THE WAY WE WERE
An historic appetiser for this month’s classic show
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.