The Rearview Mirror: The Founding of Fiat

The first Fiat, the Fiat 3-1/2 Liter

For most Americans, the to start with time they listened to the name Fiat was when the Italian automaker acquired a sizeable stake in Chrysler Corp. just after it declared personal bankruptcy in 2009. Not extensive immediately after, the Fiat 500 arrived, alongside with a unsuccessful try to become the next hot small motor vehicle manufacturer a la Mini.

But the organization has American roots that day to the transform of the 20th Century — even for a longer period in Italy. For the duration of this week in 1899, Fiat is established by Giovanni Agnelli.

The begin of a relatives empire

Giovanni Agnelli, founder of Fiat

Agnelli was born in Italy’s Villar Perosa in 1866, later attending the Collegio San Giuseppe in Turin. He enlists in the military services right after graduating and performing as a cavalry officer there until 1893, when he learns of a incredibly hot new invention: the “horseless car or truck.” 

One particular this kind of vehicle is getting crafted by Ceirano GB & C car firm in Turin. Founded in Oct 1888 by Giovanni Battista Ceirano, the enterprise begins setting up the Welleyes car in 1899. In the meantime, at the similar time throughout town, Agnelli establishes Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Italian Motor vehicle Manufacturing unit of Turin, with a group of buyers. Later on, the company shortens its title to Fiat. 

Agnelli knows a superior thing when he sees it, buying the Wellseye’s patents and production amenities that similar yr. Giovanni joins Agnelli as the Wellseye becomes the foundation for the company’s 1st model: the Fiat 4 HP.

Thirty-5 people labored in Fiat’s very first manufacturing unit when it at first opened in 1900. Agnelli was the youngest of the three founders of the enterprise, performing as secretary to the board, but in 1902, he is promoted to taking care of director. 

Fiat’s American adventure

The first Fiat manufacturing facility in Turin, Italy.

As a outcome of Agnelli’s management, Fiat opens a dealership in New York Metropolis in 1906, selling imported Fiats to such prospects this sort of as August Anheuser Busch Sr. of the St. Louis-centered brewing organization that bears his title. In contrast to these days, where Fiat is identified for its diminutive, affordably priced vehicles like the 500 and 500X crossover, a century back, it was quite the opposite the company designed massive luxurious touring autos and limousines. 

By 1910, is Italy’s most significant automaker.

It’s about this time that Agnelli builds the company’s to start with overseas producing web-site in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Generating an American factory at that time was unconventional for a European company like Fiat. Wall Street, which in 1909 furnished funding for the American Fiat Automobile Company, applauds the final decision. Though Agnelli inexplicably installed diamond service provider Ben Eichberg as American Fiat’s president, other senior officials experienced worked at automakers, together with Pope-Toldeo, Lozier and Thomas. On top of that, given that “The Horseless Age” magazine’s board included Fiat’s treasurer John Treas, exceptional protection was confirmed. The company’s automobiles ended up designed in Turin and developed in Poughkeepsie, with royalties paid to its Italian relative on just about every car sold.

Fiat’s initially foreign manufacturing unit in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

What they sold

The company’s initial model was the 4-cylinder, 30-horsepower Form 54. In 1912, the more substantial Form 56, a seven-passenger Touring car crafted significantly for the American industry, was launched. It experienced a massive 8.6-liter L-head 6-cylinder motor that was mated to an unsynchronized 4-velocity guide transmission and rear mechanical drum brakes to develop 45 horsepower. The 42-horsepower four-cylinder Form 55 debuted in 1913, even though the adhering to calendar year, the 25-horsepower four-cylinder Variety 53 arrived. With four products presented, 1914 would turn out to be the company’s early large stage.

A turning level

American-developed Fiats in the company’s factory in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Photograph Credit score: Simeone Foundation Museum

Nonetheless, greater production capacity was needed, “something the Italian house owners are at existing not able, or unwilling to undertake,” documented The Poughkeepsie Everyday Eagle at the time, introducing that Fiat was very profitable and prepared to increase just after the war. Nonetheless, the moment Fiat in Italy acquired the American business enterprise in 1917, the Form 55 became the only product accessible until eventually the stop of the yr, when production ended as a end result of Earth War I.

Numerous trade publications stated in February 1918 that Duesenberg Motors of Elizabeth, New Jersey acquired the products from the Fiat facility to broaden the output of Bugatti aircraft engines. Fiat officers promised to start out earning automobiles in Poughkeepsie right up until new gear was established up at the factory by the center of 1918, but it by no means happened. The manufacturing unit was shut down.

Advertisement for an American-designed Fiat

The relaxation of the tale

Fiat employed much more than 30,000 personnel and ran its Turin facilities at complete capacity during World War I, giving ammunition to the Italian armed forces. Inspite of Italy’s changeover to communism, the corporation would continue on to grow and sooner or later rank amid the premier industrial corporations in the entire world. Agnelli was in charge up till 1945, when the Italian Committee of Nationwide Liberation compelled him out of the corporation. In 1966, the Agnelli relatives reclaimed ownership of Fiat.

But it was for the duration of the submit-Entire world War II period that Fiat re-entered the American sector, even though numbers were modest at greatest. The firm did not make a concerted effort at exporting to the United States until 1957. Whichever income good results the enterprise relished was dissipating by the late 1970s. In 1986, Fiat withdrew from the American sector as soon as again.

John Elkann at Ferrari Market Day 2022 close
Chairman John Elkann speaks at the begin of the company’s Cash Sector Working day event.

Yet the firm returned to America in 2009, buying 20% of Chrysler Corp. just after Chrysler declared personal bankruptcy in 2009. In just two many years, Fiat acquired all of Chrysler and turned recognized as Fiat Chrysler Vehicles, until merging with French automaker PSA Team to grow to be Stellantis in 2021. 

The Agnelli relatives is however really a great deal involved with Fiat by means of John Elkann, Giovanni Agnelli’s fantastic-wonderful-grandson. Elkann is chairman and CEO of Exor, the Agnelli family’s holding corporation, which owns stakes in equally Ferrari and Stellantis.