multipla 600 and 600

The 600 is one of the greatest successes of Fiat, the car together with the new 500 is designed to power the Italians. A resounding success.


Fiat Nuova 500 Bianchina

The New 500 released in 1957 and 600 along with one of his most grandiose plans, for which in 1959 wins the Golden Compass. The Bianchina is its sister "richer".

Fiat 1800, 2100, 2300

The 1800 - 2100 - 2300 will come in various versions from 1959. Were equipped with six-cylinder engine.

Fiat 1300 and 1500

In 1961 proposed the 1300 and 1500, two cars inspired by features in miniature, the fashion line in those years in America.

Autobianchi Primula

Designed for 'Autobianchi, the Primula is the first Italian car with front wheel drive and transverse engine.

Autobianchi A111 and A112

Equally famous are the A111 and A112, cars of great success, in particular the A112.

Fiat 124 and 125

The Fiat 124 is the car of the year in 1966, the Fiat 125 introduces many light elements on production vehicles.

Fiat Dino

The Fiat Dino is a sport created in collaboration with Ferrari, its engine derives from the racing car, the Fiat, completed with spider body (1966, Pininfarina) and coupe (1967, Bertone) with 2000 engine, then updated with a 2400 in 1969.

Fiat 130

The Fiat 130 is the first major flagship of FIAT, in particular the Coupe's lines very catchy and anticipates the style of Seventies. Giacosa he occupied a marginal, considering the Fiat did not sufficiently prepared to make cars in this size.

Fiat 128

Among the most popular cars of the fleet at that time the Fiat 128 is elected Car of the Year in 1970 and is the first Fiat motor and front wheel drive.

Fiat 127

The style is Pio Manzu. Giacosa will actively participate in the motor part. Presented in 1971 in 1972 the Fiat 127 is elected self year.

Fiat 126

The Fiat 126 presented in 1972 is the heir to the 500 but did not reach neither the charm nor the wide dissemination and longevity.



Italian automobile designers

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