The World on Wheels

From Henry Ford’s dream to the Fiat 2800 Torpedo - a story of myth and legend comes to life through Milan’s Motor Show and the milestones celebrated this year by the iconic car makers that have helped drive the history of Fiera Milano.

Pubblicità vettura Restelli delle Officine Meccaniche Isolabella (aprile 1920)Fondazione Fiera Milano

Milan and “Its” Show

The first “Motor Show” on record in Italy to feature the world’s car makers was held in Turin, from April 1st to 24th, 1900, hosted in the stunning Fine Arts Building.

Sezione delle carrozzerie del Salone dell'automobile alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1930 (post 1930/04/12 - ante 1930/04/27) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Milan’s turn came next the following year, when it hosted the “International Motoring and Cycling Exhibition” from May 5th to 27th, 1901.

Sezione delle carrozzerie del Salone dell'automobile alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1928 Sezione delle carrozzerie del Salone dell'automobile alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1928 (post 1928/04/12 - ante 1928/06/19) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

The show then alternated host cities, with a rather inventive numbering system, until 1914, when the First World War closed the curtains on the event. A new beginning, however, came in 1920 with the staging of the first ever Milan Fair. 

Catalogo ufficiale Fiera Campionaria Internazionale di Milano - Aprile 1920 Catalogo ufficiale Fiera Campionaria Internazionale di Milano - Aprile 1920 (aprile 1920)Fondazione Fiera Milano

An Automobile Show was one of the attractions of the first Milan Fair, held along the bastions of Porta Venezia (April 12th–27th, 1920). 

Catalogo ufficiale Fiera Campionaria Internazionale di Milano - Aprile 1920 Catalogo ufficiale Fiera Campionaria Internazionale di Milano - Aprile 1920 (aprile 1920)Fondazione Fiera Milano

It was a courageous decision, one taken by the organizers in defiance of the U.I.F.A. (the Italian car makers’ association) and the ban – lifted the following year – on its members taking part in events and races, due to the delicate economic situation in the country.

393 milioni di vendite alla Fiera di Milano. Risultati e dati statistici della Seconda Fiera di Milano 1921 393 milioni di vendite alla Fiera di Milano. Risultati e dati statistici della Seconda Fiera di Milano 1921 (1921)Fondazione Fiera Milano

Although there was no number in the official title, it was, for all intents and purposes, Italy’s “1st Motor Show” of the post-war era, marking the start of a new series.

12 - 27 Aprile Fiera di Milano 1922 (1922) by Ventura, R.Fondazione Fiera Milano

With just two Italian car makers (Restelli and Prince) and forty-eight accessory manufacturers exhibiting at that first show, it was a long and uphill road, but over the years the show would race from success to success.

Stand della Pirelli del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1926 (post 1926/04/12 - ante 1926/04/27)Fondazione Fiera Milano

The 1921 show featured a total of one hundred exhibitors, including both car makers and accessory manufacturers, and set the stage for a number of official presentations, including the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8 and the Fiat 501. The following year, in 1922, Lancia chose the Milan Fair and its Motor Show to unveil the new Trikappa.

Costruzione del palazzo dello sport alla Fiera di Milano (1922-1923) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

A New "Home"

As Milan established itself as the official venue for the event, a major milestone was reached in 1923 with the construction that year of the new Sports Pavilion by the Milan Fair Board - the future Pavilion 3 facing February VI Square, which will house from then on. 

Cerimonia inaugurale della costruzione del palazzo dello sport alla Fiera di Milano (11/1922) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

The 1923 Motor Show was also exceptional for the quality and quantity of new models officially presented at the event, including the OM 665 Superba, the Fiat 519, the Itala 56, the racing version of the Chiribiri Monza, and cyclecars by Petromilli, F.I.A.M., and Colombo.

Veduta parziale del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1931 (post 1931/04/12 - ante 1931/04/27) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

In 1925, it was the turn of the Lancia Lambda, the Itala 61, the Alfa Romeo 1500, and the Fiat 509. In the meantime, the number of car makers exhibiting at the show was also growing, rising to thirty-four in 1926, from seven different nations.

