1947 FIAT 508S Ala d' Oro
All photography work is copyrighted by the author and the owners of the special classic, please don't download and publish these pictures in the internet without permission! Vasileios Papaidis 2020 © All Rights Reserved
Strange bird with golden wings
Cryptic Title? Please be patient, explanation will follow. The story about this probably unique racing car is another typical example of Italian car improvisation. Of course, not everything that matters is documented, but the result is still astonishing in various ways. This is a Fiat 1100 "Ala d'Oro", let's just call it for now.
The years immediately after the Second World War are turbulent times, to say the least. That is certainly the case in Italy, which due to the political choices of Benito Mussolini must be counted among the losers of that war. In any case, the Allies are largely in control. That has good and bad sides. In order to stay within our sphere of interest: an American, "Wacky" Arnolt, drags Bertone away from the edge of the abyss and the abandoned military trucks and related vehicles form the basis for Ferruccio Lamborghini for his later tractor factory. As an aircraft manufacturer, it is a lot more difficult. Not only has the demand for combat aircraft suddenly dried up, aircraft manufacturers such as the Officine Meccaniche Reggiane in Reggio Emilia are even banned from building aircraft. Well what then? Fortunately there is Franco Bertani. We do not know much about this man, but he was already active in motor sport before the war with early creations by Stanguellini. He sees an opportunity to use both the aerodynamic expertise and the aircraft builders' ability to form aluminum in a different way: to build super-streamlined racing cars. We nuch-
Tender Northerners would say: the war-ravaged country has no other, major needs, but hey, this is Italy! Against all the oppression of those days, Cisitalia is already building a series of racing cars for a competition with technically equal opportunities. Enzo Ferrari launches its first real Ferraris in 1947 and in the same year the first post-war Mille Miglia will also be held on 21 and 22 June.
The exact origin of, Ala d'Oro, the name of Bertani's bodywork factory is not entirely clear. Literally translated, it is "golden wing" and a reference to the company's past as an aircraft manufacturer. It is funny that Aermacchi, also originally an aircraft manufacturer, started producing motorcycles after the war and also gained fame with an Ala d'Oro, albeit later than the coachbuilder. Either way, Bertani is very serious. He makes sure that aircraft designer Edmondo del Cupolo ("dome": how appropriate) keeps spaghetti on his plate and hires Aurelio Lampredi for his expertise in automotive engines. Aurelio is still an unknown young man, barely thirty years old. Later Lampredi designed the large Ferrari V12 and in the 1960s he gave very normal utility cars a touch of sportiness at Fiat. Given the pre-war relationship, it is logical that Bertani also contacts Stanguellini again. According to the documentation on that sports car brand, five copies of the Stanguellini 1100 with Ala d'Oro fairing body were built. It is a logical mistake to think that the blue / gray starring on these pages is one of them. But unfortunately, that's not right. Incidentally, d Ala d'Oro is not really a success as a company. The company was founded in early 1947, but in '49 Bertani pulled the plug to become director of the automobile club in Reggio Emilia. It is not clear how many cars the company has built. I have been able to determine eight of them with certainty, there may be a little more, but even the greatest optimist does not get further than "a few dozen”.
Rob Peters, owner of this possibly completely unique Ala d'Oro since the beginning of this year, has delved deep into the research after purchase and has been able to find out a lot through the archive of the Mille Miglia museum. Makes sense, if you have something so special, don't you want to know everything about it? Another name comes into play: Alberico Cacciari. He is one of the many Italian amateur drivers and the prospect of the first post-war Mille Miglia stirs up a lot for him, just like many others. In daily life, Cacciari has a metal goods company in Bologna and also has connections with Stanguellini. How do we know all that? Oh, simple, we saw the man's correspondence on his company's letterhead. A brand new racing car is apparently a bit too much for him, but he does want to participate seriously. He buys (the remains of?) A Fiat 508 S "Coppa d'Oro" with Ghia bodywork from 1934. Those are very nice and sweet cars, but hup, that old-fashioned bodywork has to be removed anyway. The technical base of the 508 S is used for what is arguably Ala d'Oro's first aerodynamic body. Indeed, "maybe", because there is certainly nothing for small manufacturers in the adventurous time of post-war reconstruction. A thoroughbred Stanguellini racing engine apparently also exceeds the budget. Cacciari has a new Fiat 1100 engine installed, but that is of course quite tickled, including two Weber carburettors. It is not known who will take care of that engine. Lampredi? That is quite possible. Due to this state of affairs, the car still has chassis number 508 S 043454, which corresponds to the base car from 1934.
