Cars That Time Forgot: Autobianchi Primula


The question of which was the world’s first commercial hatchback has raged for years. Citro├źn can rightly claim to have first offered such a vehicle when it launched his Traction Avant Commerciale in 1938. The same was true for Kaiser his Vagabond, launched in 1949, only he was sold in small numbers until it was discontinued two years later.

A friend of mine owns a one-of-a-kind Triumph Herald Hatchback prototype and I recently told the story in video form on my PC. under the radar YouTube channel. The film has led many to form an opinion as to which hatchback was produced first. The Renault 16 (1965), Volkswagen Golf (1974) and Renault 5 (1972) were among the candidates, but they were all defeated by the Austin A40 (1958) and Renault 4 (1961). rice field. But it’s the now-forgotten Autobianchi his Primula that Small all over the world can claim to have created a family of his hatchback models.

Unique in that when the Autobianchi Primula came out in 1964, it featured a hatchback configuration and a transverse liquid-cooled engine driving the front wheels, much like the best-selling family hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta, Honda Civic and Peugeot. was. 205 and Fiat Uno. Of course, VW Golf and Renault 5 too. Primula pioneered the installation of an end-on gearbox. BMC’s front-wheel-drive vehicles had gearboxes in the sump of the engine, and Autobianchi’s solution was more efficient. As such, Primula’s mechanical configuration became almost universally adopted over the next decade.

Fiat joined forces with Bianchi and Pirelli to create Autobianchi in 1955. With today’s market flooded with small hatchbacks, it’s hard to imagine a world without these practical carryalls. However, when Fiat wanted to launch a new type of family car in the early 1960s, he feared the car would fail, so he sold it under his Autobianchi brand so that the Fiat name would not be tarnished. have chosen to You have to prove the flop. Given how successful the Mini and 1100/1300 were for his BMC, launching a small front-wheel-drive family car doesn’t seem so crazy now, but at the time, Fiat had a new little hatch I was afraid that would disappear without a trace.

The man behind the Primula was Fiat’s chief design officer, Dante Giacosa, who wanted to stay away from rear-engined cars like the 500, 600 and 850. He came up with his 570cc transverse four-cylinder design as early as 1947. It had an engine that drove the front wheels, but I didn’t know how to incorporate an efficient transmission. That project was discontinued, but Fiat revisited the formula in his late 1950s, but again struggled with gearboxes.

Giacosa decided to bring a front-wheel-drive car to market as the very conservative BMC pushed Fiat to the post with a mass-market, front-wheel-drive family car (Mini, 1959) and then the 1100 in 1962. I made up my mind. Fiat production. The key was to develop a more compact clutch arrangement that would allow the end-on gearbox to fit in the engine bay. Cheaper and more efficient than BMC’s in-sump solution, the new transmission was a real game changer.

Autobianchi Primula

Running gear wasn’t the only thing that set Primula apart as a pioneer. Giacosa said he wanted a three-door because he decided the hatchback offered the perfect blend of style, usability, and affordability. At the Turin Salon in the fall of 1964 he was presented only in 3-door form, but in 1966 he appeared in a 2-door and his 4-door sedan along with a 5-door hatchback.

In the nose is a 59bhp 1221cc 4-cylinder engine, slightly upped to 62bhp on the 4- and 5-door editions (thanks to twin-choke carburetors). For those who wanted more, there was a 65bhp Touring Design Coupe with a slightly lower roofline than the other models. With disc brakes, a sealed cooling system, and a chassis with no grease points, the Primula really paved the way.

Autobianchi Primula

Fiat didn’t have to worry about the Primula being shunned in the showroom. About 80,000 were produced by his 1970s. By that point the engine had been updated to his 1197cc unit with his 65bhp found in the Fiat 124, and in the sportier Primula Coupe he appeared in the form of a 75bhp 1438cc.

The 1965 European Car of the Year runner-up (losing to the BMC 1800 ‘Landcrab’), the Primula, like all its contemporaries, was brilliantly designed and engineered, but badly wrecked. It was rust proof. As a result, there are only a few dozen survivors across Europe, most of them believed to be in Italy. For such a pioneer, Autobianchi his primula deserved to survive in greater numbers and receive more recognition.

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