Fiat S61: queen of the Turin Motor Show

A racing legend

There is a time machine on show at Parco del Valentino in Turin, which transports anyone who looks at it back to epic competitions of the early 20th century.

Take my word for it. some opportunities only come around once in a lifetime. If you are at the Turin Auto Show at Parco del Valentino between 7 and 11 June, you will have the chance to admire a veritable time machine. Don’t get me wrong: I'm not talking about the kind of time machine with dazzling lights and explosions that you see in science-fiction movies. Far from it. The time machine I’m referring to is a legendary automobile.

I’m sure that when you’re standing in front of it, you’ll experience the same emotions I experienced several years ago. "Come in earlier than usual because we’re starting a big job," my boss had told me over the phone. So when I arrived at the workshop, where I've worked for the last 30 years or so, I found myself standing right in front of it, the Fiat S61 Gran Turismo. Only five were produced back in 1908 for the Fiat Racing Team, and I didn’t think any of them still survived. But I was wrong, there was at least one left!

We’re talking about an exceptional vehicle, a four-seat grand tourer race car belonging to the Fiat Racing Team, the actual one that won the American Grand Prize in 1912! In short, a phenomenon. I remember approaching the car cautiously, almost fearfully, as if merely placing my hand on the bonnet could ruin it. It didn’t, of course, but then I noticed an inscription near my hand and almost keeled over right there in the workshop! On the bodywork was written: Fiat S61 – American G.P. – 5 October 1912 – 1st C. Bragg. The Fiat S61 in front of me was the very car that won the American Grand Prize.

At the mere sight of the engine under the bonnet, I imagined myself on those dusty roads back in the day, amidst the thick fumes from the exhausts, driving this fantastic thunderbolt of a car in 500-km races in the place of its original driver Caleb Bragg.

Many of us worked to restore this time machine to the splendour of its 1908 heyday. I must say, it was a tough job, although it was made easier by the cutting-edge construction and mechanical solutions adopted by the Fiat S61.Because this car really was ahead of its time. You could say it was the mother of modern racing cars, including Ferrari.

It had an overhead camshaft, just like cars of the 1980s. Even in those days, it had four valves and four spark plugs per cylinder. To start the engine, you have to pour four "shots" of petrol into the cylinders by means of four small brass taps near the combustion chamber. And then, just like all early 20th century cars, it needs a push. But we only pushed it ten metres before the engine spluttered into action and the Fiat S61 took off once more, like an old maid given a new lease of life.

We treated her like a queen. We refitted everything, carrying out a conservative restoration that left the Fiat S61 in its original condition and back to its legendary best. Of course, some rebuilding and repairs were needed, but we did it with the utmost respect for the technical and styling canons of the time.

Just one look at the car and I’m overcome by the desire to drive it down a dusty track. You’ll feel the same way when you see this Fiat S61 at the Turin Auto Show at Parco del Valentino from 7 to 11 June. I guarantee it.

*Aurelio Di Carlo is a fictional name representing FCA Heritage’s team of expert mechanics, who worked with passion and dedication to restore the Fiat S61 to its former glory.

Watch the video to find out more about the history of this car.

The Fiat S61, the queen of the Turin Auto Show
Watch the video
The Fiat S61, the queen of the Turin Auto Show

Read the stories of FCA Heritage cars starring in the Turin Auto Show.
Fiat 525 SS: the dominatrix of speed
Lancia D50: back on the streets of Turin
Lancia Flaminia Loraymo: rebodied American prototype.

Keep up to date with all the news, events and insights from the Heritage universe.