Not only does the car get that great streamline body, but also the finely shaped, removable hard top. There is one known photo of a Stanguellini 1100 Ala d'Oro with such the same hardtop, the other copies do not have that, or it is not used. There is still something nice going on in between. On May 2, 1947, Cacciari registers the car for the Mille Miglia, with Fernando Fabbri as navigator, but as part of Squadra Stanguellini. As the year of construction, Cacciari now suddenly states "1947" and the registration fee is 15,000 Lire. According to the last known exchange rate that is about fifteen guilders, but that is considerably more in 1947; In order to stimulate the Italian economy, the Lira has since been devalued several times, a convenient patch for tourists and exporters that cannot be used since the introduction of the euro. Rob has found correspondence between Cacciari and the Mille Miglia organization. In it, he asks whether it is true that his car should be red. He is in fact blue. Where, then, would that requirement have come from? Is it because it is an Italian registration, or does Stanguellini think so? The organization replies that it does not matter, they are probably happy with every registration. The strange thing is that a second registration form has also surfaced. That is from exactly one month later: June 2, 1947. Stanguellini is no longer mentioned, Cacciari simply registers his blue Ala d'Oro under his own name. The team Cacciari / Fabbri will be assigned start number 100. The Mille Miglia does not yet use the system with the start time as the start number. In the evening at 11:18 pm they will start on the course that is 1,823 kilometers long for this edition. By the way, this is the first Mille Miglia to be driven clockwise on the map; before the war it was exactly the other way around. Nobody knows why this has changed. For the first time, the arrow in the logo of the race also points to the right, no longer to the left. And again no one knows why, but it could be related.
Ah, how gladly we would have written here that Cacciari and Fabbri have achieved an impressive performance with this blue Ala d'Oro. That is not the case. "Ritirati" reports the MM "Identikit", or dropped out, already on the first leg, they never saw Rome, at least not this time. Incidentally, "our blue" is the only Ala d'Oro in that Mille Miglia of 1947, none of the Stanguellini's with the same body shape appears at the start. That makes me think that this blue one may have been the first. A year later, in the Mille Miglia of 1948, two Stanguellini Ala d'Oro's are present, plus a Fiat 1100 Ala d'Oro under starting number 319, owned by Braga and Baistrocchi. Could that have been "our blue" again, or was there a second one? Both are unknown, but they are quite possible.
Back to the current time. The blue / gray Ala d'Oro has been a well-known appearance for several years. To be honest, I thought for a while that there are more of them, but it just turns out to be the same car all the time. In any case, it has already competed in the Mille Miglia several times and I remember that it was for sale at Auto e Moto d'Epoca in Padova in 2016. How did Rob get it? "I have ridden the Mille Miglia twice with my Siata Amica. Nice car, but I still wanted some more power. I had more demands, because I wanted to be able to drive it openly, with the steering wheel on the left, and it had to be a car from, let me say, before 1950 at least. I tell that to a friendly relationship like that, an MM participant himself, and purely by coincidence he managed to say that this Ala d'Oro was for sale again. After “Padova” the car was sold, but it was available again at the beginning of this year. The Ala d'Oro met my requirements and I took it immediately. Only then did I try to get as much as possible about the car above water. I also tested it for about a thousand kilometers. You have to get used to such a car and I have made a few very small modifications, which do not harm the car. For example, the entire sofa is tilted back a few degrees to have more support in the thighs and the backrest is also slightly further back. I wrapped that razor-sharp switch on the windshield wiper motor in foam plastic, because it is exactly at the height of my forehead. If I shoot forward one time, I have that thing on my head. I ride the MM with my wife Tinie and especially for her convenience I have mounted a handle on the underside of the dashboard. "But uhhh ... you mainly drove open right? 'Yes correct. The entire hardtop is mounted with eight bolts, which is easily removed. It includes a separate two-part windscreen, which we took with us in a crate in the service vehicle, which is then placed on it. I also just have two number plates on the back: one on the hardtop and one on the body. Look, if it would rain a lot for a day and that is known in advance, we can still decide to use the hard top. The whole construction still led to some consternation during the technical inspection. I got one approval sticker from such a lady, but I have two windscreens that I can use. Well, a judge had to come along. I explained it and got a second sticker. "
Another special thing happened during the technical inspection. Rob: "At one point I see a somewhat stocky, older man looking attentively at my car. Somehow I feel like I know him, from a photo or something. That turns out to be correct. It appears in several older photos of the car, as this is Tonino Camilli, a previous owner, who already drove the MM in 2002. Communication is difficult, because he doesn't speak a word of English and my Italian isn't much. He immediately sees what I have adjusted and knows a lot to tell me in a short time. The car seems to have competed in the Giro di Sicilia in 1951, but then it already had a different front. He discovered it sometime in the early 1990s in a shed on the coast. The body was red at the time (red: it was then!), The hardtop was off and it had another front. I saw pictures of it, it didn't look like it, reminded me of a bumper car from the fair. Tonino had the car completely restored at Faralli & Mazzanti in Pisa. He is a restorer who is bursting with work and can hardly be found on the internet ". The Lancia Astura Castagna, which won the Paleis' t Loo competition last year and even Villa d'Este in 2016, appears to have been restored there as well, but that aside. "They really took the car apart completely and thus discovered old, blue paint. This made it relatively easy to trace which car it was. Tonino had the car until a few years ago and since then it has kind of moved from one to the other, but now I have it and I love it. To be honest, I didn't really like it at first, but something like that will turn out to be fine over time. "Beautiful or not beautiful, does it matter? This is such a special car that something like that no longer counts.
