IN THE ANNALS OF MOTOR RACING, the name of Cisitalia ranks with those of Gordini and ERA
as that of a marque which kept interest in the sport alive during the dark days of the late 1940s.
Like those other two marques, the Cisitalia was based on a popular small-car engine - in this case the 1100 cc Fiat unit. The marque's creator, Piero Dusio, had built a prototype
Cisitalia sports car in 1939, but the war prevented production until 1946, when Dusio used his war-earned fortune to establish the marque at the Corso Peschiera works in Turin.
Both sports and racing cars were made, the racers being single-seaters of advanced concept with space frames and independent front suspension; at a cost of £1000 in the UK, they offered the amateur 110 mph performance and a chance to be competitive with the great racing drivers like Nuvolari
, Schell and Taruffi (who managed the works Ferrari).
Nuvolari drove one of the first Cisitalias at a race meeting in Turin early in 1946, and showed the marque's potential by leading the race until steering
trouble forced his retirement. Indeed, one of the surprising things about the Cisitalia was its outstanding performance - at the Comminges Grand Prix
of August 1947, ex-motor- cyclist Loyer not only took first place in the class for unblown 11OOS but also came fourth in the Grand Prix
proper, behind the big 4t-litre Talbots.
Small wonder that Taruffi won the 1947 Italian national championship with the marque; 1947, too, saw a short-lived attempt by Dusio to popularise a one class 'Cisitalia formula', but interest in 1100 cc racing was waning. So for 1948 a new twin-carburettor installation was fitted to boost power output to 70 bhp, while a 1200 cc engine became available. Dusio had his sights set on Formula One, and with
a large slice of his post-war profits he met the bond that freed Doctor Porsche from a French war-crimes prison; Ferry Porsche provided Cisitalia with designs for a GP car of advanced concept.
Reminiscent, in appearance, of the pre-war Auto-Unions, the car had a rear-mounted flat-rz engine, selective four-wheel drive and a five-speed gearbox.
Its supercharged engine was said to develop 300 bhp, enough for a top speed of 230 mph, and Nuvolari
was interested in driving it, but the car never reached competition readiness.
Cisitalia's sports cars were more successful: the 1947 coupe had elegant Pininfarina coachwork and was one of the first Italian Gran Turismo cars. Its clean lines earned it a place in the New York Museum of Modern Art, but there was muscle behind the good looks. In 1947 Tazio Nuvolari
, driving an open Cisitalia, took part in the first post-war Mille Miglia, held in appalling weather which steadily got worse during the event.
, fighting against ill-health as well as the elements, led for most of the way. It was only a delay caused by flooded electrics that cost him the race, and the little Cisitalia's second place, behind Biondetti's 1938 2.4-Iitre Alfa Romeo, was the culmination of one of the great drives of the Flying Mantuan's career.
It was a Cisitalia, too, which Nuvolari
drove to the final success of his long career - first place in the 1950
Circuit of Monte Pelligrino, but by that time the vast drain on resources had caused the marque's founder to transfer operations to Argentina in the hope of government backing.
The move, which saw the end of the classic Pininfarina coupes, came to nothing, and by 1952
Cisitalia were back in Italy, producing a new 2.8-litre model. An updated, less attractive 1100 appeared two years later, but the fire had gone out of the marque, and car manufacture ended in 1958
There was one last attempt to revive the Cisitalia name, in 1961, when a rear-engined coupe, based on the Fiat 750, made its debut; the new Cisitalias were manifestly no more than cosmetic coachwork jobs - in fact, the marque had never recovered from the loss of its chief mechanic Carlo Abarth, who had set up his own company when Dusio moved operations to the Argentine.
Against Abarth's success, the new Cisitalia company could achieve nothing, and by 1965
they could keep going no longer. They had, in any case, achieved little by staying alive so long, for the marque's reputation had been won in those three brief years before the money ran out for the first time in 1949.
