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This is it! - Fiat SB1100

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Hey, we have an instant classic! Can you believe that not too long ago, this was a Premier Padmini? In the nine months that it spent in Sanva Motors in Thane, the transformation was completed. From a popular five-seat, four-door sedan, it has transformed into a barchetta that could have emerged from Turin, with an array of strategically placed Fiat badges reinforcing the imagery. Well, not many of us could see a sportscar hidden underneath a Fiat 1100, but Bijoy perhaps put on some advanced 3D X-ray vision glasses and saw it... and as you’ve seen in the previous pages, actually made it happen.

The first time you lay your eyes on it, the SB1100 looks completely unique. Then when you dwell on the details, you can see the donor car’s lines tastefully hidden under that Kapci Coating’s Cosmic Red and Blue Silver metallic paintwork. The crisp line that runs from the headlamps to the tail-lamps and the indicators and all the lights are the tell-tale giveaways. And when you drive the car, the click-click of the Fiat transmission is unmistakable. As good as it looks, the barchetta is a fun car to drive – well, you cannot go wrong with the classic front-engine rear-wheel drive combination, right?

Though the existing transmission and rear differential was retained, it is mated to nothing less than a rally-prepped engine with dome pistons and lightweight construction that produces anything between 60 and 85 bhp. And how does it sound? Think of the familiar Fiat roar that you’d get in Padminis with sporty exhausts and add a little bit of Metallica to it, and you get the idea.

You’d think that you’ll have to contort your body to get into the car, right? After all, it looks quite low-slung. Well, your eyes are cheating you. The ground clearance is the same as a regular Fiat; it’s the precise surgery that has done away with the metallic lard and other bits that give you the impression of a car that sits lower. Conventional design philosophy suggests that if you reduce height, you should reduce the length as well – but to keep the overall flair of the Fiat 1100, the barchetta is as long as your regular Padmini.

Being a proper racer motor, it revs happily and before every shift of the gear lever, the engine sound reaches a crescendo before starting all over again. The lighter load of the car has translated into an agile handler. Involving? Yes. Scary? No. The sharply raked windscreen and A-pillar plus the seats necessitated a small steering wheel – otherwise you simply wouldn’t be able to get in. But steer it does and goes like a little ‘topolino’ around corners.

But how did it all start? The outline of a Fiat 1100 was sourced from a website, and after taking the dimensions into account, it was possible to reduce its waistline. The lines of the barchetta emerged when the printout of the Fiat was actually cut with a pair of scissors! No less than 6.5 inches of the waistline could be removed, without sacrificing its curvature. Then started the process of actually cutting it. After chopping and re-welding, the car was tested for rigidity. And that’s when the need for a spaceframe came through.

Obviously, removing the roof would affect structural rigidity of the car. So there were suitable modifications done to strengthen the engine compartment and a spaceframe was designed to compensate for the loss of rigidity. The spaceframe connected the half-chassis (which supports the engine) to the rest of the monocoque – old Padminis came with a half-chassis and semi-monocoque construction, you see. Then emerged a single structure which took up the slack left by the absence of the B-, C-pillar and the roof; it eliminated scuttle shake completely and kept the whole car together. There is actually a little seat at the back which can fit a child or two, which is usually hidden under the tonneau cover. The rest of the additional metal in the middle of the car gives the boat-tail look, and it’s a lovely area to show the brilliant Kapci paint finish.

Removing 6.5 inches off the car, including the firewall, meant new challenges like a new steering angle column and mounting, while the revised height of the bonnet required an all-new radiator design. As for the rest that couldn’t be accommodated beneath the bonnet – well, it’s protruding through it! A casual conversation between Tutu Dhawan and Bijoy turned out to be super-productive. He simply donated the entire, unused engine. Anyone who knows engine tuning knows Mahesh Powale and he helped out with this one as did Sher Khan, who makes custom radiators not just for automobiles but for anything that requires such cooling apparatus. Many others helped out too. Nekzad Engineer who contributes to Auto India and has his own garage in Mumbai helped out with 195-section, 14” wheels and more while Essa Karadia ensured SB1100 was easy to turn thanks to his power steering unit. Mahandand J Desai brought in his expertise to fabricate the all-important brackets for the gear linkage.

The body was scraped and each and every part of it was removed, reset, refurbished, realigned, reprimanded (just seeing if you’re paying attention). The raked windshield was built new – though it is a bit too raked for those who are a bit tall... (something will be done about it). Then came the softer bits – Arif, who usually works on vintage Rolls-Royce cars for a living, worked on the upholstery. Red seats with black piping... now how much more cool does it get? Phiroz Sethna helped with the undercoatings and so did Khushrow R Mirza, who among other things was also a Fiat resource. Marespand Dadachanji pulled out the two conical mirrors and the inside rear view mirror from his bag of tricks.

Since the car has to look a Fiat at the end of it all, as mentioned earlier, the indicators and the lights as well were retained while the instrument console was donated by an older generation Fiat. Toggle switches? Well, that’s so classy 60’s; it was irresistible. It was complicated to put together a convertible roof, so a tonneau cover with an extension was the solution, fastened by buttons – right out of a Bentley convertible of the 1930s. The net effect is a sleek, albeit sunny weather, roadster that is purpose-built for early winter mornings.

So if you hear something roaring by, in and around Mumbai, wake up quickly and rub your eyes in disbelief.