|(1932 to 1937)|
|Also called||Fiat 508 Balilla|
(French assembly subsequently transferred to Nanterre, France)
|Body and chassis|
|Engine||straight-4 995 cc|
|Length||3,140 mm (123.6 in)|
|Width||1,400 mm (55.1 in)|
|Height||1,530 mm (60.2 in)|
|Curb weight||685 kg (1,510 lb)|
|Successor||Fiat 1100 Balilla (508C)|
The 508 Balilla was a car introduced by Fiat in 1932. It effectively replaced the Fiat 509, although production of the earlier model had ceased back in 1929. It had a three-speed transmission (increased to four in 1934), seated four, and had a top speed of about 50 mph (80 km/h). It sold for 10,800 lire (or 8,300 2005 euro). About 113,000 were produced.
The car was also assembled by Walter Motors a.s. in Czechoslovakia, in the Centralne Warsztaty Samochodowe factory in Poland, by NSU-Fiat in Germany and by "SAFAF" (rebranded in 1934 as "Simca-Fiat") in France.
The car was developed by some of the leading Italian automotive engineers of the day, including Nebbia, Fessia, Giacosa and Tranquillo Zerbi. The goal was to incorporate some of the qualities of a high class automobile into a modestly priced vehicle. The car had its unveiling on 12 April 1932 at a motor show being held on the Fiera Milano trade fair site.
The "Balilla" soubriquet
Many believe that the "Balilla" name was connected with Italian Fascism, but the provenance of the name was actually far older than the Italian Fascist movement. "Balilla" was the dialect-nickname of a Genovese boy called Giovanni Battista Perasso, who back in 1746 threw a stone - according to one report several stones - at an Austrian officer in protest over the Austrian military occupation. The action triggered a Genoese revolt against the Austrians and for this Balilla was celebrated as a local hero in Northern Italy through the intervening two centuries. The story of "Balilla" is nevertheless one of many popular heroic tales from history to have gained in prominence in the early decades of the twentieth century, given the heightened nationalism characteristic of the period. Fiat themselves had earlier used the name on the Fiat A1 aeroplane: it had also been used by a Milan based firm as the name for a tractor, and by Royal Italian Navy for a class of submarine.
Fiats 508A (1932 - 1934) and 508B (1934 - 1937)
The first 508 came with a front mounted four cylinder petrol/gasline side-valve engine of 995cc. Maximum power was listed as 20 hp (15 kW) at 3500 rpm, providing for a top speed of approximately 80 km/h (50 mph). Power passed to the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual gear box without the assistance of synchromesh on any of the ratios. Stopping power was provided by drum brakes on all four wheels.
At the end of 1933 power was increased to 24 hp (18 kW) at 3500 rpm, and the maximum speed went up to 85 km/h (53 mph). Transmission was upgraded to a four speed gear box. For 1934 the car now came with a slightly more aerodynamic looking "berlina" (saloon/sedan) body, available with either two or four doors. This version was identified as the Fiat 508B, and the original 1932 model was now, retrospectively, became the Fiat 508A.
The Fiat 508 was fitted with a 995 cc side valve engine.
|508||1932–37||straight-4 side valve||995 cc||20-24 hp||single carburetor|
|508 S||1933–37||straight-4 side valve||995 cc||30-36 hp||single carburetor|
The first 508A, introduced in 1932, was a 2-door "Berlina" (saloon/sedan) with four seats and a three speed "crash" gearbox. The front seats could be slid forwards and the backrests tilted in order to facilitate access to the back seat in what was a relatively small car. Unusually, the windows in the doors could be wound down by turning a crank handle fitted to the door, while the windscreen was hinged at the top and could be opened, while two windscreen wipers were powered by their own electric motor, positioned inside just above the windscreen. The interior used rubber mats while the seats were cloth covered. Accessories offered included a dash-mounted rear-view mirror, an interior light mounted on the centre of the roof and an externally mounted luggage platform at the back which, when specified, came with the spare wheel repositioned to a mounting point on the side of the car between the left-side door and the front wing. A "Lusso" ("de Luxe") version also featured a better type of cloth covering for the seats as well as extra bright work around the lights, front grille, wheels and door handles.