Veduta parziale del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1928, post 1928/04/12 - ante 1928/06/19, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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Veduta parziale del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1928, post 1928/04/12 - ante 1928/06/19, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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A country like ours should not only be registering every year at least five times the number of new vehicles registered in 1927, but it should also have no less than one million motor vehicles on the roads every year. As we can see, we are well below those figures in reality, but we must not despair nor desist… (“Facing the Risk” in Auto Italiana, May 15th, 1928)

Allestimento dell'insegna Fiat per la Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1937 (1937) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Another milestone came in 1928, when the event was organized by the A.N.F.I.A. (the Fascist National Organization of Automobile Makers), together with the Italian Group of Automobile Factories and Coachbuilders (GIFAC).

Stand della Fiat del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1928 (post 1928/04/12 - ante 1928/06/19)Fondazione Fiera Milano

The event was confusingly billed as the “1st International Motor Show,” but this time for good reason, as it was effectively the first to be included by the Bureau International Permanent des Constructeurs d’Automobiles in its international calendar of events.

Veduta parziale del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1930 (post 1930/04/12 - ante 1930/04/27) by Argo Agenzia FotograficaFondazione Fiera Milano

The Ten Thousand Lire Show

The 1932 Motor Show marked a turning point for the event, and not only because Maserati exhibited for the first time. The Milan Fair and its Motor Show that year set the stage for the unveiling of the Lancia Artena and Lancia Asturia, the Bianchi S5 1500, and the Fiat 508 -

Sezione autoveicoli del Salone dell'automobile alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1930 (post 1930/04/12 - ante 1930/04/27) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

or the “Balilla,” in tribute to the Fascist regime of the time – ushering in the new era of mass motorization in Italy. The show that year would also be remembered as the “ten thousand lire show” – the price of the new Balilla. 

Pubblicità Olio Fiat (aprile 1934) by Nizzoli, MarcelloFondazione Fiera Milano

Two years later, in 1934, the presentation of the four-speed Balilla drew in record crowds to the show, with visitor numbers topping 272,000 people.

Area espositiva all'aperto con littorina Fiat alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1934 (post 1934/04/12 - ante 1934/04/27) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

It was a success, however, that would not be repeated in the near term. The following year, the opening of the show on November 9th, 1935 came just one day before the League of Nations adopted sanctions against Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia.

Bandiere all'entrata di piazza Giulio Cesare alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1937 (post 1937/04/12 - ante 1937/04/27) by Stabilimento Fotografico CrimellaFondazione Fiera Milano

The tenth show, in 1937, attracted just 37,000 visitors and exhibitors from just two foreign nations (Germany and the United States), marking the last Motor Show before the outbreak of the war, and the last to be held in Milan. 

A new world was forming on the horizon.

Visita del presidente del consiglio Alcide De Gasperi alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1952 in occasione della inaugurazione (1952/04/12) by Agenzia Fotografica TerreniFondazione Fiera Milano

Roaring Anniversaries

The Milestones Celebrated by Car Makers in 2023
Ferrari, Pininfarina, Opel, and Ford are just some of the leading car makers celebrating milestones in 2023. 

Salone dell'avio, auto, moto e ciclo alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1965 (14/04/1965 - 25/04/1965) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

While Opel celebrates its 130th anniversary and Ford its 120th, the milestones reached by other worldclass car makers this year are no less important.

Visita del presidente delle Repubblica Luigi Einaudi alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1948 (post 1948/04/29 - ante 1948/05/16) by Agenzia RotofotoFondazione Fiera Milano

Pinin Farina

The historic car designer Pininfarina was incorporated in Turin in May 1930 under the company name Società Anonima Carrozzeria Pinin Farina by Battista Farina, Giovanni Battista Devalle, Gaspare Bona, and other investors.

Interno del padiglione Magneti Marelli alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 Interno del padiglione Magneti Marelli alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 (14/04/1967 - 25/04/1967) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Alongside models manufactured at its own factories, Pininfarina is renowned for its historic partnership with Ferrari, for which it has designed more than one hundred models in sixty-five years.

Stand Magneti Marelli nel padiglione dell'auto, avio, moto e ciclo alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1964 (12/04/1964 - 25/04/1964) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

Ferrari

It was March 12th, 1947 when Enzo Ferrari started building the first Ferrari-badged cars, marking the establishment of the renowned car maker (although the trademark “Auto Costruzioni Ferrari” was only registered in 1957).

