A Cisitalia of Many Continents

  • A Cisitalia of Many Continents

    Piero Dusio was a successful Italian industrialist with a dream. A car of his own creation was the focus. The Cisitalia name and the cars produced aptly illustrate an achievement of one man’s passion for the automobile. Dusio built up the Compagnia Industriale Sportiva Italia (Cisitalia) prior to the start of World War II. It was a successful conglomerate with interests in the textile and hospitality industries along with sporting goods and banking. He attracted some exceptional design and driving talent, including Dante Giacosa, Carlo Abarth, Ferry Porsche and the incredible Tazio Nuvolari to help him create exceptional machines. Though started in Italy, Cisitalia and Piero did not stay too long. The works moved to Argentina apparently due to some taxation issues and the Italian government. Juan Peron’s wallet and hospitality were the solution and Dusio moved and established Autoar (Automotores Argentinos) S.A.I.C. on 22 March 1949. The company relocated and so did a likely not fully completed Vignale-bodied chassis 054 SC. It was soon used around Buenos Aires though the exact date of sale is difficult to determine. 054 is early in the chassis number sequence so we are assured that this is one of the cars that made its first continental journey early in life. Argentina's roads called and years of service then storage found 054 a bit tired but ready for more travel circa 2000. Folklore at the southern hemisphere garage site recalled this to be a car that Dusio had lent to the Perons for personal use on an occasion or two. Though son Carlo Dusio stayed behind in Italy and operated a restructured Cisitalia works, the driving wheel had in fact “gone south.” This car stayed with its creator. Restoration of the vehicle you see here has taken about a decade with great attention paid to originality and the differences between this Vignale-built car and other coachbuilders’ efforts. We at Automotive Restorations Inc have enjoyed the ability to practice our craft at this level and thank Henry Miller for his patience and dedication to seeing this through properly. We hope you concur.

    DISCOVERED AND DORMANT FOR YEARS IN A BUENOS AIRES LOCKUP: A deal is soon struck and Cisitalia Vignale Spyder #054SC gets winched onto a trailer. It is soon to be aboard ship for this Cisitalia’s 3rd “continental conversion” bound for Southern Florida with Argentinian-native, now Florida-resident Orlando Cairo in control of operations. Yes, we like the wire wheels on the trailer, too!

    LANDED & FOR SALE: Cisitalia 202SC in rolling chassis form with…well, quite a few parts in need of just a bit more than simple installation. Said to be complete, a deal is made and we start looking at 054 as a project.

    CAR & PARTS: Despite years of storage it was encouraging to find the original #075 engine and all or almost all of that which had been removed decades ago. There it was spread out on Orlando’s floor though most very much in need of substantial component restoration. Top, center: even the radiator had been disassembled to core & tanks. Left: N 075 just as stamped on the Chassis plate.

    USED? Oh yes, very much so!! But all the key original drive train items were there. Someone had clearly started this project decades earlier…&...thankfully when progress stopped, the bits were placed in the vehicle for safe keeping. PROOF - Car lovers & enthusiasts worldwide tend to care about great cars!

    CAREFUL DISASSEMBLY AND RESEARCH: JOB 1 - Though 054 had been serviced to keep running, it had never been restored. A few aesthetic changes had also been added over the years, but the evidence of originality was all there. We soon knew that this was a Vignale-bodied Cisitalia with trafficators in the flanks. All the mountings and bits of the cut wiring remained. Note photos upper left: the original dark red color was present under windscreen edging and other covered spots. The original brown leather still evident at tacking edge folds, where the dark blue dye had not found a home. We soon had both paint & leather color matched per photos right. Other details of construction and form along with badges in a box indicated Vignale coachwork.

    RESEARCH CONTINUES: When we asked about the bumpers we were told that it “never had bumpers!” with a degree of certainty. This came from this car’s long-term southern hemisphere curator who had worked at Autoar (Dusio’s Automotores Argentinos) for years. We had our doubts! Once the paint was off and body restoration in process it was clear that this was in fact the case. He was also right about the “Portholes added much later & not correct” comment. Note photos: sloppy uneven cuts for body side holes, no bumper bracket exit holes in body or any sign of welds on skin. Mounting points on the framework also absent.