Today we first see the Ala d'Oro on a lift bridge. A great opportunity to view it from below. Incredible. This was probably Ala d'Oro's work: really every strip of metal, every bar is perforated, with nice round holes, to reduce the weight as much as possible. It is not known exactly how much, or better, how little the car weighs, because the RDW requires at the registration inspection that the tank (of eighty liters!) Is half full and adds the weight of a driver for the registration number. Fortunately, the FIVA pass has a number of technical data to be found.
Time to start driving. Rob starts the Ala d'Oro and we are again amazed by the car. What a throat! Moments later I am sitting next to Rob in the narrow cockpit on the right-hand seat. I am starting to understand better and better why you prefer a long ride without that hardtop. The sound lingers tremendously. Because of the temperature, I am soon glad that there are no side windows in it, and the short version of the "Targa di Veluwe" that we will be riding prior to the photo session already hits my head once.
From the photo location back to home, Rob allows me to ride the Ala d'Oro. Nice ... when I get in! OK, I'm naturally not too gymnastic. The tiny door open, right leg in, body in. Now I have to squeeze to get my leg under the big handlebars, while my left leg is still outside. The door is only just big enough for a size 43, but it takes both hands and foot work to get in. Contact, starting is done with a lever with a rubber hose attached, somewhere under the dashboard. "Vroaap!", The revitalized Fiat 1100 engine sounds like you imagine when you read old Michel Vaillant comics. The standing pedals work nice and light, when driving off in the loose gravel the right rear wheel continues to rotate. Slow down to two. That's fine, three too. The fourth gear is a bit more laborious and only with very smooth shifting and a short re-clutch will it go without creaking. So not the first few times. The purely mechanically driven tachometer needle makes cheerful jumps, the speedometer is quite far out of sight and deviates according to
Rob at least 10 percent off. Well, what does speed say? On the scale of driving pleasure, the Ala d'Oro scores excellent, that is much more important. Performance is particularly lively, especially due to the car's low weight. The seating position takes getting used to, but I will have to do with it, because there is nothing adjustable. It's almost cursing in church, but the whole attitude reminds me a lot of a Jaguar XK120 I once drove: upright and close to the special, large, almost vertical steering wheel. The view is great. At the front, I can see the curve of the front, with the start of the waterfall-like grille. It's even crazier in the interior mirror positioned on the dashboard. Which car has four rear windows? The large steering wheel turns remarkably light, but feels a bit dead, there is no clear straight-ahead position. Just don't send, that's also possible. Downshifting with a big dot of intermediate throttle is a party. We will soon be back at Rob's house. I have an impression of this extremely strange bird with golden wings. On the way home I suddenly find my Bertone so quiet …
Thanks for texts from issue by Corsa Italia.
FIAT 508 S / 1100 ALA D'ORO, 1934/1947
> 1.089 CC FOUR-IN-LINE ENGINE, HEAD VALVES, TWO 32 MM WEBER CARBS, 60 HP / 44 KW@5,200 RPM.
> TRANSMISSION FOUR-BUCKET, REAR DRIVE
> TIRES 145 -15. > L X B X H 395 X 155 X 130 CM.
> WHEELBASE 240 CM.
> WEIGHT 610 KG (ESTIMATED).
> TANK 80 LITERS.
> TOP ± 160 KM / H.
> CONSUMPTION ONB.
> PRODUCTION 1 Á 2
Also copyrighted photos from Desiree Peters, Nick Veldkamp!
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