Interno del padiglione Magneti Marelli alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 Interno del padiglione Magneti Marelli alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 (14/04/1967 - 25/04/1967) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Just a few months later, seventy-six years ago, the Maranello-based team celebrated it first racing victory with the 125S.

Stand Pirelli all'Eicma Esposizione Internazionale del Ciclo e del Motociclo presso la Fiera di Milano nel 1963 (30/11/1963 - 09/12/1963) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Opel

The year 2022 marked the 160th anniversary of Opel, the car maker founded in 1862 by Adam Opel in Rüsselsheim, Germany, originally for the manufacture of sewing machines. The first Opel car—the Opel Patent Motor Car, System Lutzmann – was unveiled in 1899.

Parcheggio dell'Automobile Club Milano della Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1957 (post 1957/04/12 - ante 1957/04/27) by Ancillotti & MartinottiFondazione Fiera Milano

The 1000th Opel car would roll off the production line seven years later.

Veduta parziale del Salone dell'automobile nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1930 (post 1930/04/12 - ante 1930/04/27) by Argo Agenzia FotograficaFondazione Fiera Milano

Ford

On June 16th, 1903, Henry Ford founded the motor company bearing his name in Derborn, Michigan, together with his brother and a dozen investors.

US Trade Center alla Fiera di Milano del 1968 US Trade Center alla Fiera di Milano del 1968 (07/02/1968 - 13/02/1968) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

However, the first Ford automobile to see the light was crafted by Henry Ford himself in 1893, in his family home in Detroit, in what was a golden age of experimentation with automobiles and internal combustion engines. 

Ingresso del diciassettesimo Mipel alla Fiera di Milano del 1970 (06/06/1970 - 10/06/1970) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

In 1908, Ford released the Model T, the first affordable car on the market for the masses, achieving his dream to “put the world on wheels.”

Salone dell'auto, avio, moto, ciclo e accessori nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1952 (post 1952/04/12 - ante 1952/04/29) by Ancillotti & MartinottiFondazione Fiera Milano

Aston Martin

The year 2023 marks the 110th anniversary of Bamford & Martin Ltd, the dealership opened in 1913 that just over ten years later, in 1926, began building its own motor vehicles as the company Aston Martin Ltd.

Salone dell'auto, avio, moto e ciclo alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1965 (14/04/1965 - 25/04/1965) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Nissan, Honda and Hyundai

Another two anniversaries come to us from Japan. The first is the 60th anniversary of Honda, a company founded in Japan in 1948, but which only began manufacturing motor vehicles and motorcycles in 1963. The second is the 90th anniversary of Jidosha Seizo, renamed the Nissan Motor Company one year after its founding.

Salone dell'auto, avio, moto e ciclo alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1965 (14/04/1965 - 25/04/1965) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

In 1933, Seizo bought out the Tobata Casting Automobile Dept, along with its factories and trading rights, including those for the manufacture and distribution of the Datsun brand – for years Nissan’s leading marque. 

Interno del Plast Salone Europeo delle materie plastiche e della gomma alla Fiera di Milano del 1968 (05/10/1968 - 13/10/1968) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

It was thanks to the company’s chairman, Yoshisuke Aikawa, that the mass production of motor vehicles took off in Japan, with a view to competing with and beating back American imports.

Salone dell'auto, avio, moto, ciclo e accessori nel palazzo dello sport alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1950 (post 1950/04/12 - ante 1950/04/30) by Ancillotti & MartinottiFondazione Fiera Milano

Fifty-five years have instead gone by since the Hyundai Motor Company started up mass production of cars in 1968, after its incorporation in 1967.

Salone dell'auto, moto, ciclo, accessori e articoli sportivi alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1963 (12/04/1963 - 25/04/1963) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

Seat

The Spanish car maker SEAT is celebrating seventy years of business in 2023. 

Salone dell'auto, moto, ciclo, accessori e articoli sportivi alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1963, Publifoto, 12/04/1963 - 25/04/1963, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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Now part of Volkswagen Group, SEAT was founded in 1950 as the Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo by the National Industrial Institute, but only started up production operations three years later, in 1953, at its Zona Franca factory near Barcelona. The first model to roll off the production line was the SEAT 1400.

