Established in 1899, Fiat is one of the pioneering founders of the Automobile industry.
While some car companies started off making bicycles or repairing lawn mowers, Fiat scientists, engineers and designers have, since the beginning, been pioneering advancements in a variety of fields that include passenger cars, metallurgy, commercial vehicles, tractors, railroad equipment, aerospace and nuclear energy.
The history of Fiat is one to be proud of. Come along as we take a look at some of the milestones that have helped shape the 20th century and beyond.1
Fiat is founded at the end of the 1800s – a period filled with the fervor of grand initiatives, inventive spirit and new ideas – and is destined to rapidly become one of the world’s leading industrial groups.
1899: on July 11th, the deed of incorporation is signed giving birth to Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino – F.I.A.T. The first car built is the 4 HP.
1900: the first plant is inaugurated and production reaches 24 cars a year. In July of this year, Fiat enters a race with a 2 cylinder, 6 HP prototype driven by Vincenzo Lancia and takes a class win, with an average of 29.2 MPH over the 139.8 mile course.2 It was the start of an illustrious racing heritage.
1902: Giovanni Agnelli becomes Managing Director.
1903: the company is listed on the stock exchange and begins producing its first vehicles for goods transport. Fiat begins exporting cars to France, England and the US.
1905: Louis Chevrolet races his Fiat at the Vanderbilt Cup Race on Long Island.
1906: out of a total 8 million lire in annual sales, export sales reach 6 million lire. Auto production is expanded with the addition of the 8, 10, 12, 24, 60, 100 and 130 HP models. The company also begins making trucks, buses, trams.
1907: Fiat builds its first marine engine, a diesel fueled, four cylinder unit. The French Grand Prix, Targa Florio and Emperor's Cup in Germany are won this year.
1908: the company begins manufacture of aircraft engines: the first developed is the 50hp SA 8/75, an overhead valve, air-cooled V8 which incorporates the experience acquired on the auto racing circuit.
In Europe, as the new century unfolds, significant economic and scientific progress continue. But the eruption of the Great War has a considerable impact on industrial activity as it is transformed to support the country’s military effort.
1910: six new models are launched: the 12-15 HP, 15-20 HP, 20-30 HP, 30-45 HP and the Type 5 and Type 6. Fiat builds its first submarine engine.
1914: as part of the war effort, almost 20,000 units of the 18BL lorry are produced and, in the years following, various aircraft engines. Fiat builds a marine engine that tops 5,000 horsepower.
1915-1917: construction begins on the Lingotto factory, the largest in Europe at the time. The Group enters the steel and railway sectors.
1917: Fiat builds an airplane that climbs to over 20,000 feet.
1919: immediately following the war, Fiat comes out with the 501 “economy”, 505 and 510, as well as its first tractor, the 702.
Life in post-war Italy is marked by intense political and social conflict. These are difficult years for the Company requiring rigorous attention to cost management. In 1923, with the crisis having passed, the Lingotto factory is inaugurated and it becomes the symbol of a Fiat whose future is now inextricably linked to the concept of industrialized production. Inside the factory, the assembly line is introduced and working methods are transformed.
1920: Giovanni Agnelli becomes Chairman of Fiat. Fiat's first double overhead cam (DOHC) engine is installed in the Fiat 801/402 race car.
1922: the AL biplane, Fiat’s first civil aviation aircraft, takes its maiden flight. Fiat builds an airplane that sets a new world record at 209 MPH. The same year, the company establishes Grandi Motori for the construction of marine engines.
1925: the Fiat 509 combines the economy of a small car with the capability of a medium sized car. The engine was a 1 liter, single overhead cam design.
1927: Fiat patents a new front strut suspension that consists of a strut/shock with concentric spring, lower "A" arm and separate anti-roll bar. Twenty years later, Earle S. MacPherson re-invents it.
