Automotive design has come a long way since the invention of the automobile. Pioneers like the Benz Patentwagen (Patent Motor Car) and even the Ford Model T were still heavily reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages, minus the horses, of course. And while the 1930s were a golden era of coach-built vehicles, your average motorized transportation still featured an ancient, carriage-like design. But the game-changer in car design that would set the tone for decades to come is not a high-end exotic made by the likes of Ferrari or Lamborghini. It is a compact coupe with humble underpinnings from a manufacturer that no longer exists – the Cisitalia 202.
The Cisitalia 202 Was Not The First To Challenge The Status Quo
front 3/4 view of a 1947 Cisitalia 202 coupe in museum
The Cisitalia 202 was not the first attempt to evolve car design from the horse carriage roots. Cars like the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, which featured a more streamlined design, were among the first attempts to make cars rounder. Unfortunately, the model was a commercial failure and a classic case of being too revolutionary for its time.
Two years later, in 1936, another attempt came from Italian carmaker Fiat. The 500 Topolino was a sub-compact model and a predecessor to the Fiat 500. Like the Airflow, it featured a more streamlined design, and with 520,000 units produced, it was a commercial success. However, in both Chrysler’s and Fiat’s cases, one remnant of the old design era remained – the heavily pronounced wheel arches. The wheels were no longer exposed, but they still looked like a separate section of the car’s front end. In 1946, the Cisitalia 202 would change that.
The 1940 Nash 600 was the first vehicle to head towards integrating the front wings and making them flush with the rest of the front section. Unlike the Chrysler Airflow and Fiat Topolino, the wheel arches were more flush with the body, although they were still heavily exaggerated. The 1946 Cisitalia 202 brought massive change, finally integrating the wheel arches into the rest of the body, forming what would, eventually, become the benchmark for modern automotive design.
Italian Design At Its Finest
rear 3/4 view of a 1947 Cisitalia 202 coupe
The Cisitalia 202 was commissioned by founder Pierro Dusio. The project was the build a sleek, sports car, while using the engine, transmission, and suspension of the Fiat 1100 and integrating them into a bespoke, tubular, chrome-molybdenum steel frame. Designing the all-aluminum body was entrusted to Pininfarina, more specifically Giovanni Savonuzzi, who had previously worked at Fiat Aeronautics. A few different versions were developed by Carlo Abarth, Dante Giacosa, and Giovanni Savonuzzi, all of which involved with Cisitalia at the time. In addition to the various Cisitalia 202 coupe models, there was the 202 CMM fintail coupe, SMM Spider Nuvolary, which won a class victory at the 1947 Mille Miglia, and the 202 MM Cassone, which was a fixed-had version of the competition model.
The Cisitalia 202 Featured Humble But Capable Underpinnings
front 3/4 action shot of a Cisitalia 202 Spyder Mille Miglia
Almost all the mechanical elements of the Cisitalia 202 came from the 1937 Fiat 1100. The compact family car’s 1.1-liter, inline-four overhead-valve engine was revised to produce up to 70 horsepower (52 kilowatts) in the Cisitalia. This was a big jump from the donor car’s 32 horsepower (42 kilowatts). Power went to the rear axle through a four-speed manual.
The Cisitalia 202 weighed 1,455 to 1,719 pounds (660 to 780 kg), depending on the version. The most capable version was able to reach speeds of up to 109 mph (175 km /h). In 1952, Cisitalia’s last production year, four or five 202 D were made. Those were high-performance models featuring a much-larger, 2.8-liter, BPM Marine engine with 185 horsepower (138 kilowatts), and a De Dion solid rear-axle from the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT. Those were specifically designed to enter the 1952 Mille Miglia, where they were driven by Cisitalia founder, Piero Dusio, and his son, Carlo Dusio.
Fiat actually beat Cisitalia with its own Fiat 1100-based sports car, named the Fiat 508 C Mille Miglia. The car won its class in the 1938 Mille Miglia, achieving an average speed of 70 mph (112 km/h). In 1939, the model was aerodynamically optimized, and thanks to a 42-horsepower version of the Fiat 1100 engine, it could reach a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h). Although the design was equally as innovative as the Cisitalia 202, the 508 C Mille Miglia was an exercise in building a race car with road-car underpinnings, giving the Cisitalia credit for the design revolution.
Too Rare To See In Person
front 3/4 view of a 1947 Cisitalia 202 Berlinetta
Between 1946 and 1952, between 170 and 200 units of the Cisitalia 202 were made, with most being made by Pininfarina with a smaller portion of them by Vignale, Stamblienti Farina, the latter of which set apart by the split-windscreen and rear tailfins. The majority of Cisitalia 202 examples made are represented by the more mainstream Berlinetta (coupe) models. Supposedly, very few examples survive to this day, which makes the 202 even more of a unicorn. So, there you have it. One of the most influential post-war Pininfarina designs does not come from Ferrari or Lamborghini but a forgotten company that went defunct in 1963. One thing, however, is not surprising – it’s Italian.