My Car Quest

September 23, 2021

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

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