1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142

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Lot 166
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater
Registration no. RU-3990 Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142

Sold for £ 6,900 (US$ 9,232) inc. premium
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater
Coachwork by Short Brothers, Rochester

Registration no. RU-3990
Chassis no. 12522710
Engine no. 11528142
When George Milligen bought his farm in Norfolk he was, not unnaturally, reluctant to use his 30-98 Vauxhall as an all-purpose farm runabout, so he bought this charming little Fiat in South Kensington for £50 in October 1933. Its original owner had been a Miss Madge Preston of the Sandbanks Hotel in Bournemouth. From what had obviously been a pampered life by the seaside, the Fiat now had to work hard for its living, even being used as a hay sweep at harvest time!

The late Michael Sedgwick described the 25:1 first gear of the Fiat 501 as “the underdrive to end all underdrives” – Fiat tested its cars up the tortuous ascent of the steep and winding Superga hill that rose out of its home city of Turin – but it was precisely that low bottom gear that had attracted George Milligen. Though he gave the little Fiat what he recalled as a “very rough time”, he retained sentimental feelings towards it and maintained it with care - it received the same meticulous servicing as his more glamorous cars. It has certainly proved its durability.

The 1.5-litre Fiat 501 was the first mass-produced car to be built in Italy, and some 46,000 rolled out of Fiat’s state-of-the-art factory at Lingotto, with its famed roof-top test track, between 1919 and 1926. It was designed by Fiat’s chief engineer Cavalli for simplicity of production, and used, he claimed, only 52 ball-bearings in the whole chassis, as opposed to a thousand for a comparable prewar design.
It was a more robust design than many of its contemporaries – for instance, it had full pressure lubrication while most light cars of the day relied on splash lubrication, and it had a pump and fan where many small cars simply had thermosyphon cooling systems. But it was also expensive, and at £550 in 1923 a 501 tourer cost the same as an Austin Twelve.

Where it scored was in terms of refinement – what Michael Sedgwick referred to as “its combination of sewing machine silence (the 23 brake horses were delivered at a sedate 2600 rpm), smoothness of running and incredible durability” – and performance, with a top speed in the region of 50 mph.

British customers demanded something better than the standard Italian bodywork, so many of the cars brought into this country were fitted with bodywork by Short Brothers of Rochester, looking to fill the peacetime downturn in aircraft orders. Indeed, this attractive little car is one of those Short-bodied examples, its “501B” designation indicating that it has the four-wheel brakes and balloon tyres that were offered from mid-1923.
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142
1926 Fiat 501B Two-seater  Chassis no. 12522710 Engine no. 11528142
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