Fiat in the 1950s and 1960s was well-known for making small cars such as the 500, the 600 and the Fiat 1100, all models of which we have a few in Sri Lanka, lovingly in the hands of collectors and car nuts. But did you know that Fiat also went after the executive car market, producing the Fiat 1800 and 2100 between 1959 and 1968, as top-end products from the Italian brand? Designed by renowned Fiat car designer of the time Dante Giacosa who also penned the Topolino, 1100 and 128 and styled by Pininfarina, the 1800 and 2100 were both packing six-cylinder engines in reflection of their status in the Fiat hierarchy, of 1,800cc and 2,100cc respectively. Later on, the 2100 was replaced by the 2300 which as the name suggests, had a 2,300cc in-line six in the nose. All these ‘sixes’ were fed by Weber twin-choke carbs and drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission. In 1963, Fiat created a less expensive 1500L model as well. The car had a torsion-beam front suspension and rear solid axle with telescopic dampers and coil springs all round. It is estimated that nearly 150,000 examples (1500L, 1800, 2100 and 2300) were produced during the nine-year production run.
The car we are featuring here is a 1962 1800B (facelift) variant, where the engine saw its power output increased to 86bhp, from the previous 75bhp. Other highlights include all-round disc brakes as well. The car’s interesting history in Ceylon starts when it was registered to the Commercial Attache of the Embassy of Poland in 1964, which was situated on Bullers Road then. It was subsequently transferred to the Government Stores in 1970 and purchased in the same year by a Mr. Mohamed of Trincomalee Street, Kandy. Two years later, the car changed hands again – to a Mr. Hewage Nelson also of Trincomalee Street. Maybe the two were neighbours and the latter admired the car each time he saw it drive by, coveting it and desiring to own it one day.
1980 saw the car change hands again – to Ravindra Sawmills in Aluvihare, Matale where it remained until 2003, when a well-known motoring personality Mr. Somasiri Dias discovered the car. It had not run for several years, however with a fresh battery connected, the straight six fired up to life! On the drive back to Colombo, it broke down almost at the halfway point and had to be towed the rest of the way. Mr. Dias started the painstaking restoration process, bringing down many parts during European trips, however due to unforeseen circumstances the work came to a halt. And so languished the car at his Nawala residence in a part-restored state.
Enter Dayan Fernando (it was he who penned the Fiat 1100 story in the previous issue’s Vintage & Classic section) who is no stranger to Italian cars; having a wealth of knowledge and experience with them, and the owner of Italian Thoroughbred Motor Company (ITMC). He heard of this car’s plight from the renowned and sadly deceased classic car maestro Freddie Alles around late 2015, and by early 2017 he found the car still available and took it over from Mr. Dias. He thus domiciled the car at ITMC where the restoration resumed, at a slow pace. “Customer cars must always come first, before we allocate resources for our own” was his reply when asked why the restoration took so long. The car is now in perfect running condition, inside and out, and Dayan is gradually familiarising himself with driving it on longer and longer trips.