The Cogbox Fiat 600 - Part 1, Background (January 2013)

The Cogbox Fiat, a 1962 600D is probably our best known project so here's a little history on the car. Going back to the late 90s I'd become interested in the Little Giant Killer Fiat belonging to Lloyd Mosher and had in fact enquired about buying it however at that time it wasn't for sale but I liked the idea of a Fiat and decided to do one from scratch, it was just a case of waiting for a suitable car to turn up. The problem was that although common on the continent not too many 600s found their way into the UK and those that did, being prone to rust and being perceived as a cheap car didn't generally get preserved or restored and as such they had slowly disappeared over time.

In the end it wasn't until 2002 that the right car appeared, I had wanted a right hand drive car but hadn't seen any up until the point this one came up for sale. It was advertised as a project up in Derby in a classic car ads paper and I jumped on it as soon as I saw it. The Fiat had been bought as a project but the guy who had a number of other classics lying around hadn't got round to doing anything with it. There was very little history with the car and the only thing known about it prior to it ending up in Derby was that it was owned by a girl. When we picked it up the car was in a pretty bad way rust wise. The sills had been cut off revealing all sorts of horrors which was probably why the previous owner had decided not to do anything with it and move it on.

We got started on the car pretty much as soon as we got it back as I'd had most of the project worked out in my head for some time. With so little history I thought I'd try to find out a little more about the car and started off by getting in touch with the UK's Fiat 500 Club who also covered 600s as there were too few to warrant a separate club. They were very interested in the car when I told them what I had and were particularly interested in the fact that it was a right hand drive model as they weren't aware of any others in existence. By this time we'd already cut the roof off it to accommodate the 4inch roof chop so I thought it best not to mention this just yet!

As has already been said the main inspiration for the project was the Little Giant Killer car but the overall style was derived from a number of the Fiat's that ran in the States. That said it was equally important to ensure that the car looked different enough that people didn't confuse it with one of the old American cars. This was one of the reasons it had to be a right hand drive car and also ultimately helped to decide the colour. The Mosher car was red but before Lloyd owned it had raced in an orange paint scheme, at first this was the colour I had wanted but again it would have looked like a car that had already existed, black was another option but again there had been a black one in the States, finally it was decided to keep it in its original colour, white. I knew that the car had to have some kind of custom paint on it but wasn't keen on having flames or scallops on the Fiat, one idea was to have a floral design painted on the roof in a similar style to the Inch Pincher in one of its early guises. The trouble with this though was that the Fiat is a 'cute' car and the flowers may have made it a bit 'girly'. Several ideas were bounced about but it wasn't until Neil Melliard of Prosign turned up ready to paint it that we settled on the checked roof.

There were a couple of key factors that dictated the way the body would look, firstly being a fan of the Gasser race cars and especially the Fiats the car would have to have a 4 inch roof chop, this being the maximum chop allowed under NHRA rules. The other key influence on the styling was the Abarth Fiats had extended arches to clear the bigger tyres used. I had to extend the arches for the same reason but I wanted a different look that wasn't as 'bubbly' as I didn't think this would suit a Hot Rod/Gasser style car. The result of this was that we instead opted to stretch the existing bodywork; I think this helped to ensure the car had a unique look to it.

Although I tend to run the car on the street with the engine lid shut it is always raced with the decklid propped open. Whilst the Fiat 500 came with an air cooled engine the 600 came with a 650cc 4 cylinder water cooled engine. With the car being designed so that air passes through a radiator underneath the car and then exits out of the louvers on the back it means that the louvers aren't great for drawing air in as they're designed for air going the other way. An unexpected advantage of the open lid is that at higher speeds it works as a wing and provides the car with a little more high speed stability as believe it or not a better top speed; when Abarth tested their cars with the engine lid open it increased the top speed by approximately 5mph.

For a small car it was actually quite a tough build, given that the car was so rotten that every panel had to be replaced or repaired and this work took a lot of time to get through, in the end there wasn't one bit of it that didn't need something doing. This wouldn't have been so bad except that Fiat metal is a lot thinner than that found on VW's which proved to be a massive problem when it came to doing the welding. Basically as soon as you put a welder anywhere near the metal it would blow holes right through it. In addition to the restoration and custom body work there were also a (large) number of modifications that had to be made to accommodate the VW engine and transmission. For example although Fiat had an IRS end rear as standard it had to be extensively modified in order for it to work the way I wanted it, Fiat didn't build them with drag slicks in mind!

Obviously the car has been with us now for some time and has undergone a few changes in this time which is something I'll come back to at a later date.

Pete Englezos