My Car Quest

November 29, 2022

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix Cars In Pennsylvania

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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!

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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.

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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. 

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

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!

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

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.

 

 

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

This article was originally published in July 2012.
Summary
OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix Cars In Pennsylvania
Article Name
OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix Cars In Pennsylvania
Description
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.
Author

Comments

  1. Grifo4me says

    Neat little cars I remember seeing a few of these for sale in California, but could never fit in one?

  2. I am sure I would not fit. They look like an interesting alternative to an Abarth – more rare and certainly less known.

  3. Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed your information. My husband was John Rich and he really loved, loved, the Italian cars. Our dealership was all ways busy after 5:00p.m. with all the shop talk. Fiat is really making a come back.

    Jo Rich

    • Don Meluzio says

      Wow, I just happened to take a look at this article again, and noted you recently made a post. Your husband was a legend for all of us OTAS guys. I’d love to talk to you sometime, you must have 100s of stories. So glad you liked the article

      • Dear Don:
        You got it right, 100 plus stories. In our shop there was all ways something going on. Especially around
        5:00p.m. shop talk was a favorite for everyone. I have kept up with the car gang and right now I am the
        Social Director for a company in La Canada, Ca. and once a month we have a breakfast/coffee and cars
        get together. People from all over come. I am in my glory, cars has been my second love and sometimes
        the voice of my husband just seems to be in the back ground.
        Stay well and happy and nice hearing from you.
        Jo Rich

    • Larry Baxter says

      Hi Jo,
      I owned the orange OTAS that John put into auto Expo LA twice around 1968 and 69. This was the one with the spoiler on the front end that was constantly being rebuilt as it was only a few inched above the road. The car was definitely a head turner, and an outstanding handler. I had PBS put a turbo motor in it, and while working for Northrop corp, was assigned to some projects at Palmdale airport. Driving over the mountain from La Canada, I was constantly (like every morning) being challenged by what seemed to be the local Porche club. They tried but could never catch me. When the OTAS caught fire from the fuel line working its way out of the carburetor, I bought the Black Lancia Scorpion, with the cut out rear panels. THOSE WERE THE DAYS.
      kindest regards,
      Larry Baxter

  4. Robert Maselko says

    Hello Jo, thank you for your comment. As Don says, we hold John in high regard for the work he did in importing some of our favorite cars. Feel free to add to or correct anything I said. I was told John imported 65 cars by Tony Grillo, who spoke with John c.2000. Best regards, Rob

  5. The preceding comments are from some of the key people in this rare grouping of the faithful OTAS and Italian car enthusiasts. I learned a great deal about the mark just from reading this short history. I have owned a OTAS for over 30 years, and have enjoyed it – even though not running for more than 10 of these last years..I really need to get that car back on its feet! This little set of stories and hello’s are a wake up call–II need to put it on the bucket list.
    Yet, restoration of other peoples dreams has kept me so busy, I just can’t seem to be able to include the car in the Honey-do list.

  6. MIGUEL ANGEL REY says

    TENGO UN LOMBARDI 850 GRAND PRIX Y ESTOY DESEANDO TERMINARLO ES CURIOSO EN DOCUMENTACION PONE 1298 CC UN SALUDO A TODOS

  7. Mark L Garrett says

    I had a new OTAS that I bought in Costa Mesa. My buddy and I were car shopping. He wanted a Fiat and they were not going to sell it to him. I told them that if they sold him the Fiat I would buy the OTAS so we both got new cars that day. The next day someone pulled out in front of me and I could not miss them (Bummer). The car finally ended up in your shop in La Canada for repairs as no one else could get parts. Git it fixed by you and you put in a dropped front leaf spring and painted it gold for me. You also removed the peddle extensions (I’m 6. 6″ tall). What a great car it was.
    I had to sell it after I got married and we had two kids and one on the way. One would be in the package area, one on my wife’s lap and one on the way. My wife is 6′ 2″ and she was able to put her feet stretched out on the floor board. Sold it for more than I paid for it. LOVED the O.T.A.S.

  8. Gregory Copley says

    I bought the only Lombardi Gianini imported into Australia by, as I recall, a Sydney Fiat dealer in about 1968 (could have been 1969). The Australian motoring magazine, Wheels, borrowed it for an evaluation and the write-up labeled it as “the biggest vacuum cleaner in Sydney: picks up all the fluff in town”. It sure did. And it handled superbly. Someone later misappropriated it and totaled it; what a tragedy.

  9. Joseph Pole says

    Gregory Copley, I’m in Sydney and have a Grand Prix. It was originally red and has been repainted silver at some point. I know of 4 others in Australia. No idea of the origins of mine, records only go back as far as the 80s. How I’d love to get my hands on the wreck of your former car. Parts are so hard to find for these things. Interesting story about yours nonetheless

    • Gregory Copley says

      Dear Joseph: Mine was yellow. It was an Arbarth version, which I subsequently checked with Mme Arbarth at her home in Monaco; she had an album with all her husband’s cars in it. I was already in the US when the car was taken and totaled, so I do not know what happened to its remains. That was in Sydney. And it must have been about 1970.

