A Short History of Fiat
Fiat, or Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, is one of Europe’s most powerful automobile manufacturing companies and a household name that has become synonymous throughout the world with small, reliable cars.
The company began in 1899 and was headed by the same man, Giovanni Agnelli, for more than forty years. Fiat’s first model, the 3 ½ CV was produced in 1899 and just eight of the 2 cylinder vehicles were manufactured. The first Fiat car was exported to the USA in 1908. Inspired by a visit to the famous Henry Ford factory, Giovanni Agnelli went on to transform Fiat into a forward thinking, modern company and by 1910 the Lingott factory was the largest in Europe – but it was the rooftop racetrack where new models were tested that gave the factory it’s legendary status.
During the 1920s and 1930s Fiat concentrated on manufacturing vehicles for the Italian domestic market and put their plans for world domination on hold. During this time the company produced two new cars in 1934 and 1936. One was the critically acclaimed Topolino, which was at the time the smallest domestic vehicle ever manufactured. Fiat continued to make the Topolino until the mid-1950s. The second vehicle produced had exemplary fuel economy. Up until the 1990s three out of every four cars in Italy was a Fiat thanks to their affordability and the ease with which owners could by Fiat spare parts and keep their cars maintained. By the time WWII broke out, Fiat was employing more than 50,000 people.
During WWI Fiat were forced to close their US factory but did their bit for the war effort by supplying the allies with ambulances, trucks, engines, machine guns, Fiat spare parts and accessories. By the early 1920s Fiat retained more than 80% of Italy’s overall market share.
Today, many of Fiat’s most popular vehicles have become household names including the Punto, the Uno, the 500 and the Panda; but the factory was almost finished when car production completely stopped during WWII in favour of manufacturing machinery, vehicles and weapons. During the war a number of the company’s factories were devastated by bombs, but rebuilding had already started by 1948, profits began to increase rapidly again and the company provided much needed employment for returning soldiers.
During this time the first cars with ventilation and heating systems were manufactured and in 1951 the company produced Italy’s first G830 jet aeroplane. By 1958 Fiat had doubled the capacity of its Mirafiori factory complex, founded factories overseas and moved into the production of farm machinery.
The 60s and Beyond
The Giardinetta was released in 1960 and became a precursor to many of the models we know today. By the mid-60s one in every 28 Italians owned a car and Fiat looked set to dominate the vehicle sector. But it was during this time that Italy’s infamous trade union conflicts began and by the end of the 60s the company had lost millions of man hours to strikes. In 1971 Gianni Agnelli, grandson of Fiat’s founder, took over the company and produced the immensely successful 127 which was the first Fiat to feature front wheel drive. The 127 was subsequently named car of the year.
Since the 1970s Fiat has continued to hold its place as a world leading vehicle manufacturer and the company is constantly developing new and innovative models and engines. In 2004 the company revealed its first ever full sized MPV and in 2007 the Fiat 500 was updated with wider fenders, stiffer suspension and an engine that can go from 0 to 60 in just eight seconds. In 2009, Fiat demonstrated its economic power at a time of global financial crisis by taking a controlling stake in struggling US vehicle manufacturer Chrysler.