- A rare example of American Fiat’s flagship model, built for the US market only
- Continues to benefit from 1990s restoration
- Tastefully upgraded with hydraulic brakes and re-cored radiator
- Extensively used on touring events since the late 1980s
- Exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
- Beautifully appointed with brass fixtures and proper Fiat Blue paint
Foreign automobile manufacturers of the early 20th century faced a steep United States import tariff of 45%, a staggering number that significantly cut into their profit margin. In an effort to circumvent this cost, Fiat, which at the time produced expensive high-quality racing and touring cars, proposed to create a US-based subsidiary in 1909. The resulting American Fiat was established by year’s end, and in spring 1910 a new factory was completed in Poughkeepsie, New York.
With an upper management staffed by former employees of Pope-Toledo, Lozier, and E.R. Thomas, American Fiat was positioned to exclusively build large touring automobiles, and at its height it is believed to have built approximately 350 cars per year. While it initially built only four-cylinder engine cars, for 1912 the company introduced a robust six-cylinder model built on a gargantuan 135-inch wheelbase chassis. Powered by an 8.6-liter T-head engine, the Type 56 officially developed 50 horsepower, although enthusiasts estimate the actual output was closer to 80 horsepower.
Extravagantly priced at $5,000 for a seven-passenger touring car, and $6,000 for a limousine, the six-cylinder Fiat was sold exclusively to the US market. Though it was initially available in just one body style, for 1913 the car was offered in four different coachwork types, and available in four different colors, including Fiat Blue. By the time the United States entered the Great War in 1917, sales were already shrinking, and the company was soon reabsorbed into its Italian parent company. In early 1918 production ceased altogether, and the factory was sold to Duesenberg. But history will never forget the powerful and well-built models carefully crafted at Poughkeepsie, which are today exceedingly rare and represent a unique junction of European design and American build during the Brass Era.
One of perhaps no more than a dozen surviving examples, this prodigious Type 56 beautifully exemplifies the sheer size and quality of American Fiat’s flagship model. Though the car’s early history is currently unknown, by the 1950s it was owned by Herb Schoenfeld of Seattle, Washington, who is believed to have retained possession into the early 1970s.
The Fiat was then sold to the Craven A Collection, a cigarette company based in Toronto, Canada. After perhaps 10 years the Type 56 was purchased by an enthusiast residing in Great Britain, and he offered the car at auction in 1987, where it was acquired by longtime owner Earl Snodgrass of San Marino, California. Mr. Snodgrass almost immediately began enjoying the Fiat on vintage touring events, including the 1989 Horseless Carriage Club tour in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the 1990 Silver State Tour in Bishop, California, and in August 1993 the car was presented at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
At some point Mr. Snodgrass conducted a cosmetic restoration in the current livery of Fiat Blue, and in 1994 he installed a new radiator core and hydraulic brakes for more reliable performance during touring. These measures undoubtedly proved to be crucial in the car’s successful completion of over 900 miles of driving during the International FIVA Rally from Edinburgh to Stratford-upon-Avon in June 1996.
Sold in 2018 to the consignor, the Type 56 was driven on a tour out of Cooperstown, New York, and it has continued to enjoy a life of fastidious upkeep and maintenance as needed. It is currently fitted with a large brass Stromberg carburetor, and it abounds in fascinating period details, such as the wood-framed fold-down windscreen, color-matched artillery wheels, numerous brass fixtures (headlamps, lantern-style running lamps, horn bell, and battery box), and the Fiat-branded rear trunk. Well-maintained examples of the American Fiat are exceedingly rare today, and this stately flagship six-cylinder car should strike the fancy of any Brass Era aficionado, ideal for further touring enjoyment and presentation at concours d’elegance.