      • Joseph Pole says

        You left Australia in the early 70’s? You wouldn’t be Gregory Copely, the intelligence and geopolitical consultant? If so, it’s an honour to e-meet you and interesting to know that you (briefly) owned one of these fascinating little cars

  10. Joseph: Yes, that’s me. And, yes, it was a fascinating little car. It was interesting, when I met Arbarth’s widow, in Monaco many year later and told her I had owned one of her husband’s cars, she was in total disbelief, and it was after a long dinner that we went back to her villa where she produced a photo album of all his special cars. And there it was, of course. She immediately started apologising. Anyway, lots of fun. Have had a couple of Ferrariss and an Aston Martin since then, but, in sedate old age, have kept Jaguars. You can see some of what we’re doing these days on http://www.strategicstudies.org, or on LinkedIn at The International Strategic Studies Association. But I’ve started cutting back on exotic cars, yachts, and aircraft! All the best, Greg.

  11. Peter Boyle says

    last time i saw one of these was at the Australian F1 GP in Melbourne a few years ago.

  12. @Michael Gulett, thank you for re-publishing this article. I am pleased to say that it has been cited in several other enthusiast publications and reference sites over the years. I was lucky enough to be in the right places at the right times to collect the information on these very pretty and rare cars.

    I have now had my OTAS over 19 years. Spring has arrived and the winter road salt has been washed away. The “O” will be coming out of storage shortly!

    MCQ continues to draw former and present Lombardi owners from out of the woodwork, which is of great value to all.

    For people wanting to chat with other Lombardi GP owners, there is an active Facebook group called “Abarth Scorpione 1300 / Francis Lombardi Grand Prix”.

    • Dan McCulley says

      Hi RobM
      We have an Otas in the family since 1970 it had a great life but then it has been sitting in our airplane hanger or garage for decades. I’m looking for the best way to get this car to a home that it can either be returned to the road or used to help another be resurrected. I’m just picking your brain for ideas and potential worth of this Otas.
      I will try and attach some pictures. I can send better pictures later this all I have now.
      Thanks

      • Robert Maselko says

        Hi Dan, thanks for posting. Your car looks familiar – I think we emailed some time ago when the car was listed for sale? The best place to find a good home for the car would be the XWebForums’ classified section (this site was originally for X1/9s, but evolved to include sub-sites for all classic Fiat-based cars). Also the Facebook site I mentioned, and then the usual places such as Bring-a-Trailer, Hemmings, etc. Difficult to put a value to the car without knowing more about its condition and completeness. The body will be expensive to bring back, but mechanical components are still available from Fiat specialists and are reasonably priced.

        • Dan McCulley says

          Thanks for your informative email.
          My son put the car out on the internet awhile ago when we were sorting out my parents estate and then we put it back in storage. It is time to get it out in the world again. I will follow your advice on the website’s to list it on. The car is complete (outside of the front “worthless” bumper and of course having to get it mechanically functional again). A mechanic down the road started on prepping body for paint but stopped. Body is better than it looks in pics.
          Thanks again for your help!
          Dan

        • Robert,

          A link to more recent pictures below

          https://photos.app.goo.gl/jFNqkyWr2H1j8Btu6

          Thanks again for your help!
          Dan

  13. Derek Meluzio says

    Wonderful article. Thanks for posting. Love these cars.

  14. Joseph Pole says

    Here’s a pic of a car next to Francis Lombardi

  15. Joseph Pole says

    Another pic of my RHD car in Sydney, Australia

    • Gregory Copley says

      There was, I think, only one of these imported into Australia, and that was mine. It was subsequently “borrowed” and written off in an accident, so I wonder if this is it, rebuilt? Mine was originally a bright yellow, and was reviewed in Wheels magazine in Sydney in about 1968. It would be interesting and wonderful if my beautiful Yellow Peril was saved.

      • Rob Maselko says

        Greg, I know for a fact there were others. Maybe 15 cars? I have a copy of an older Aussie magazine which I believe gives the exact number, but all my car books are still packed from my recent move. When the Francis Lombardi website was up and running, there were a few cars from Australia on the register. Hopefully your car survived and was given a 2nd life. Do you have any photos you can post?

  16. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    I just located a O.T.A.S. 820 here in Oklahoma. It has been stored in a garage covered for a number of years. The garage was so full of stuff I could not see the car and only a picture! It is yellow and owned by older gentleman that wants to sell it. Should I try to purchase it. I do think the price will not be an issue but I need to decide if I want to get involved.. Any thought would be appreciated.
    Thank you,
    John

    • Rob Maselko says

      Hi John, Yes, of course ( ! ), but be wary of rust. These cars do rust aggressively and only a few replacement body panels are available from Europe. Mechanical components are standard Fiat 850, which are still easy to get. It would be great if you could share the photo. Also, how tall are you? Six footers may not fit. Any questions, just ask.

