Dante Giacosa (January 3, 1905 - March 31, 1996) was an Italian car designer. His work covered a large range from minicars to sports cars, using all the different layouts as and when they were the best solution at the time to meet the design parameters.
Born at Rome, he studied engineering at the Turin Polytechnic until 1927. After completing his compulsory military service he joined Fiat in 1928, at first working on military vehicles and then in the aero engine division. The director of the aero-engine division was Tranquillo Zerbi, designer of Grand Prix cars for Fiat. In 1933 when work commenced on the Fiat 500, the director of the aero-engine division was Antonio Fessia. He had sufficient confidence to entrust the design of all the mechanical components of the car including the chassis to Giacosa. Giacosa was engineering manager at Fiat by 1937 and he had become director of the engineering division of Fiat by 1950.
He died in Turin in 1996.
The Fiat 500 was a state of the art two seat miniature car that soon proved popular when production commenced in 1936, earning the name "Topolino". It was a two-seater and had a 569 cc side valve engine, but the chassis with independent front suspension using a transverse leaf spring and wishbones and neat packaging was a big advance, with the engine located over the front wheels and radiator behind it over the four speed synchromesh gearbox, also excellent hydraulic brakes. With fuel consumption around 18 km/l and a maximum speed of 90 km/h, but with handling good enough to allow average speeds of 60 km/h. Between 1936 when first introduced until the end of production in 1948, 122,000 were made of this original version.
Giacosa's next design was the Fiat 508C. A completely new car to replace the 508, the 508C or as it became known as the "Millecento", had a 1100 cc short stroke engine, with overhead valves (the 500 engine had side valves), an outstanding chassis design that earned it a reputation for good handling and ride quality. It was with a 508C chassis that as engineering manager Dante Giacosa led a team that developed the Fiat 508CMM a streamlined coupe. Fiat used the car to win the 1100 cc class in the Mille Miglia of 1938. This model was produced in small numbers until 1940. The 508C was produced from 1937 to 1948, when it was replaced by an updated versions the 1100B and 1100E which was produced until 1953.
A wealthy Italian industrialist Piero Dusio, with a request to design a single seat racing car approached him in 1944, that could be purchased for a relatively low price. This he did in his free time away for the Fiat factory. The design utilised components from the Fiat 500 and 508C. The resulting car the Cisitalia "D46" was on sale in 1946 at a price in Italian lire equivalent to around 1000 pounds sterling. The space frame chassis was designed using steel tubes and the body consisted of light alloy panels - this was the famous superleggera or 'super-light' construction technique. The Fiat 1100 cc engine that was fitted to the car was tuned to produce 60 bhp. A maximum speed of 175 km/h was claimed. A batch of twenty cars was laid down in 1946 and the cars were raced successfully throughout the rest of the 1940s.
Giacosa did the initial design work on the next Cisitalia model, a two-seat sports car, the Project 202. Again he used a multi tube space frame chassis. The design being an adaptation of the single seat model. The prototype was fitted with a coupe body similar to the Fiat 508CMM. Before series production commenced, he passed over responsibility for the design to Giovanni Savonuzzi.
Though Dante Giacosa had become director of the engineering division of Fiat, that didn't mean that he could follow his own inclinations regarding the design of any new cars. The Fiat sales department had an overriding influence on new the model produced. Therefore Giacosa may be excused that his next design the Fiat 1400 of 1950 was only a qualified success. Fiat wanted to produce a car that satisfied the needs of countries with a poor road system that had previously been supplied by American manufacturers before their cars had become bloated. They wanted a car with good stability, good visibility, and room for six people and their luggage, a speed of 120 km/h and a fuel consumption of 10 km/l. Unfortunately they also wanted the car with a modest size engine that wasn't too expensive to run in Italy. Despite Giacosa's best efforts they got a car that nether one thing or another. Only one hundred and twenty thousand examples were produced in eight years.
His next light car design was the 1100-103; this model perpetuated the name Millecento previously given to the 508C. This Millecento was a compact unitary construction saloon fitted with wishbones and coil springs at the front and a live axle and half-elliptic springs at the rear. Its excellent handling and good performance was in the tradition of its predecessor. Of conventional design for its period, with a water-cooled OHV inline four-cylinder engine of 1089 cc, that at first produced rising to but much more when tuned. Features that would unfamiliar to us today were the steering column change for the four-speed gearbox, and the transmission handbrake. Through a series of models culminating with the 1100R, (The 1100D had a 1221 cc engine.) the Millecento was in production until 1970 and one and three quarter million examples had been produced.
Next Giacosa and his team designed a replacement for the Fiat Topolino. The last version of the 500C had been discontinued the previous year 1954. The 600 was a totally new car, and for Fiat a new layout with the engine at the rear as well as unitary construction. When the 600 were introduced in 1955, rear engine cars had been produced for well over a decade and their advantages and disadvantages [were] by then well known. Giacosa used the advantages to produce a four-seat car, although with limited luggage space, that had a reasonable performance from an engine of only 633 cc, due to its low weight of 585 kg and also compact dimensions. Capable of almost 100 km/h (62 mph) and returning a fuel consumption of 16 to 20 km/l and the ability to cruise at 80 km/h (50 mph). He overcame the stability problems associated with other rear engined designs by identifying that the problem was not the weight distribution of the cars, but the simple swing axle rear suspension used in those designs. His answer was to use a semi-trailing arm type of rear suspension that eliminated the large change in the camber of the rear wheels that was inherent with the simple swing axle suspension system.