With the 508B, introduced early in 1934, the body was described as "more aerodynamic" although from the perspective of later developments in car styling, the 508B still followed the rather boxy lines associated with cheap cars from the early 1930s. The gear box was upgraded, now offering four forward speeds, and while the a 2-door "Berlina" remained on offer for a few more months, a 4-door "Berlina" was now added. In June of the same year the 2-door "Berlina" was delisted for Italy and there was a further face-lift for the 4-door bodied car, which now received a modified front grille and a windscreen, previously vertical, that was slightly raked, hinting at the more wholesale styling changes that would accompany the appearance in 1937 of the 508C version of the car. Standard and "Lusso" versions of the 4-door "Berlina" were both offered.
The 508 "Spider" was a small 2-door two seater cabriolet bodied car. The driver and passenger sat side by side, but the driver's seat was fixed a few centimetres further back than the passenger seat. On the Spider the seat coverings were made from leather. The car was and available in both standard and "Lusso" ("de Luxe") versions. The windscreen could be folded down and the removable fabric hood could be stored in a suitably shaped storage bag provided for the purpose. The early "Spider" came with the same three-speed "no-synchromesh" gear-box as the "Berlina". However, it benefited mechanically from the 1934 upgrade, switching to a four-speed transmission. In the case of the "Spider", however, the 1934 upgrade was not accompanied by any change to the body shape.
A "Torpedo" bodied 508 was added to the range in 1933, with four seats and four doors, and in 1933 still with the 3-speed "crash" gear-box. It was offered only with the "Lusso" ("de Luxe") trimmings. As on the "Spider", seat covers and interior trimmings used coloured leather. The windscreen pillars and door hinges were chrome plated, and the removable fabric hood could be stored in a suitably shaped storage bag provided for the purpose. The upgrade to a four speed transmission in 1934 was not accompanied by any aesthetic changes to the "Torpedo" bodywork.
The Italian military was active in Tripolitania (now known as Libya) during this period, and a special "Torpedo Coloniale" was produced, sharing the features of the regular 508 Torpedo, but this car came with wider tyres and was painted the colour of sand.
A lower sleeker shape than the "Spider", styling for the 2-seater "Spider Sport" included a distinctive tail treatment which attracted the catch-phrase "insect tail", designed in 1933 by Ghia and said to have been inspired by small roadster bodied English cars of the period. The early "Spider Sport" models came with the same crash gearbox as the other cars, but the engine was fed by a special carburetor, which with its raised compression ratio of 7:1 gave rise to a maximum output listed as 30 hp (22 kW) at 4,000 rpm. The final drive ratio was also altered, and top speed went up to 110 km/h (69 mph). Fiat 508s with this body type were assembled by Fiat in Italy, and were also included in the production schedules of Fiat affiliates/subsidiaries Germany, France and Czechoslovakia. Various small scale enhanced versions appeared including, possibly most notably, the Fiat 508S, known as the "Fiat 508 Coppa d’Oro" ("Gold Cup"), especially prized by collectors 75 years later. The "Spider Sport" received the transmission upgrade to 4 speeds in 1934 together with a special overhead valves (at a time when other 508 variants still came with a side valve engine) and other technical enhancements which pushed the power up to 36 hp (27 kW). The most sporting versions advertised their performance aspirations with a more steeply tapered Tail section
Launched in 1935, the "Coupé" bodied 508 (also sometimes known as the "Berlinetta Mille Miglia") shared its mechanical elements, including the more powerful 108CS engine, with the "Spider Sport". The body was a 2-seater aerodynamic Berlinetta, intended for competition use in colder climates such as those encountered in Northern Italy during the "Mille Miglia" (then run in late Winter). The Coupé may have been warmer in cold weather than the Spider Sport, but it was also heavier: competition success proved elusive.
A commercial version of the Balilla was offered, both as a panel van or as a small flat-bed truck, with a 350 kg load capacity, based initially on the 3-speed 508A and later on the 4-speed 508B.
Fiat 508 xray view