During the brass era of automobiles, from about 1900 to 1915, pretty much every car was a luxury car. Before Ford’s 1908 Ford Model T put the nation on wheels starting in 1907, automobiles were primarily seen as playthings for wealthy folks. Even Fiat, who’s known these days for more pedestrian economy cars and family vehicles, started out as a luxury manufacturer.

Fiat is one of the pioneers of the automotive age. The company built its first car in 1889. In addition to its forays into racing, Fiat was known for its luxury cars, and was one of the top importers of chassis into the U.S. Like most high-end cars of the time, early Fiats were sold as bare chassis and had coachbuilt bodies installed to the owners’ specifications. The bodies alone could cost as much as $4,000 in some cases. The first car to blend Fiat’s racing and luxury disciplines was the 60 HP, built from 1903 to 1907. The model range featured a pressed steel chassis and a massive 60 horsepower four-cylinder engine. The 50-60 evolved into the Tipo 6, like this example recently shown and sold at Pebble Beach. Popular with affluent American customers, the Tipo 6 was one of the most luxurious cars of its time.

Fiat was one of the best-known European manufacturers during the brass era. The company produced a range of vehicles, but it was the staggeringly expensive big-bore models that captured the attention of the public, and they were owned by royalty and dignitaries. The cars were low-production vehicles, with less than 100 built in most cases, and very few of them have survived the ensuing century.

Continue reading for my full review of this special Fiat.

Exterior

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior AutoShow
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In fact, it’s still pretty lavish now. Although technologically crude compared to, say, the latest Bentley Mulsanne, the Tipo 6 was an impressive piece of machinery in 1911. The "demi-tonneau" name referred to the four-seat open body, which was constructed on a long, 124-inch wheelbase.

Broad, flat fenders with side-mounted spares were a common sight on cars of the era, as were the wooden artillery-style wheels and carriage lamps.

The bodywork was aluminum over an ash wood structure, and bright colors were common at the time. Wealthy owners wanted people to see them tooling along, after all. Although the radiator grille bore a Fiat badge, the internal construction was very similar to that of Mercedes-Benz.

The brass-framed windshield folded flat for a rakish look, or met the canvas top for a semblance of weather protection. Otherwise the brown leather interior was open to the elements. Broad, flat fenders with side-mounted spares were a common sight on cars of the era, as were the wooden artillery-style wheels and carriage lamps.

Though the automobile was in its infancy, a wide range of accessories were available, including tool kits, a speedometer that went to 100 mph, a bulb horn shaped like a boa constrictor (possibly sculpted by someone who had never actually seen a boa constrictor), brass headlamps and decorative hood ornaments. In the case of the feature car, look closely: yes, that’s a stereotyped Native American riding a giant snail.

Interior

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Interior AutoShow
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Brass-era cars featured elegantly exposed mechanical bits. The steering column was exposed, and brake levers were mounted outside the car. Though the Tipo 6 could seat four, the big car’s driving position was similar to Fiat’s race cars. The instrument panel was a slab of neatly polished wood, and the gauges were sourced from industrial manufacturers. Many of the interior components and accessories came from outside suppliers, in fact: the speedometer from Warner, the horn from Nonpareil, the headlamps from Badger Brass.

Drivetrain

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior AutoShow
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Fiat’s under-square, side-valve engines evolved throughout the brass era. The Tipo 6 featured a 9.0 liter (about 550 cubic inches) four-cylinder with full-pressure lubrication. Horsepower was about 75, and the huge displacement meant lots of torque to turn the tall wooden wheels. The Tipo 6 used a double chain drive, like Fiat’s racers, and the four-speed transmission’s 1.9:1 final drive enabled it to attain sufficient speed to keep up with modern traffic, although a modern interstate is a far smoother surface than this was ever designed for! A transmission brake was used to slow things down, in tandem with a lever-operated rear-wheel handbrake.

Prices

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior AutoShow
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Production of brass-era cars was low, and survivors are naturally scarce. The bespoke coachwork could get expensive, with finished cars selling for as much as $10,000 in 1906. There were less than 90 Tipo 6 cars built between 1910 and 1914, and reports show just 28 cars built in 1906. Sales are naturally uncommon, but reports show that a 1912 example of the more common Fiat Model 56 sold for $143,000 at Bonhams in 2014, and a 1905 60HP Touring, one of the Tipo 6’s predecessors, sold for $825,000 the same year. This article’s featured 1911 Tipo 6 sold at this year’s Pebble Beach auction for $880,000. Its rarity, unique bodywork and the presence of many period accessories are likely responsible for the difference in value.

Competition

The rarity of cars during this era meant that the luxury market was a broad category, and determining direct competitors can be complicated. Not many cars could compare to the five-figure price of the Fiat Tipo 6, but there were a number of American manufacturers who were happy to match its performance and size.

1911 Lozier Model 51

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior
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Like Fiat, Lozier split its time between racing and luxury-car manufacturing. Pricier than a Packard, the Lozier Model 51 was powered by a 51-horsepower, 554-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine. In 1911 a Lozier finished second in the inaugural Indianapolis 500.

1911 Pierce-Arrow Model 66

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior
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Pierce-Arrow quickly became known for unique styling on its luxury cars, and made its name with tough, high-quality vehicles. The range-topping Model 66 sold for over $7,000 in 1911 and featured an 825-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine and an aluminum body.

1911 Rambler Model 65

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior
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The Rambler Model 65 was powered by a 318-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine producing 45 horsepower, but was really set apart by its massive 40-inch tires and an interior the size of a parlor.

Conclusion

1911 Fiat Tipo 6 Four Passenger Demi Tonneau Exterior AutoShow
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This 1911 Fiat Tipo 6 is a fantastic example of the early days of the automobile, when the “horseless carriages” were considered mechanical marvels (and in many cases, dangerous toys). In contrast to modern Fiats, the Tipo 6 was a brightly colored chariot for affluent folks. That said, one thing hasn’t changed over the years – Fiat’s uniquely Italian sense of adventure and style.

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    • * Extremely rare
    • * In terms of modern auction results, less expensive cars from the era are worth more
    • *
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