A Guest Post by Robert Maselko -
Francis Lombardi was a World War I flying ace from Genoa who began building aircraft in 1938. After World War II, he diversified into automotive coachwork, making special variations of standard FIAT models in very small numbers. For example, Pope Paul VI used a Lombardi-modified FIAT 2100 Berlina Lusso for public appearances in the early 1960s.
In March 1968, Francis Lombardi surprised the European press at the Geneva Motor Show with a low slung sports coupe using the FIAT 850 Berlina Speciale floorpan and mechanical components. According to Britain’s Car magazine, “…it was left to little-known Francis Lombardi way over in the far corner to show what an impact good, clean, simply proportioned design can really make.” The car was styled in-house by Giuseppe Rinaldi.
Rather than one-offs, Lombardi put the diminutive Grand Prix into series production at his workshop in Vercelli, just outside Torino. This involved using a mix of components in body construction: a modified floor and some intermediate panels from FIAT, some hand-fabricated pieces, and bespoke die-stamped exterior panels. The entire unibody was steel except for the rear fascia, dashboard, and headlight buckets, which were rendered in fiberglass.
Initially badged as the Lombardi Grand Prix and offered with the standard 843 cc 43 HP engine, the car quickly caught the attention of Italian tuners. Franco Giannini formed a joint venture with Lombardi, Officina Trasformazioni Automobili Sportive (OTAS), to market the car outside Italy. These cars featured the Giannini tuned 981cc engine.
Carlo Abarth & Company developed his version of the car. Although some (early?) cars were sold with the 1000OT engine, Mario Colucci fit the 86 HP 1280cc engine from the 850/1300 Coupe transforming it into the potent Scorpione. And to top it off, Abarth and Colucci developed the hot Scorpione SS, which was a very different car: coil-over front suspension, unique tubular trailing arms in the rear, Abarth gearbox, half shafts with CV joints, four wheel disc brakes, and twin 32 mm side-draft Webers. This version produced 100 HP and was good for a 115 MPH top speed.
By now, the American FIAT-Abarth specialists were interested. John Rich of Glendale, California, brought over a Scorpione and lent it to a few enthusiast magazines for testing. The overwhelmingly positive reception led to an order for 65 OTAS cars. To get them around the American emission regulations, OTAS fit the 817cc engine for U.S.-bound cars. Engines less than 50 cubic inch displacement did not require emission controls, and John Rich was happy to sell you one of his own tuned engines!
On the East coast, Al Cosentino imported a few Scorpiones, displaying one at the 1970 New York International Automobile Show. Siata International of Newark, New Jersey displayed a pair of cars at the same show, and managed to import an additional nine examples of the OTAS with 1000cc Giannini engine (badged “Tigre”) before the EPA caught on and stopped the venture.
Production of the Grand Prix ended in 1971. Francis Lombardi returned to building one-offs, including a few NSU and VW-based cars. He retired in 1976, and passed away March 5, 1983. Readers wanting to know more are encouraged to visit the Francis Lombardi web site.
At Le Belle Macchine d’Italia, Saturday, June 30, 2012, we were fortunate to have three Lombardi automobiles present. There were two John Rich imported OTAS cars, a red one belonging to Don Meluzio of York, Pennsylvania, and a yellow one belonging to Rob Maselko of Wharton, New Jersey. In addition, there was one privately imported Lombardi Grand Prix belonging to Haz Neuman of Whiteford, Maryland. This beautifully restored example took first place in the FIAT category. Congratulations Haz!
My thanks to John Wiley for the photos and to Don Meluzio for introducing me to Robert Maselko who has done a great job educating me.
Robert Maselko grew up in the heart of European car imports: northeastern New Jersey. He is an historian and collector of etceterinis, microcars, and Triumphs.