The mini people carrier may seem to be a concept of the twenty-first century, that is not so. Within a year of the launch of the 600 a six-seat version was in production, the Multipla. By replacing the transverse leaf spring used in the front suspension by upper links and coil springs, the mechanic components of the 600 were utilised in a forward control unitary body, removing the front luggage compartment and any trace of crumple zone (similar to the VW Type 2 Kombi/Bus, but considerably smaller), therefore needing only a small increase in wheelbase to accommodate three rows of seats. Over seventy six thousand of this first version of the Multipla were produced by 1963. The 600 was replaced by the 600D in 1960. The engine size was increased to 767 cc, with a maximum speed up to 110 km/h. Production ceased in Turin in 1970, but carried on in the SEAT factory in Barcelona. Before then the 600 had been produced by NSU/Fiat in Germany, Zastava in Yugoslavia and Concord in Argentina. Over two and a half million were eventually produced.
Giacosa's next rear engine car for Fiat was the Nuova 500 of 1957, with a similar layout to the 600, but with a two-cylinder air-cooled engine instead of the water-cooled inline four-cylinder unit, and an unsynchronised 4-speed gearbox (the shortcomings of which being blunted by its own low inertial mass, plus that of the engine and entire vehicle), a layout kept for the entire lifespan of the model. Being a two/plus/two-seat car, it was the true replacement for the "Topolino", at the bottom of the Fiat range. With a wheelbase fractionally over six feet and a length under nine feet, it was also a lightweight weighing less than five hundred kilograms. The 479 cc engines in the early production cars were so underpowered with only that they were recalled and an uprated engine that produced was fitted. The final 500-F of 1965 had a 499 cc engine producing , sufficient to get to 110 km/h and a fuel consumption 20 km/l. In 1960 Fiat introduced the "Giardiniera", a 499 cc station wagon with a similar inline twin cylinder engine as the "500", but with cylinder horizontal. The engine was located under the floor at the rear of the car. With a slight increase in wheelbase and the weight increased to 570 kg, it was newer a four seat car with a luggage area over the engine. In parallel with the Fiat models, the "500", platforms where clothed in prettier bodies by Autobianchi at their Desio factory. Named the Bianchina, a convertible, later a convertible, a four seat saloon, an estate car and a van version on the Giardiniera platform where produced. A version of the Nuova 500 was made by Steyr-Puch in Austria in 1957, with their own boxer air-cooled engine and swing axle drive and suspension. The Steyr 650TR of 1965 to 1969, was the hottest 500 model made and a competent rally car.
Fiat introduced a roomier four-seat two-door saloon in 1964, to run alongside the "600". The "850", had an 843 cc engine and a 270 centimetre increase in the wheelbase, but the specification was the same as the "600". An 850T version of the "Multipla" was also available the following year. Fiat also produced coupé and spyder versions using the "850", platform with an engine that produced at 6200 rpm, later from a 903 cc engine. A total of over a half of a million of these were produced by 1972. Spyder production had ceased by 1973. Many special versions were produced by the legion of specialist coachbuilders at work in Italy at the time. The "850", saloon and coupe models were also produced by SEAT in Spain. The "600" had been discontinued by Fiat in 1970.
Dante Giacosa's first front wheel drive car was the Autobianchi Primula. Autobianchi was a subsidiary of Fiat. Ready for production in 1964, it had a four cylinder water-cooled engine of 1221 cc that was already fitted in the Fiat 1100D. The rest of the car was of all new design. The engine was transversely mounted with the four-speed gearbox located inline with the crankshaft. With a gear train to the offset differential and final drive and unequal length drive shafts. This is the arrangement we see under the bonnet of most front wheel drive cars today. Other features of the design are not so familiar, such as the gearchange on the steering column, also the wishbone and transverse leaf spring front suspension and the rear dead axle with half-elliptic springs. The steering was by rack and pinion, a first for Giacosa, but almost twenty years after its first use by Issigonis. The "500", series of cars was twenty-five years old by 1972 when Fiat introduced their last rear-engined saloon car the "126", a four-seat car the size of a BMC Mini on the wheelbase of the "500". The engine was increased in capacity to 594 cc, producing 23 bhp (17 kW) and a top speed of 105 km/h. The 126 was in production until 1987 and almost two million examples were produced.
The Fiat 128 of 1969 was the final break through by Dante Giacosa. After a lifetime of exceptional car designs both conventional front-engined and also rear-engined cars. In the 128 he brought together all the features that are considered conventional today. Transverse engine/gearbox/ offset final drive with unequal length drive shafts, in conjunction with MacPherson strut front suspension. Rack and pinion steering and disc brakes on the front wheels. The 128 had wishbone and transverse half-elliptic spring independent rear suspension.
Fiat had dealt with all the bugs associated with a new concept in the Primula and the 128 was a great success with one and a quarter million were produced by 1972. Although the wheelbase was 2.45 metres, the overhang each end was minimal, resulting in a compact car but with ample passenger space.