LightAuto

Famous Designers.

Danti Giacosa.

Mini Biography.

Danti Giacosa's was one of the greatest light car designers of all time. His work covered a large range from minicars to sports car. Using all the different layouts as and when they were the best solution at the time to meet the design parameters.
Born in 1905, he studied engineering at the Turin Polytechnic until 1927. After completing his compulsory military service he joined Fiat 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.

Danti Giasosa

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 569cc 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 syncromesh gearbox, also excellent hydraulic brakes. With fuel consumption around 50mpg and a maximum speed of 55mph, but with handling good enough to allow average speeds of 40mph. Between 1936 when first introduced until the end of production in 1948, 122,000  were made of this original version.
Fiat 500
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 1100cc 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 Danti Giacosa led a team that developed the Fiat 508CMM a streamlined coupe. Fiat used the car to win the 1100cc 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 until1953.

Fiat 508C

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 Lira equal to around 1000 UK Pounds. The space-frame chassis was constructed using steel tubes and the body consisted of light alloy panels. The Fiat 1100cc engine that was fitted to the car was tuned to produce 60 BHP. A maximum speed of 108MPH was claimed. A batch of twenty cars was laid down in 1946 and the cars were raced successfully throughout the rest of the 1940's.

Fiat 508cmm
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 Danti 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 75MPH and a fuel consumption of 28MPG. 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  produced in eight years.

His next lightcar design was the 1100-103; this model perpetuated the name Millecento previously given to the 508C. This Millicento 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 O.H.V. inline four-cylinder engine of 1089cc, that at first produced 33 B.H.P. rising to 44 B.H.P. 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 1221cc engine.) the Millicento was in production until 1970 and one and three quarter million examples had been produced.

Fiat 1100-103

Next Giacosa and his team designed a replacement for the 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  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 633cc, due to its low weight of eleven and one half hundredweight and also compact dimensions. Capable of almost 60 MPH and returning a fuel consumption of 45 to 55 miles per gallon and the ability to cruise at 50 MPH. He overcame the stability problems associated with other rear engined design's 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.

Fiat 600
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  utilised in a forward control unitary body with zero crumple zone and only a small increase in wheelbase to accommodate three rows of seats. Over seventy six thousand of this first version of the Multipla  produced by 1963. The 600 was replaced by the 600D in 1960.The engine size was increased to 767cc, with a maximum speed up to 70 MPH. 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  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. 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 kilos. The 479cc engines in the early production cars  so under powered with only 13 BHP that they  recalled and an up rated engine that produced 16.5 BHP was fitted. The final 500F of 1965 had a 499cc engine producing 18 BHP, sufficient to get to 70 MPH and a fuel consumption of 55 MPG. In 1960 Fiat introduced the "Gardinera", a 499cc 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 five hundred and seventy kilos, it was newer a four seat car with a luggage area over the engine. In parallel with the Fiat models, the "500", platforms  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 Gardinera platform  produced. A version of the Nuova 500 was made by Styr-Puch in Austria in 1957, with their own flat-twin air-cooled engine and swing axle drive and suspension. The Styr 650TR of 1965 to 1969, was the hottest 500 model made and a competent rally car.

Steyr produced Nuova 500
Fiat introduced a roomier four-seat two-door saloon in 1964, to run alongside the "600". The "850", had an 843cc 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 coupe and spyder versions using the "850", platform with an engine that produced 47 BHP at 6200 RPM, later 52 BHP from a 903cc engine. A total of over a half of a million of these  produced by 1972. Spyder production had ceased by 1973. Many special versions  produced by the legion of specialist coachbuilders at work in Italy at the time. The "850", saloon and coupe models  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 1221cc 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 it's 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 594cc, producing 23 BHP and a top speed of 65 MPH. The 126 was in production until 1987 and almost two million examples  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/ off set 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 128
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.
After reading the above, I hope you agree that my opening statement was not exaggerated and that we are unlikely to see his like again.
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