Stand Lamborghini Ferruccio - Trattrici alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 Stand Lamborghini Ferruccio - Trattrici alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 (14/04/1966 - 25/04/1966) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Lamborghini and McLaren

Lamborghini is celebrating the anniversary in May 2023 of the release of its first sports car on May 7th, 1963, crowning the aspirations of Ferruccio Lamborghini, founder of the company originally named Lamborghini Trattori. 

Stand della concessionaria ARMA con trattori della Lamborghini nel settore della meccanica agricola (Zona De Finetti) alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1953 (post 1953/04/12 - ante 1953/04/29) by Ancillotti & MartinottiFondazione Fiera Milano

The 350 GTV was developed and produced in record time, marking the start of company’s rise to becoming Italy’s leading manufacturer of grand tourers.

Interno del MCE Mostra Convegno Expocomfort alla Fiera di Milano del 1968 (01/03/1968 - 07/03/1968) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

At the 1966 Geneva International Motor Show, Lamborghini presented what would immediately become the icon of all sports cars and a true work of art in its own right – the P400 Miura, on display at the MoMA in New York since 1968.

The year 1963 also marked McLaren’s debut as a sports car manufacturer and race car constructor.

Visita ufficiale del presidente della Repubblica per l'inaugurazione della Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1964 Visita ufficiale del presidente della Repubblica per l'inaugurazione della Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1964 (4/12/1964) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

Insights

I’ll pick you up tonight (on my blue Torpedo)



Along the aisles and avenues of the Milan Fair, a special place was held—in the hearts of visitors and in the Hall of Fame of motoring excellence—by one legendary automobile in particular.

Visita ufficiale del presidente della Repubblica per l'inaugurazione della Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1964 (4/12/1964) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

It was the Fiat 2800, built by the Italian car maker from 1938 to 1944.

Corteo del Presidente della Repubblica Luigi Einaudi in visita alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1951, Non identificato, 4/12/1951, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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The Torpedo version featured sumptuous modern interiors and a fully convertible top, and, as the name suggests, it had a streamlined body that tapered at the front. In 1948, the Fair Board purchased its own Fiat 2800 Torpedo from a special lot of three built in 1938, each registered as a custom car, to use as a parade car for heads of state, ministers, and personalities of all kinds.

Visita dell'arcivescovo di Milano Giovanni Colombo alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1968, Non identificato, 14/04/1968 - 25/04/1968, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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Visita dell'arcivescovo di Milano Giovanni Battista Montini alla Fiera Campionaria del 1962 Visita dell'arcivescovo di Milano Giovanni Battista Montini alla Fiera Campionaria del 1962, Publifoto, 4/23/1962, From the collection of: Fondazione Fiera Milano
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Visita del Presidente del Consiglio Aldo Moro alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 Visita del Presidente del Consiglio Aldo Moro alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 (4/18/1966) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Of the limited number of Fiat 2800s made, five were built in a six-seater Torpedo version as state cars for the Quirinal Palace, to transport dignitaries in motorcades and parades - the royal family at first, and then, after the war, Italy’s presidents.

Corteo del Presidente della Repubblica Luigi Einaudi in visita alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1951 Corteo del Presidente della Repubblica Luigi Einaudi in visita alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1951 (4/12/1951) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

Its sleek shape and spacious, modern interiors, comfortable plush seats, limited speed (max. 130km/h), and smooth pull made it the ideal parade car.

Visita del ministro dell'Industria e del Commercio Giulio Andreotti alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 Visita del ministro dell'Industria e del Commercio Giulio Andreotti alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1966 (4/14/1966) by PublifotoFondazione Fiera Milano

The last Italian president to ride in the car at the fairgrounds was Giovanni Gronchi in 1962. However, after a long series of changes in ownership, the car survived to see the turn of the millennium and was used again by then-president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on two occasions:

Visita del presidente del consiglio Aldo Moro alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 Visita del presidente del consiglio Aldo Moro alla Fiera Campionaria di Milano del 1967 (4/24/1967) by Non identificatoFondazione Fiera Milano

for official visits to the Goldsmiths Pavilion (May 6th, 2003) and to the new Fiera Milano Rho Exhibition Centre (July 14th, 2005) - set to become a leading driver of business growth for all the country.

Credits: Story

This story has been created in collaboration with Promemoria Group.
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Fondazione Fiera Milano Historical Archive:
archiviostorico.fondazionefiera.it

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