1921-1929: the decade sees the release of many models, including launch of the SuperFiat, the 519, a six cylinder luxury car, the 503 and the 509. In 1927, the 520 is offered in left-hand drive and in 1928, aluminum cylinder heads are adopted on production model cars, representing a world first. 1929 sees the arrival of the economical 514 and the elegant 525. The 1014 van is also launched: with six wheels, dual transmission and articulated chassis, this vehicle is unbeatable off road. Fiat builds its first diesel-electric locomotive in 1926.
1930: the arrival of the “Littorina”, the world’s first rail car.
1932: the 700C tractor is launched.
1930-1935: Fiat releases 15 more models. Some are to become milestones in automobile history: the popular 508 Balilla, the deluxe 518 and 527 Ardita, the aerodynamic 1500, the economic 500 Topolino and the 1100 “Musone”.
1934: Francesco Agello reaches 709.209 kilometers per hour in a Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 powered by a Fiat AS6 engine, setting a world record for propeller-driven seaplanes that remains unbeaten.
1937: construction begins on the Mirafiori plant. It is inaugurated two years later, introducing the most advanced working methods to Italy.
With entry into the war, Fiat has to convert production to military purposes. The company dramatically reduces production of cars, while output of trucks is multiplied five-fold. Armored vehicles, airplanes and marine engines are also produced.
1940: the Fiat 016 locomotive exceeds 160 kilometers per hour, breaking the world speed record in the diesel engine category.
1942: launch of the 700D wheeled tractor and the model “50”, the first diesel-powered heavy crawler. The latter is hidden underground for fear of requisition by the Germans. It is recovered at the end of the war and mass production begins.
1945-1947: Senator Agnelli dies on 16 December 1945 and Vittorio Valletta becomes chairman. Large-scale production of cars resumes, with models such as the 500B berlinetta and estate, the refreshed 1100 and 1500, and the sporty 1100S. Alongside these are trucks and buses, high-power tractors, railcars, airplanes and large marine engines.
1945: Fiat acquires the Weber Carburetor Company of Bologna
1949: the number of employees tops 71,000 and the company returns to bottom line growth.
Italy experiences a period of economic boom and the car industry is one of the main drivers of intense growth: one car for every 96 inhabitants in 1949 becomes one for every 28 inhabitants in 1958 and one for every 11 inhabitants by 1963. Fiat now has more than 85,000 employees and car production grows six-fold over the decade.
1951: the transatlantic liner Giulio Cesare, powered by a Fiat engine, enters service and Italy’s first jet, the Fiat G.80, takes flight.
1952: the high-performance 8V sports car reaches 200 kilometers per hour and the 7002 model helicopter is presented. The same year, production begins on the 682N lorry which goes on to be produced for more than a quarter of a century and becomes a milestone in transport history.
1953: launch of the 1400, Italy’s first diesel-powered passenger car.
1954: Fiat builds an experimental turbine powered car.
1955: arrival of the popular 600, the first Fiat rear-engined, rear-wheel drive passenger car. Impresit, a company specialized in civil engineering founded in 1929, constructs roads, tunnels, bridges and dams, such as the Kariba dam on the Zambesi river. Fiat begins manufacturing industrial gas turbines.
1956: the new 500 and the Autobianchi Bianchina are launched. The Fiat G.91 is selected as tactical fighter for NATO.
The decade begins with a general spirit of optimism and the economic miracle continues in Italy. Fiat experiences dramatic increase in production volumes: the number of cars constructed per year goes from 425,000 to 1,741,000; trucks from 19,000 to 64,800; tractors from 22,637 to 50,558; earth movers from 3,000 to 6,255. Fiat doubles the number of employees to almost 171,000. Fiat becomes a leader in nuclear energy and builds and installs three nuclear power plants during the decade.
1963: Fiat 9012 S marine engine goes into production, at the time, the worlds most powerful diesel engine with 32,500 horsepower.
1964: launch of the two-door, five-seat Fiat 850 sedan.
1966: Giovanni Agnelli, grandson of the founder, becomes Chairman. A major agreement is signed for construction of the Vaz plant in Togliattigrad, Russia, which will produce two thousand Zigulì passenger cars a day.