    Research came in two forms: 1 – Networking among the community of enthusiasts and historians. 2 – close and careful examination to 054’s bones and details. We soon knew that this was a rare Vignale built 202 Spyder and not a Stablimenti Farina car. It was also clear that 054 crossed the pond as a part of Dusio’s relocation. Note the Brochure cover right, showing a Vignale-bodied car with trafficators and no front parking lamps. There are quite a few other differences we noted during disassembly. We were fortunate; during this restoration we had several other coupe and Spyder 202s in the shop and we measured and looked carefully. Above is a Stablimenti Farina bodied 202 with side vent ports and parking lamps. Also pictured is another Vignale car. The earliest cars tended to have disc wheels but wires were the norm on Spyders past about #35.

    COMPLETE? Well, not really. Among the missing: a correct grille. Note the photo upper left of 054 and one of the legendary competition cars below. When we looked closely this piece had been crudely fabricated; perhaps this was the model. There was some evidence of minor center front impact repair on the body and…where does one order a Cisitalia grille? We did the research and built the part as Vignale had in period. Also missing was the handbrake system, speaker grille, several top parts and quite a bit more. We sourced where possible or fabricated to original design. The handbrake was quite a job. This in part accounts for the years needed to compete this restoration.

    Chassis plates, another interesting bit of origin evidence. The pictures above illustrate the tags found on a number of Cisitalias we’ve seen at the shop. We expect these are reproductions for plates long lost. Perhaps these are typical of plates for cars actually manufactured in Argentina. Rumors abound and facts are hard to find. We have seen a good many Italian cars of the early fifties and the black screened approach is not the norm, pressings are. We are confident this car and plate were manufactured in the early years in Torino and ventured forth from there. Proof indeed that these are powerful cars that can cross oceans due in small part to their style, speed and most critically, appeal.

    COMPONENT RESTORATION IN PROCESS. Years of use then long storage had taken their toll. Right: block & head machine work and prep. Left: oil pump drive and water pump impeller; both had to be fabricated as did the dry sump takeoff. Above: Mike Pierce did a super job on the Webers.

    Getting all 1100 cc’s built just right! Master Technician Charlie Webb assembles the right Fiat block with the right bits carefully blueprinted to assure power and durability; he puts it all together carefully as is his regular practice. Left: Dry sump system took lots to revive. Center: Metal test showed cracked main cap - a new set was soon made from billet stock.

  • RESULTS: 63 Brutal HP at 6000 RPM on the ARI dyno per the final post break in tuning power sweep above and detailed right. Only 3 HP away from Cisitalia’s Nuvolari Spyder 66 HP claims in period and certainly due to dyno differences. We know this engine is all to Cisitialia’s build and tuning specs.

    ALL THE WHILE: Body restoration moves forward. Once our body assembly is back for plastic media blasting, we note a few more issues. Floors with pinholes here and there, some prior damage repairs that were less than perfect and other details in need of attention. We were delighted not to find any major impact or serious corrosion allowing use of most of what Cisitalia and Vignale had created well over half a century ago.

    PROCESS & PROGRESS: Top - sections saved and replaced as needed. Above – rear body section restored and ready for refit. Right: Correct grille and nose come together nicely.

    “THIS BODY IS DONE!” Says panel master Steve Hall with a degree of pride. Paint please!

  • HANDS ON FOR THE PREP GUYS. Ready it is with just a bit of fine fettling from Steve, we move 054 into our paint shop to put all those curves in paint perspective. Though the bare alloy really is sculpture!

    FINISH PREP: One final test fit for the grille while in epoxy prime then surfacing coatings to restore the exceptional form this car enjoys. A form that shows well in light gray. What style circa 1949!

    PAINTED, BAKED AND CURING IN THE SUN. Well before top coats went on the dark red areas the entire underbody and interior areas had been painted that ex-Italian army military surplus gray enamel Cisitalia employed on this and most others we’ve had our hands on. The remnant samples were still there to match. Most were brush painted in period. We took the liberty of spraying and brushing to apply efficiently.

    ASSEMBLY UNDERWAY: Cisitalias are very hand made. Color codes on wiring? None!! All black as original with tags to indicate where each circuit is bound. As original was our guideline for this restoration with only mandatory upgrades where appropriate. Asbestos brake shoes are just not used any longer and health hazards are only a part of the reason. Still lots to do to be ready for our Amelia debut!

    ENGINE’S IN, WIRING IS ROUTED AND IT IS TIME TO TRIM. Here we see the restored seat frames test fitted to insure all works as it should prior to application of pads and hide. Carpets and panels roughed in with Mo-Ma Mfg’s well-restored instruments soon to find their dashboard spots.

    AMELIA ENTRY: We’re not quite done, but close. It’s fall 2015 and Henry is set on having this car debut at Bill Warner’s superb, performance machine focused event. We mock assemble, send the entry photos and get to work. Just a little left so no worries.

    THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS – Upper left: tank fits just behind the engine but…upper center: the original’s been repaired a time or two & acquired a twist so it will not sit properly. Once straightened: leaks everywhere!! New and exact replacement fabrication moves quickly while all those other little nuances of early fifties Italian auto craft get put right, finessed and then on they go. When did that yellow lens get there?

  • Early February 2016: Closing in on Completion!! 054 is running but not driving. Most systems are up but it is a bit too snowy for a road test in CT. Then we note a bit of fuel seeping from the tank. Close inspection reveals prior poor repairs. Once inspected we know we need to fabricate a replacement tout de suite. We’ve got some work to do FAST if an Amelia Island debut for the Cisitalia 054 is to come together nicely.

    With less than a month to go the crew at ARI is BUSY! Upper right: Original tanks with bottom cut away to reveal…a disaster. Alloy sheet patterned, cut and roughed out to shape. Right: The center module with baffle panels tacked gets a test fit. End panels are soon finished and installed just as Cisitalia did it decades ago and the finished tank below far right is ready to install. Then there were the loose ends: we were aware of that leaky tank in early February. We build a glove box, it gets installed and lined per above and above right. Dash assembly gets into high gear. We still need to top the machine and test and tune but come week 3 of February we are feeling confident.

    Last 2 weeks: Lots of details, testing and the finish up! Quid, upper right.

    THE FINAL HOUR: February of 2016 is coming to a close as Charlie makes ready for 054’s first real road test. It has puttered around the lot to check the basics but has not seen a highway in…well, over 4 decades from what we’ve been told. Off she goes and …WHAT A TREAT! All works just beautifully and we are in good shape to head south next week with a great machine; we are very proud and pleased to be showing this jewel for the first time at Amelia Island. This car has been “under wraps” and out of sight for ages and its recommissioning has been a much-enjoyed road. Here’s to many more roads and a great 2nd chance for Cisitalia 202SC number 054 to tear ‘em up!!

    It’s Done!...but when you enjoy machines like this and time allows for some fine tuning…well, such indulgences should never be stopped. The rains have washed the salt off and our Charlie Webb takes another ride or two. We call it sorting! Show cars should run as well as they look, and this one does just that. Above right: After Charlie closes that door, we load for Amelia.

  • Well, one thing we found on test assembly was that test was needed for all parts. It was clear to us that this car languished at the factory for quite some time and both lost and accumulated parts, including quite a few that really were not ready for service. The scope of the work is best told from an excerpt from an in-process invoice per below:

    “Finish fabrication of door top cap trims, dash caps and other missing trims in brass stock & send for plating. Fabricate an upper cooling pipe to include temp sender port. Make up patterns for inner windshield trim. Fabricate WS trims. Complete fabrication of grille and work as needed to fit vehicle. Fabricate and shape headlamp trims from drawings provided and custom raw castings supplied with vehicle. Fabricate top windshield molding. Test fit windshield trim to body after painting. Rework and shape glove box door for proper fit. Fabricate missing clutch inspection cover. Fabricate and/or rework as needed to correct top irons in steel to original design. Fabricate and fit rear convertible top trim from brass stock, shape ends, drill and test fit prior to plating. Fabricate and fit set of missing and/or incorrect door glass tracks and retainers. Fabricate hood props and all related hardware. Fabricate lock bar for left door lock and install. Complete fabrication of missing dash and door end cap trims from brass stock and send for plating. Disassemble existing fuel tank for baffle configuration.”

    We had some real advantages in seeing this project through. Information from all the years we had for research we had time to compile, the very interested Cisitalia community and some hugely helpful enthusiasts worldwide, and all the extra pieces and information that arrived with this car. This was indeed a labor of love for all.


    • Henry Miller for his patience and dedication to accuracy, quality and seeing this done right
    • Charlie Webb, Chief Tech
    • The Petersen Museum, Los Angeles
    • MOMA, New York City
    • Serge Dermanian, Nice, FR
    • Nino Balestra, all over Italy
    • Alberto Pedretti, Arizona
    • Paolo Garella, Turino, Italy
    • Paolo Epifanni, Berkeley, CA
    • Steve Tillack, Los Angeles
    • Brian Newton, Newport, RI
    • Mo-Ma Inst. Mfg., Albuquerque, NM
    • Matt Jones. Re-Originals

    Cisitalia drivers-supporters including:

    • Glenn Rudner
    • Adam Gordon
    • Herb Wolf
    • Andy Benenson
    • Michael Schwartz
The Complete Gallery