1958 FIAT 1200TV Spider
Chassis no. 103G 115 001850
Engine no. 103G 004 411504
For nearly 20 years, Fiat's mid-range 508 and 1100 models had been the mainstay of middle class Italians. Since 1934 combined production had reached 275,000. For 1953, an all-new car was introduced, a unitary sedan with rear-hinged front doors. Designated 1100-103 (103 for its project number) it retained the earlier 1,098 cc ohv four, horsepower now rated at 36. A Turismo Veloce (fast touring) version with higher compression and a two-barrel carburetor became available, raising horsepower initially to 50, then to 53 in 1956. A five-door station wagon was added to the line, then a two-seat cabriolet.
Called by Fiat "Trasformabile" (Italian for convertible), the cabriolet is generally considered the work of Fiat's design director Fabio Luigi Rapi. Teasingly voluptuous, it had a forward-leaning stance. Divided mesh grilles at the front were complimented by a wrap-around windshield. The haunches were understated, but set off with a broad, slightly-diagonal molding. Trasformabiles were soon given the TV engine. There was an adjustable steering wheel and roll-up windows provided comfort in all weather. The term "spider" for a two-seat, open car has become so eponymous that it is commonly applied to these progenitors of the later Fiat 124 Spider.
For 1958, the TV option was effectively replaced by a larger 1,221 cc engine, which developed 55 bhp in standard form. A "Granluce" (full light, or large windows) version of the sedan was introduced, with a revised greenhouse, front-hinged front doors and the 1200 engine. The "TV" suffix, however, had become so associated with the Spider that it was retained and added to the new "1200" designation. The Spider's seats now swiveled for easier entry and egress.
The 1958 model Spider is unique, in the sense that it marries the 1200 engine to the "old" Rapi-designed body. For 1959 new lines would grace the Spider, which, while cleaner and simpler, drained away some of its charm.
A copy of a letter on file from Fiat Auto in May 1982 confirms that this baby blue TV was built in September 1957 and invoiced to Fiat Motors of New York on December 16, 1957. Written to an address in Milan, it is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that the car was by that stage of its life in Italy again. More likely is that the researcher chose to use a locally based friend to procure the information they required. The car was certainly in America in the early 1990s when it arrived in the collection, and writing later on the former owner Webb Key of Midwest City, Oklahoma in June 1982, confirmed that it had previously been in Wichita Falls, Texas, although he knew not of previous owners which suggests it had been this side of the Atlantic all of its life until this time.
The story of this car's purchase is a typical case of nostalgia based on sibling rivalry. A gift for the elder brother upon acceptance to Harvard, the car was soon taken back after a series of minor youthful indiscretions, putting an end to the siblings' competition as the offer was not repeated for his junior brother!
The idea of the beauty of the diminutive "trasformabile" remained in the mind of the younger son and as the collection of Italiana began to build, it wasn't long before there was a chance to avenge the disparity of his youth. Not only did he acquire a TV, but he subsequently had it restored to precisely the same blue and white livery of the car that his brother had once had. This work was carried out by Born Again Classic Ltd. of Ronkonkoma in the early 1990s for which there are invoices on file in excess of $31,000.
Since that time the car has been much admired, enjoyed and used here in America and also traveled with its owners to be used for a while in Israel. Today, the car can best be described now as an older restoration, but retains every ounce of its charm nonetheless.