1967: Vittorio Valletta dies. Production begins at the Rivalta plant. Fiat takes a majority stake in Magneti Marelli. The 124 is named “Car of the Year” and the Fiat Dino Coupé is launched complete with engine based on Ferrari technology.
1969: the company acquires Lancia and purchases a 50% interest in Sefac-Ferrari. The same year, Fiat Ferroviaria designs and produces the Pendolino, the world’s first tilting train.
1970: the 128, Fiat’s first front-wheel drive car, is named “Car of the Year”. Fiat patants the first functional Variable Valve Timing system.
1971: presentation of the 127 which achieves extraordinary success and the following year wins the “Car of the Year” award. The historic sports brand Abarth becomes part of the Group.
1972: Lancia begins production of the Beta, which is followed in subsequent years by the Stratos, Gamma and Delta. The same year, Lancia wins the World Rally Constructors’ Championship and takes the title again in 1974, 1975 and 1976. Fiat takes first in 1977 and 1978.
1975: Ferrari wins the Formula 1 World Championship. This triumph is repeated in 1977 and 1979. First automotive use of laser welding for the welding of transmission components.
1976: Centro Ricerche Fiat is founded.
1978: The innovative car chassis assembly system, “Robogate”, is installed at some plants. At the same time, new factories are constructed in Italy and Brazil. Comau and Teksid are established. Construction of the Total Energy Module (TOTEM), the first biogas-fuelled co-generation unit for the independent production of electricity.
1979: Fiat Auto grows and eventually brings together the Fiat, Lancia, Autobianchi and Ferrari brands.
1980: launch of the Panda, which immediately becomes key player in the economy segment. Alfa Romeo is the first manufacturer to use a variable valve timing system in production cars.
1983: at Cape Canaveral in Florida, Fiat Auto presents the new Uno, a symbol of innovation and technological rebirth for company. It goes on to win the “Car of the Year” award in 1984.
Fluid Physics Module, a device ordered by the European Space Body to conduct behavioral experiments on fluids in a gravity-free environment for NASA and ESA shuttle missions
1984: Alfa Romeo becomes part of the Group.
1985: production begins on the innovative FIRE (Fully Integrated and Robotized Engine).
1987: the world’s first direct-injection diesel engine for passenger cars is developed.
1988: the state-of-the-art research center Elasis is established at the Group’s initiative. The same year, the Fiat Tipo is named “Car of the Year”. Other cars to achieve success during the decade are the Fiat Regata and Croma, the Lancia Delta, Thema and Y10, the Alfa Romeo 164, and the Ferrari GTO, Testarossa and F40, as well as the commercial vehicles Fiorino and Ducato. The Croma turbo Diesel is the first car in the world to have a direct injection engine fitted as standard.
Anthropomorphic robot for continuous laser welding on three-dimensional components made of super-alloy, also applied to Space Shuttle in partnership with Rockwell International.
In response to increasingly tough international competition, Fiat Group adopts a multi-track strategy: on one side, it invests in product and process innovation and the search for new markets outside Europe with high development potential and, on the other, it implements a plan for cost containment and internal reorganization.
1990: the Panda Elettra is the first mass-produced electric vehicle.
1992: Lancia Delta HF retires from racing with 46 World Rally Championship victories and a record six times constructors' championship titles from 1987 to 1992.
1993: the Company acquires the prestigious automaker Maserati and also introduces Progetto Autonomy to facilitate mobility for the disabled.
1995, 1996 & 1998: the Fiat Punto, Fiat Bravo-Brava and then the Alfa Romeo 156 are named “Car of the Year”.
1997:the Alfa Romeo 156 is awarded the European Car of the Year award.
1998: the Fiat Multipla, Lancia Lybra and new Punto come onto the market.
1999: the world’s first automated manual transmission (Selespeed) goes into mass production. During the same year, CNH-Case New Holland is formed to create a leading global player in agricultural and construction equipment.
