There’s a bit of the old chalk and cheese element about older Italian cars: on one hand you’ve got the overly-cliched fire-breathing products from Ferrari, and on the flip side there are the diminutive Fiats and Lancias the Italian motor industry’s equally well-known for.
But among these, and sadly far too neglected, are the ‘etceterinis’, those small (usually Fiat-powered) sports cars and single seaters that sprung up during the immediate post-war period. Abarth started as a small-time tuner that went on to greater things, while others, like Moretti and Volpini ran their course.
One of the more successful etceterinis was Staguellini, which made cars in Ferrari’s home town of Modena. Stanguellini, however, more than pipped Ferrari to the post, making its first car in 1900 after the company, founded by Celso Stanguellini, had been making kettle drums for a couple of decades.
Today the Stanguellini name is kept alive with a family-run Fait/Alfa/Lancia dealership, but from the 1930s until well into the 1960s was known for its spritely small-engined cars that were equally at home on the road, track or circuit.
Celso’s business was succeeded by his son, Francesco, who competed in cars and on motorcycles, but died early. Francesco’s son, Vittorio, took over the Stanguellini dealership aged just 19, but also wanted to inject some of his interest in car manufacture into the business.
Vittorio was responsible for developing the Stanguellini name – not just in Italy, but as far away as the United States of America, where the post-war interest in European sports car racing offered a ready market for the Modena firm’s products.
In the mid-1930s Stanguellini started producing Fiat-engined 750cc and 1100cc sports cars, and in 1937 used a Fiat 2800cc engine in a bigger sports car. That year also saw the creation of the Stanguellini team, which was made up of three Fiats and a Maserati.
Pre-war victories included winning its class in the 1938 Targa Florio, which in Italy would have cemented the firm’s reputation: two years later Stanguellinis took first places in the 750cc and 1100cc classes of the Mille Miglia. Again, victories on home soil gave the products’ reputation a tremendous boost.
After the war Vittorio began development of twin ohc cylinder heads and beefed-up lower ends, and in Formula Junior cars (the series introduced in Italy in 1958) developed a reputation for reliability and longeveity. Not only that however: Stanguellinis were exquisitely made, their design being that of a shrunken Grand Prix car, using tubular-frame construction and coil spring rear suspension on a live axle. Meanwhile the 1950s had seen Stanguellini turn to sports car and even saloon car production, the sports cars often looking like shrunken Cisitalias, but with the pint-sized heart of a lion.
Formula Junior went international in 1959 and Stanguellini was the all-conquering marquee – and also providing a stepping stone for several drivers who’d go on to greater things, including Wolfgang Von Trips and Lorenzo Bandini.
Away from more traditional competition, the Modena concern turned out a streamliner powered by a single-cylinder 250cc Guzzi engine – and went on to smash several class records at Monza.
There were other attempts at single seaters using a Ford Anglia engine but the success of the earlier engines wasn’t repeated. Vittorio Stanguellini died in 1981 but the name lives on with a Modena-based Fiat/Lancia/Alfa dealership, and of course, the museum. If you like the tiny (yet monumentally big-hearted) cars that came out of Italy in the ‘40s and ‘50s, a trip to the museum is mind-blowing.
See www.stanguellini.it for more information