In the early post-War period, a military commission led to the creation of a versatile vehicle suitable for the widest variety of uses, enabling Fiat to widen its offering, and also cater for rural requirements. Fiat Campagnola became an icon of the post-War reconstruction, suitable for the widest range of different civil and military uses.
Once the Second World War was over, the American Allies left many of the means of transport they had used in the national liberation campaign to the Italian Army. In addition to trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles, they also left their versatile Willys Jeeps: a cross between a hardy working vehicle and an agile compact car, capable of taking impervious routes in its stride and undergoing intensive use in the worst conditions, also thanks to its four-wheel drive.
In the early fifties, the Italian Ministry of Defence launched a call for tenders to appoint a supplier of vehicles inspired by those off-roaders, with the aim of creating the “Autoveicolo da Ricognizione” (hence the military initials AR), or Reconnaissance Vehicle, for the army. In 1951, the two major Italian manufacturers, Fiat and Alfa Romeo, submitted their proposals. The Fiat “AR51”, designed by Dante Giacosa, was chosen by the heads of the army over its competitor, Alfa Romeo 1900 M, mainly due to its lower maintenance costs.
From the design of the prototype on, Fiat’s vision was of building a vehicle that could easily tackle the bumpy - and largely unsurfaced roads - of the Italian peninsula, and that not only met the requirements of the army chiefs, but also those of the agricultural world: a working environment that had always existed in Italy and which, with the rebirth of the post-War period, was increasingly beginning to play a key role in the national economy. For this reason, the name of the new four-wheel drive vehicle, which was originally supposed to have been “Alpina” (a tribute to the exceptional climbing abilities of the AR 51), became “Campagnola”.
The Fiat Campagnola AR51 designed by Giacosa’s team was built around the 1900 cc petrol engine fitted on the sedans 1400/1900, depowered to 53 HP to make it stronger and more reliable. The vehicle architecture was conventional, featuring a chassis with longitudinal and traverse members, leaf springs at the rear and modern, independent suspension at the front end.
The sophisticated and effective powertrain consisted of a 4-speed transmission with reducer, and it was usually rear-wheel drive, with the possibility of sending part of the torque to the front wheels, when the low-range gears were engaged. To optimise the traction in the toughest conditions, the differentials could be locked on the two axles. A range of different wheelbase and passenger compartment configurations was available, making the detailed offering even easier to adapt to suit different requirements.
In 1953, the 1900 petrol engine was joined by a diesel unit, which was less powerful but with a particularly low fuel consumption. In addition to the diesel engine, in the early years the Campagnola underwent various technical updates that were incorporated into the new military model named AR59.
The production of the vehicle continued for over twenty-two years, benefiting from regular evolutions, and over forty thousand vehicles were manufactured.
In 1974, instead, Fiat presented the Nuova Campagnola. It was a completely redesigned vehicle, a true revolution for the time: the conventional chassis with longitudinal and traverse members was abandoned, and replaced by a modern body chassis reinforced by two longitudinal members welded to the monocoque. There was a choice of two engines: a 2-litre petrol engine - derived from the engine of the Fiat 131 - and a 2500 diesel version, available from 1979. This revolutionary Campagnola, which remained in production until 1987, was the basis for the AR76 military version.
In addition to being used for rural purposes and military supplies, many Campagnolas were purchased by the companies operating in the territory, in particular Enel. Following the nationalisation of the electricity industry in the 1960s, it put its trust in the talents of the 4x4 made in Turin to perform the complex maintenance of one of the most modern electricity grids in the world. A Nuova Campagnola, donated by Fiat to the Holy See in 1980 and scrupulously painted white, was also used as a popemobile for almost thirty years, at the service of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.