During the decade, the Group goes through a profound cultural change and refocuses its activities to concentrate on the automotive sector. All brands launch new models: Fiat presents a restyling of the Punto, the new Idea, the Bravo, and relaunches the iconic 500; Alfa Romeo debuts the 159, 166, MiTo and Giulietta; for its 100th anniversary, Lancia launches the new Ypsilon; from Maranello, production begins on the innovative Ferrari F430 and 599 GTB Fiorano; and, Maserati comes out with the captivating GranSport and GranTurismo coupés.
2000: an industrial alliance is formed with General Motors that would be dissolved in 2005. Alfa Romeo brings out the 147 which is elected “European Car of the Year” the following year. The Alfa Romeo 2.5-litre V6 is awarded with the International Engine of the Year.
2001: Fiat presents the Stilo and the following year Lancia launches the Thesis, its new flagship luxury model.
2003: after almost half a century at the helm of the company, Giovanni Agnelli dies and his brother Umberto takes over as Chairman. Fiat invents the MultiJet technology and the SDE, the smallest direct-injection diesel engine ever produced. In Brazil, the company introduces flexfuel technology, which enables two different fuels (e.g., gasoline and ethanol) to be mixed in the same tank. First use of Agilaser, Fiat's pattanted laser welding system that can can replace up to eight traditional welding robots. The system is now used throughout the auto industy.
2004: Umberto Agnelli dies and the Group’s new leaders are appointed: Luca Cordero di Montezemolo as Chairman, John Elkann as Vice Chairman and Sergio Marchionne as Chief Executive Officer. The Panda wins the “Car of the Year” award.
2005: Fiat Group returns to profitability and the 16v 1.3 MultiJet engine is named “Engine of the Year”. FPT Powertrain Technologies is established.
2006: launch of the TetraFuel system for alternative fuels.
2007: at the end of January, Fiat launches the new Bravo. In March, one of the most prestigious sports car brands in history, Abarth, is relaunched with its reinterpretation of the Grande Punto. On July 4th, the new Fiat 500 hits the market and becomes an instant success. In 2008, it is named “Car of the Year”.
2008: the new Lancia Delta, the Alfa 8C Spider, the 500 Abarth and the Fiorino are all presented for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show. A few months later, Fiat launches the “free space” Qubo and the Grande Punto Natural Power.
2009: on June 10th, Fiat Group and Chrysler Group LLC announce that they have signed a global strategic alliance. The same year, FPT introduces the MultiJet II as well as the MultiAir, a revolutionary electro-hydraulic valve control system. In December, the new Doblò arrives. In addition, Fiat S.p.A. is recognized as a sustainability leader and enters the Dow Jones Sustainability World and Dow Jones Sustainability STOXX indexes.
2010: John Elkann becomes Chairman of Fiat. The company launches two important innovations, the TCT (Twin Clutch Transmission) technology and the TwinAir, the world’s first high-tech two-cylinder engine. In April, there is the debut of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the 500,000th unit of the new 500 rolls off the production line. On September 16th, Shareholders approve the plan for the demerger of Fiat S.p.A.’s industrial activities and creation of a new group headed by Fiat Industrial S.p.A.
2011: the demerger takes effect on January 1st. Under the new structure, Fiat consists of FGA, Ferrari, Maserati, Magneti Marelli, Teksid, Comau and Fiat Powertrain Technologies (the “Passenger & Commercial Vehicles” powertrain business). The new group headed by Fiat Industrial S.p.A., which is listed on Borsa Italiana, consists of CNH, Iveco and FPT Industrial (the “Industrial & Marine” powertrain business).
First world-wide application of TWIP (Twinning-Induced Plasticity) steel on the Fiat Panda. First European test site for real time experimentation of emergency calls from vehicles
1. Time line adapted from Fiat SpA and augmented with various sources.
2. Fiat SpA.
3. The New Fiat Guide, Jan P. Norbye, 1969.
Photo credit: *Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
All others Courtesy of Fiat SpA and Fiat Group Press