The car’s body was originally designed by Caproni technicians, but the definitive car was designed by Nuccio Bertone’s Carrozzeria.
On the Italian automotive scene there have been marques which existed for only a short period of time and of which little is known any more: CEMSA-Caproni is one of them. Caproni was an active company in aeronautics and the construction of weapons, based in Taliedo and founded in 1910 by the engineer and aviation pioneer Giovanni Battista Caproni (1886 – 1957).
In 1932 the expanding company took over Isotta Fraschini and bought from IRI in 1935 CEMSA (Costruzioni Elettro Meccaniche di Saronno), founded in Saronno in 1925 by Eng. Nicola Romeo (of Alfa Romeo) and Credito Italiano from the ashes of Mechanical Construction of Saronno (1887 – 1918). With the acquisition of CEMSA, Caproni started to outline a new path towards the production of automobiles. In 1946 he started hiring engineers who had left Fiat, amongst whom was Antonio Fessia (1901 – 1968), designer of the later Lancia Flavia. The latter started work immediately and, in a few months, had designed a car which was revolutionary for the time, featuring front-wheel drive and an innovative four-cylinder boxer engine ahead of the front axle, a gearbox with direct drive, column gear-change and independent front and transverse leaf rear suspension.
The car’s body was originally designed by Caproni technicians, but the definitive car was designed by Nuccio Bertone’s Carrozzeria. It was first shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1947 bearing the name F11 (‘F’ standing for Fessia). Incidentally, on the same stand Isotta Fraschini also showed its 8C Monterosa, which remained the only prototype made and was the very last car built by the marque.
As for the F11, although about 10 examples were built full production never actually started and the cabriolet version never saw the light of day. The main reason production didn’t start was the financial crisis overcoming Caproni, who sought alliances to help him finance the F11, even meeting with Preston Tucker, the American entrepreneur who was about to start production of his revolutionary Tucker Torpedo at the time. The deal with Tucker involved selling the F11 in the US, but unfortunately both companies collapsed and the dream of the F11 vanished forever, just like Tucker’s American dream.
The CEMSA project was resurrected five years later, in 1953, at the Brussels Motor Show, by Minerva, who had undergone a corporate restructuring after World War Two and was focusing on producing this car to relaunch, but unfortunately this project also failed to materialise. Although the F11 never succeeded in being produced, it can still be considered the starting point for the birth of the Lancia Flavia, presented in 1960 and designed by Eng. Fassia using the revolutionary solutions of the F11, confirming once again the full validity of the CEMSA-Caproni project.
Today it is possible to see an example of the F11 at the Volandia Park and Flight Museum where it is located inside the buildings of the Caproni Aeronautical Workshops in Somma Lombardo in the province of Varese.
Text by Tommaso Lai
Translation by Norman Hawkes
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