    • Agree with Rob’s comment and would add that any parts unique to the car can be hard to find or expensive. A cracked windshield for example would be hard to source a replacement for. Make sure you collect all the parts if you decide to go through with the purchase

  17. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    Mr, Maselko,

    Thank you for your comments. Sorry I do not have the picture. I am five foot nine so ok. The project would be a joint effort with my son who is over six feet tall. It will take some effort to see the car. The owner is in poor health and sixty miles from here. I will have to arrange a meeting to “unpack” the car from its corner of the very crowed garage.
    One note, the owner stated the car is number six of the USA spec cars. The picture shows the simple hub cap wheels.
    If the picture is of any indication it did not show any visible rust. Mabey I am just trying to be optimistic!
    Thank you again,
    John

  18. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    I have purchased the car! It is a Giannini Tigre number 0006.Bit of a surprise I though it was going to be an OTAS 820. Second owner purchased it from a friend that got the car at the 1970 New York International car show. No visible rust, perfect glass, some original yellow paint peeling on one rear quarter. Car has been in dry storage since 1988. Car currently has a 850 spider engine installed, The original Giannini engine is in boxes. Seats will require recovering. My current plan is to refurbish the car to make it roadable while building the Giannini engine. I want to keep the car as original as possible rather than a complete restoration.
    John
    (sorry I am trying to learn how to post pictures)

  19. Rob Maselko says

    John, thanks for sharing that with us. What an incredible find. I was told by an former employee at Siata International that they imported 11 cars before the EPA stepped in and stopped them. Yours is the only one I have ever seen. Attached is a photo he gave me of a red car parked in front of their building in Newark, NJ. Keep us updated as things progress.

  20. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    Gianinni number 0006 is at it’s new home. Gave it’s first bath since 1988. Made my first parts order to Mr Fiat, Brake stuff and a front turn signal lens. Lens is same as a Fiat sedan not 850 spider. Brakes do appear to be 850. Front lens fit but the color is a different shade, Now I get to order the other side!
    I need to find someone that actually knows what a Tigre engine is, inside and out. The car came with five boxes of parts. The only part I am pretty sure is Tigre is the crank shaft and it is broken! Many of the parts are sure to be 850, including a sheet metal pan. The engine in the car has a aluminum cast sump and there is a second aluminum one with the boxes. The engine in the car has a cast valve cover. So a long investigation of all the cars parts identity and condition. Having many years refurbishing British cars a Lombardi car will be quite a new challenge.
    John

  21. John, your best best for more info is to join the “Abarth Scorpione 1300 / Francis Lombardi Grand Prix” group on Facebook. No, I don’t like FB either, but this group has many of the most knowledgable people from around the world who can give you details about the Gianinni version of the Grand Prix. Please keep us updated.

    On another note, I plan to have my OTAS on the showfield at the Import & Performance Nationals at Carlisle, PA, May 13-14. Stop by to say hello.

    Rob

  22. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    Rob, Thanks, I took a look at the Facebook group via my wife’s account. I see what the large amount of information I could find. I guess I will have to break down and become a Facebook (Meta?) user.
    When I lived in Rochester NY years ago I attended the Carlisle event many times with the Western NY Centre of the MG Car Club. Great fun seeing the cars and rummaging thru the parts and sometimes selling a few. Sorry I am a lot older and further away (NE Oklahoma) so I have missed out. Have fun this year and post pictures.
    Attached is a pic of the Gianinni getting it first bath since 1988.
    John

    • John, is that the original paint? The car looks great. What a find!

      • JOHN A FORRESTER says

        Rob,
        Yes, that is the original paint. Most of the pictures I have seen on line appear more “yellow”. We will probably use a paint match scan to try and duplicate the color. As much as I would like not to repaint the car there are enough defects that it will probably be required. I believe every thing about the car is original except the engine. Some of the engine parts MAY be original as well. It even has the original stylized “G” center hub caps. I will try to convince my wife to repaint the worn red background around the G. Big progress so far, replaced one front indicator lens and painted the grill!
        John

  23. JOHN A FORRESTER says

    Rob,
    I took your advice and joined the Face Book group. I scrolled back probably two years. I found two posts of interest to my car. One was a round color pallet. It had two shades of yellow, one what I would call bright yellow that I expect to be the color of your outstanding car. The other a softer yellow that appears to be the color of mine. Also there was a picture of what looks to be a Gianinni factory listing of available engines. Only one of the three listed a 74 mm stroke which matches the broken crank shaft I have that is marked 74. I have yet to find any information as to what engine a Gianinni would use to be considered a Tigre. Of all the pictures I viewed none of them matched the exact configuration of the rear panel of my car and the picture you sent of the car in the Siata NJ car lot.
    Thanks again for all your valuable help,
    John

  24. John,
    I believe I have the same document you mention, detailing 3 engine choices, the last one being the 74mm stroke 1-liter. My understanding is that the Siata Int’l cars all had that engine. I would love to see a photo of the rear panel of your car. We can also continue the discussion thru mail. rob dot maselko at gmail dot com

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