“I like the wind because you can’t buy it”.
It’s generally better to get to the point immediately, but with some stories you need to back up a little. And in the case of the Fiat Barchetta Club Italia edition, we need to go back almost half a century. Back to when the true king of 20th century Italy, Gianni Agnelli, placed an order with carozzeria Touring for a Ferrari that made (and continues to make) motoring history because it is unique, elegant, incomparable and so obviously wonderful.
Agnelli was larger than life. The above citation, taken from a book (Il signor Fiat, Rizzoli, 1976) by Enzo Biagi – alongside Oriana Fallaci the greatest Italian journalist of all time – basically says everything you need to know about him. He was an eccentric, had a taste for beautiful things and a talent for a witty turn of phrase.
At the end of the 1940s, memories of the war were still very much alive, as were the economic troubles of a country still recovering from it. Enzo Ferrari had recently established his own automobile brand. Gianni Agnelli, then barely thirty years old and simply a member of what was perhaps Italy’s most influential industrialist dynasty, had once received a clear commandment from Vittorio Valletta, Fiat’s deputy: never be seen behind the wheel of a car that’s not a Fiat! Needless to say, the future Avvocato ignored the advice. In August 1950 he bought himself a Ferrari 166 MM barchetta Touring, the last but one of a limited edition of 25 cars that packed a 140 hp two-litre V12 engine into a 680 kilogram body. It was an offshoot of the car that had won the Mille Migliaand the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Agnelli had the car taken to carozzeria Touring. Having a taste for the sartorial, he requested a series of modifications that included teardrop tail lights and a ground-breaking two-tone colour scheme: dark blue up top, dark green skimming the road. The result was a masterpiece. It’s said that Agnelli used it as a boredom killer as he flitted between drinks in Versilia and the set of Italian neo-realist flick Riso amaro, shot in the family’s rice paddies at the Veneria di Lignana estate in Vercelli. The film starred Silvana Mangano.
The echo of this story, this fairy tale, is found in the Fiat Barchetta special edition created by Club Italia in 1996 together with the Fiat Style Center. This gorgeous roadster built for Club members has the same colour combination as the 166 MM: Swaters blue (named after Jacques Swaters, a leading Belgian collector, owner of Agnelli’s barchetta Touring and curator of the Galleria Ferrari) up top, pine green down below. This two-tone livery gives the Barchetta, presented two years earlier as the heir to the legendary 124 Spider, a glowing personality. All the upholstery is made of naturally coloured leather. The Club version bristles with inimitable details: aerodynamic fairings behind the headrests, aluminium instrument panel edging, aluminium sports-style pedals, a light beige soft top, a canvas tonneau cover and Club Italia badges (two at the sides, one at the rear). There are also two personalised plaques, one under the hood, the other behind the gear lever: each bears the car’s serial number and the owner’s name.
These exclusive features are combined with as-standard elements such as driver’s airbag, power steering, air conditioning, radio with motor-powered antenna, fog lights, alloy wheels from the Fiat Accessories Line plus a steering wheel and gearstick knob in black leather.
As has often been the case in its long history, Club Italia led the way: the Club’s own series was soon followed by numerous special/limited editions of the Barchetta, all dedicated to Italian locations or fashion brands. It’s pointless, of course, to ask which of all these was the most interesting.
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