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1938 Fiat 500 Sport Vendrame

Chassis no. 500*040806*
Engine no. 5207450
Coachbuilder Carrozzeria Vendrame
One of only two Fiat 500 barchetta built by Tullio Vendrame on a so called “balestra corta” chassis with this body. It features a special Testa Marino head. 

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no. 2 manufactured

The little “Topolino” is one of the most reknown and iconic car, even beyond the cars’ world. Born in 1930s’, it was the vehicle of the Italian renaissance before that the postwar new models hit the roads. It’s the car that brought Italy from two wheels (with or without an engine) to four, it was a car meant to be essential and cheap, but it seems that anyone wanted to race it. The origins of the car are quite adventurous, in 1930 Benito Mussolini talked to Giovanni Agnelli, senator of the kingdom, about the imperative need of a low-cost car for the masses. It was a good idea for the “propaganda”, followed by the Germany of Adolf Hitler, where Ferdinand Porsche was suddenly called to build the Volkswagen, “the car for the people”. As the car should cost less than Lit. 5000, the task was arduous. FIAT chief designer Antonio Fessia turned the task to a young engineer he believed to be the right man for the job: Dante Giacosa. He scaled down the previous Balilla project simplifying anything, while the body lines were inspired by the FIAT 1500 with a smooth bonnet, good for airflow and visibility. The aeronautical experience of Giacosa inspired the lightened double rails chassis with the engine (a 569cc, 4 cylinder side-valve) cantilever mounted to improve space inside. Even before going into production, everyone named the car the “Topolino”, part for the size, part from the mouse-alike front, resembling the successful Walt Disney’s character Mickey Mouse: Topolino, in Italy. Howewer, the official name was FIAT 500, in order to comply with autarchy rules. The car was presented in June 10, 1936 at Villa Torlonia, and the price was of Lit. 8.900, higher than the goal of Lit. 5.000 and really high for a common worker, but the car sold anyway. The car evolved in the years. In 1938 the first technical changing: the “quarter” rear leafsprings (the so called “balestrino” or “balestra corta”) became standard half leafspings to improve the carrying capacity. FIAT 500 until 1948 are now called “500A”.

The Topolino was often modified, from mildly to radically, for the races. Workshop, body shops, small factories and artisans built their ultimate version. Some just cut the roof, someone else built barchetta roadsters on tubular chassis, while the engine grew up to the 750 cc category limit to the most possible power. At the Mille Miglia, for example, 95% of the 750 cc Sport cars were registered as Fiat, although the Turin-based company never built roadsters, barchette or racing coupès. One of these Sport-Topolino was the 500 Sport Vendrame. Among the so-called “minor” coachbuilders, a place certainly belongs to Tullio Vendrame. A brilliant artisan, came from a work experience at the aeronautical factory CAPRONI, where he learned to treat aluminum and its alloys. The bodyshop was set on the traditional repair of everyday cars, but Vendrame could not resist the proposals that came from fans in the area, local specialists who wanted bodies fitted for competition. One of these was Fioravante Zanussi: he always relied on Vendrame to “dress” his prototypes and those of its customers.

This 500 Sport Vendrame was built on the basis of a 1938 Fiat 500 chassis 040806, the so called “balestra corta” (short leafspring) or, later, 500A type. It was bodied as a “barchetta” sport, in duralumin, by Tullio Vendrame of Mareno di Piave, Treviso in 1949 for Francesco Giacomini of Padua, who wanted to race the Mille Miglia. The car was completed in 1952 but, in the meantime, the owner has died. The car was then sold to Egidio Motti, who used it in some races. The engine is peculiar for the adoption of the famous special “Testa Marino” OHV aluminum head by Marino Brandoli, who also reworked rods and pistons. The engine is fueled by a special intake with two single Weber carburetors. The displacement goes well beyond the original, up to 626 cc, but the engine is really affordable as a third extra main bearing was added. Any detail was conceived to race and to be affordable. The car was completely restored and had a second intense life in historical re-enactments. In 2005 the 500 Sport Vendrame was show at the automobile museum “Luigi Bonfanti” in Romano d’Ezzelino (VI) at the exhibition “Fiat Topolino. Settant’anni da ricordare”. En exhaustive promenade through the story of the car, with several specials on show. Among the other re-enactments, the 500 Sport Vendrame counts several participations to the renowned “Le mitiche sport a Bassano”. Completely restored and meticulously brought back to any original detail.