Using Fiat parts as a base Dante Giacosa designed the D46 which made its successful debut in 1946. Giacosa had a vast knowledge of Fiat bits and pieces as he had designed the legendary 500 Fiat Topolino before World War 2. The engine and suspension were directly derived from the small Fiat but extensively modified for racing. The engine received dry sump lubrication and further tweaks considerably increased the power output to 60-70 bhp.
With a space frame chassis and weighing under 400 kg (880lb.) the available power was more than enough for competitive performance. Dusio's dream of a one model series came to nothing, but instead his D46s started to dominate the voiturette series. Highly talented drivers like Tazio Nuvolari
piloted the D46 to multiple successes against more advanced but older racing cars.
This successes led to a much more ambitious single seater project that would prove too much for the small company. Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to design and construct a full Grand Prix
car which led to the innovative but complex Cisitalia 360. With a mid engined layout and four wheel drive the Type 360 was far too expensive for Dusio to support and the attempt essentially killed any further racing cars.
Dusio commissioned several automobiles from Europe's leading designers. He provided Pinin Farina with the chassis on which the Cisitalia's body was placed. The body was more or less handcrafted, with its aluminium panels shaped over wooden forms. Because of this time-consuming process, only 170 models were produced between 1947 and 1952. When first presented to the public at the Villa d'Este Gold Cup show in Como, Italy, and at the 1947 Paris Motor Show, the Cisitalia "202" GT was a resounding success.
The two-seater Cisitalia "202" GT was an aesthetic and technical achievement that transformed postwar automobile
body design. The extraordinary Pinin Farina design was honored by New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1951.
In the MOMA's first exhibit on automotive design, called "Eight Automobiles", the Cisitalia was displayed with seven other cars (1930 Mercedes-Benz SS tourer, 1939 Bentley saloon with coachwork by James Young, 1939 Talbot-Lago Figoni teardrop coupé, 1951 Willys Jeep, 1937 Cord 812 Custom Beverly Sedan, 1948 MG TC, and the 1941 Lincoln Continental coupe). It is still part of the MoMA permanent collection.
Building on aerodynamic
studies developed for racing cars, the Cisitalia offers one of the most accomplished examples of coachwork (the automobiles body) conceived as a single shell. The hood, body, fenders, and headlights are integral to the continuously flowing surface, rather than added on.
Before the Cisitalia, the prevailing approach followed by automobile
designers when defining a volume and shaping the shell of an automobile
was to treat each part of the body as a separate, distinct element - a box to house the passengers, another for the motor, and headlights as appendages. In the Cisitalia, there are no sharp edges. Swellings and depressions maintain the overall flow and unity, creating a sense of speed.
Since the 202 never made large scale production and all the cars were handmade, the small talented group at Cisitalia, including Carlo Abarth, Dante Giacosa and Giovanni Savonuzzi, made several variants of the 202. Of the more important versions, the SMM Nuvolari Spider was built and named after a class victory at the 1947 Mille Miglia. It is easily identified by its large rear fins, twin windscreens and usual Italian blood red paint scheme.
Partly due to expensive construction of the mid-engine, four wheel drive formula one car, designed by Ferdinand Porsche
, Cisitalia went into receivership in 1949 and was sold in 1952. In total, around 200 cars were made which made a large impact on the later marques, including Abarth's later range of cars.
Cisitalia 202 SMM
For the upcoming 1947 season, Giovanni Savonuzzi, who had designed most of the 202, sketched a coupe body for Cisitalia's competition car. The design was executed by Stabilimenti Farina upon both chassis #101 and #102. After two coupes had been finished, a spider version, Called the SMM for Spider Mille Miglia, was completed which would adorn all subsequent competition cars bearing the MM designation. At the 1947 Mille Miglia
, the Cistitalia spider really proved itself by leading most of the race in capable hands of Tazio Nuvolari
Despite having competition with engines three times larger, Nuvolari
held back the competition until troubles ensued in the rain. In the end, the Cistitalia took second overall and first in class. For this epic effort, subsequent competition spiders were known as 202 SMM Nuvolaris. Since the 202 SMM received much attention at the Mille Miglia, Stabilimenti Farina continued production of the design for several customers. In total around 20 cars were made very similar to Nuvolari's winning car.