Autobianchi Primula

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Autobianchi Primula
Manufacturer: Autobianchi
Production: 1964–1970
Class: Supermini
Body style: 2-door fastback
3-door hatchback
4-door fastback
5-door hatchback
2-door coupé
Engine: 1221 cc I4 OHV
1197 cc I4 OHV (Berlina)
1438 cc I4 OHV (Coupé)
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Wheelbase: 2300 mm
Length: 3785 mm (Berlina)
3715 mm (Coupé)
Width: 1578 mm
Height: 1400 mm (Berlina)
1350 mm (Coupé)
Similar: Austin/Morris 1100
Designer: Dante Giacosa

The Autobianchi Primula was a small car ( supermini) from the Italian automaker, Autobianchi (a subsidiary of the Fiat group), built from 1964 to 1970. It was notable as Fiat's first ever automobile with the front-wheel drive, transverse engine setup, as well as the first Fiat group car with rack and pinion steering. Primulas were built in the Autobianchi factory in Desio and were priced comparably to the Austin/Morris 1100 models built in Italy by Innocenti.


Before the Primula, all Fiat group passenger cars were rear-wheel drive — the bigger models followed the classic FR layout (front engine powering the rear axle), while small cars were rear-engined. Meanwhile, a practical concept emerged, namely the front-wheel drive layout with the engine mounted transversely, which allowed for very efficient space utilization. First popularized by the legendary Mini, it also found its way to other, bigger models, starting with BMC's own Austin/Morris 1100.

Fiat's chief designer, Dante Giacosa, recognized the potential of that concept, but the company decided to experiment with it not risking the chances of the popular Fiat-branded cars. Thus the Autobianchi Primula emerged — a car marketed under a less crucial nameplate, for which it was an entry into a whole new class of vehicles.

Body styles

The car's original body was similar to the BMC's fastback " saloon" concept, available with two or four doors and with or without the rear hatch (which made the car effectively a hatchback), producing four different combinations, referred to in Italian as " berlina". In 1965, a year after the original launch, the lineup was complemented with a Coupé model (effectively a more stylish yet spacious 2-door fastback) designed by Carrozzeria Touring.


Initially, the Primula was fitted with the 1221 cc engine from the Fiat 1100 D (the Coupé had it uprated to 65 hp), but in 1968 it was replaced with Fiat 124 engines — the berlinas received the 1197 cc 60 hp engine from the standard versions, while the coupé was graced with the more powerful 1438 cc 70 hp unit. All engines used in the Primula had overhead valves (OHV) — the later twin cam derivative of the 1438 cc unit never found its way under the hood of any Autobianchi. Contrary to similar BMC models, which had the transmissions in the oil sump, the Primula had its four-speed manual transmission placed end-on, and the differential below it. The Primula also featured disc brakes on all four wheels, a safety feature yet uncommon in small cars of its time.


The Primula found favorable reception in the marketplace, and came second in the 1965 European Car of the Year contest, after another front-wheel drive car, the Austin 1800. This convinced Fiat to pursue the concept further. In 1969 the first Fiat with a front-mounted transverse engine, the Fiat 128, was launched, along with two new front-wheel drive Autobianchis — the Autobianchi A112, smaller than Primula, and the larger Autobianchi A111. The 128 secured Fiat the Car of the Year title in 1970, with A112 coming second. The Primula was eventually dropped in 1970, with 74,858 cars built.

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