THE WAY WE WERE

An his­toric ap­pe­tiser for this month’s clas­sic show

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News - AN­DREW ROBERTS is a film his­to­rian, un­briefed bar­ris­ter and en­thu­si­ast of mo­tor­ing cul­ture. He blames his en­tire ca­reer on hav­ing seen Carry On Cabby in 1975.

The scene, the Salone Dell'Au­to­mo­bile in Turin, the date, 1963. An­drew Roberts guides you round.

This is the Ital­ian city of Turin at the height of its post-WWII ‘Eco­nomic Mir­a­cle’. By 1963, nearly half of Ital­ian house­holds had a tele­vi­sion set and a re­frig­er­a­tor, and al­most a third of them owned a car. Where bet­ter to seek out the ex­otic four-wheeled trans­port of your

as­pi­ra­tions than the 45th Salone dell’Au­to­mo­bile, held at the im­pos­ing Palazzo della Moda e Torino Es­po­sizioni?

Of course, the term ‘ex­otic’ needs qual­i­fy­ing. The pho­tog­ra­pher has cho­sen to fo­cus on the Tri­umph stand, de­spite the fact that, just to the left, is the nose of a Fer­rari pok­ing into view from that man­u­fac­turer’s dis­play. Typ­i­cally, it’s fenced off from the pub­lic, with the usual ‘Don’t you dare touch this, riff-raff’ at­ti­tude that still af­flicts Fer­raris to­day. Per­haps our 1960s snap­per just ap­pre­ci­ated ve­hi­cles that were more ac­ces­si­ble to the av­er­age per­son.

Yet even the most mun­dane for­eign cars would have had an air of ex­clu­siv­ity, largely due to the im­port du­ties en­forced by so many coun­tries. This made a Fiat 1300 as thrilling as the prospect of an evening at the Talk of the Town with Diana Dors for the av­er­age Bri­tish sub­ur­ban­ite, but it also lends the cars on the Tri­umph stand a sense of La Dolce Vita.

Out­side the ex­hi­bi­tion hall, it would have been im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that 1963 was a time when Fiat held around 84% of its do­mes­tic car mar­ket. Lan­cia and Alfa Romeo con­tended a fur­ther 11% while the re­main­der of Ital­ian new car sales were rep­re­sented by Fer­rari, Lam­borgh­ini, Maserati and some in­trepid im­porters, who braved the cus­toms’ charges that steeply as­cended with en­gine size.

Lo­cal con­struc­tion was one method of re­duc­ing the price. Ver­sions of the Austin A40, Austin-Healey Sprite and, for 1963, the ADO16 (also known as the BMC 1100 range) were made by Innocenti. Tour­ing had also started to assem­ble the Hill­man Su­per Minx, but this was not ex­ten­sively prac­tised by Bri­tish mar­ques.

In the UK, a Her­ald be­longed in the world of New Town su­per­mar­kets, Fin­dus Fish Fin­gers and Dou­ble Your Money on ITV, and the Vitesse and Spit­fire evoked an ethos of gen­tle­man’s club blaz­ers. How­ever, to a vis­i­tor to Stan­dard-Tri­umph’s Turin stand, each ve­hi­cle on dis­play of­fered Bri­tish crafts­man­ship with Mich­e­lotti’s stylis­tic brio. As for the TR4 (think dash­ing young army cap­tain on leave from Aden) and the duo-tone 2000 sa­loon (think a slightly less dash­ing cer­ti­fied ac­coun­tant en route for a cup of tea at the Knutsford Ser­vices on the M6), th­ese would have been es­pe­cially unattain­able for most of the show at­ten­dees. The lat­ter’s six-cylin­der power plant would have meant an Ital­ian mar­ket model cost al­most dou­ble that of its UK coun­ter­part. If the vis­i­tor could tear him or her­self away from the Her­ald 12/50 with its slid­ing roof as stan­dard equip­ment, the 1963 Turin Show of­fered some very elite mo­tor cars, not least the brace of Porsche 356s just feet away from the red Spit­fire.

For those with less un­der­stand­ing bank man­agers, over the wall from the white Her­ald con­vert­ible is the show­case for an­other over­seas mar­que, al­beit one with strong Ital­ian con­nec­tions. When this pic­ture was taken, Chrysler may have owned a ma­jor­ity share in Simca, but the legacy of Fiat in its de­signs re­mained strong, as can be seen from the re­cently de­buted 1300 and 1500s and, in a rather at­trac­tive pale blue, the 1000. The So­ciété In­dus­trielle de Mé­canique et Car­rosserie Au­to­mo­bil orig­i­nally as­sem­bled the 508 Balilla and 518 Ardita, and, even by the early 1960s, Fiat still owned 20% of Simca.

Mean­while, mov­ing north­wards and par­tially masked by some hoard­ings, is a red Au­to­bianchi Bianchina Panoram­ica. At around 545,000 Lire, this was more ex­pen­sive than the Fiat it was based on, but the Bianchina was aimed at a more middle-class buyer than the orig­i­nal 500 ‘Bam­bina’. How­ever, it was still much too sen­si­ble for any mo­torist who craved the so­cial ca­chet of ‘a for­eign car’.

That ca­chet would have been more than catered for by a splen­did ar­ray of Opels, a brand that would have been equally un­fa­mil­iar to many Ital­ian and Bri­tish mo­torists (they would not be of­fi­cially im­ported into the UK un­til 1967). The two-tone Rekord B was, at least, more af­ford­able than the oc­cu­pants of the neigh­bour­ing Cadil­lac stand, which at­tracted a sur­charge of some 150%!

Even that 1960s icon of ev­ery­man mo­tor­ing, the Mor­ris Mini Mi­nor, would have ex­uded a whiff of chic deca­dence in such aus­pi­cious com­pany. Or maybe that’s just down to the two dolly birds in the bi­sected ex­am­ple seen in the in­set pic at top right?

In­ci­den­tally, if you’re a Mini en­thu­si­ast or clas­sic Bri­tish film buff, this dis­tinc­tively-roofed hall might seem fa­mil­iar. That’s be­cause it was later used as a lo­ca­tion in the cli­mac­tic car chase in The Ital­ian Job, al­beit in a scene dropped from the 1969 movie where the Mi­nis waltz around three Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia cop cars, while the Turin Sym­phony Or­ches­tra plays The Blue Danube in the back­ground. De­spite be­ing beau­ti­fully filmed and chore­ographed, it ended up on the cut­ting room floor be­cause it slowed down the movie. It was re­dis­cov­ered by Chan­nel 4 in 1998 and is now on YouTube and in the DVD ex­tras.

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