The other “A”

The A111, the name chosen for the new model, was a very elegant car, although its lines were clearly inspired by Fiat and there were several elements attributable to the 124 but also to the future (at that time) 128.

In the late sixties Autobianchi was considering a replacement for the ageing Primula, whose debut dated back to 1964. It had been the first car in the Fiat group with front-wheel drive as well as being the first true Autobianchi, as it did not use the mechanicals of any of the group’s other models. Enrico Ghiretti, general manager of Autobianchi, commissioned Dante Giacosa to design the new car. Since Ghiretti had opted for a three-volume car as the new replacement model, Giacosa brushed up on the Fiat “123” project, proposed as the successor to the Fiat 1300 but not approved by top management and therefore set to one side.

The “123” was a classic three-volume design which moved away from the Primula style, which had a two-volume configuration and is considered by many to be the first modern saloon car to feature a rear hatchback. The project’s lines were modified, particularly at the front with special attention being paid to safety, with a progressively deforming body, steering column divided into three elements, padded dashboard and seat belt attachments. The interiors also impressed for their accuracy: the dashboard had wood inserts, the seats were anatomical and very comfortable, and it was characterised by high quality coatings. The A111, the name chosen for the new model, was a very elegant car, although its lines were clearly inspired by Fiat and there were several elements attributable to the 124 but also to the future (at that time) 128.

From a mechanical point of view the car was fitted with a transverse-mounted Fiat 124 Special engine of 1438 cc producing 75 bhp. This was placed in a lowered position to obtain better sealing and stability. The entire front-end of the A111 was designed to accommodate the engine mounted as low as possible with the result giving the car brilliant performance and excellent road-holding, capable of being driven to the limit even by none too experienced drivers. The front suspension was independent whilst all four wheels had disc brakes; the gearbox had four speeds.  The car had a top speed of 155 km/h thanks to its weight of only 930 kg in just over four metres length.

The A111 entered the market in 1969 at a rather pricey 1,440,000 Lire, justified by the refined mechanicals and finishes, but that was insufficient for customers, who were not impressed with the car and already the following year, in 1970, a revised version was presented at the Turin Motor Show. Exterior changes included modified rear lights and revised bumpers, now without over-riders, whilst  various interior improvements were made including partially redesigned dashboard with a new steering wheel derived from the Fiat 125. Despite the success of the project the A111 was short-lived, in fact being taken out of production in 1972 after only 56,984 examples had been built. Fiat’s top management thus left the Desio brand with only the A112 model, which was a great commercial success. This left Autobianchi as a single-model manufacturer rather like what has happened to Lancia today, therefore sales were relatively low and covered only a small part of the total market. The void left by the A111 was never properly filled, even if it partly was by the Fiat 128, which was stylistically very similar and had the same mechanicals but was not as elegant.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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