BID ON THE-SALEROOM.COM
H&H are indebted to the vendor for the following description:
'Born out of a design exercise that coachbuilder Ghia devised for the innovative Fiat Balilla 508 chassis, the 'S' or Sport version entered production in 1933. Benefiting from a tuned 995cc side valve engine, rear-mounted fuel tank and friction shock absorbers, its credentials as a driver's car were cemented the following year with the adoption of an overhead valve cylinder head and close-ratio four-speed manual gearbox. A popular choice on events such as the Mille Miglia, the 508S was typically supplied in kit-form outside of Italy with concessionaires in the likes of France (Simca), Poland and Czechoslovakia responsible for assembly. The British version, of which fifty were produced, differed from its Continental equivalents by dint of having right-hand drive, knock-on wheels and more elaborate instrumentation. In road tests, the 508S customarily achieved 60mph in third gear and 75-77mph in top, a very good performance for a sub-1000cc car in 1935, while in competition the two-seater often vanquished similar capacity MG and Singer opposition!
'BZ 4078' was one of four Balilla 508S cars dispatched in rolling chassis guise from Turin to the marque's English assembly plant in Wembley. Once bodied, the quartet are thought to have been bought by a Belfast car dealer. In 1965, whilst employed at Loughborough University, I was told of a Fiat Balilla 508S long wing spyder at Stow Maries in Essex. On 1st January 1966 I journeyed through a snow storm and bought 'BZ 4078' from its then owner, Bert Smith. Finished in Black with Maroon upholstery, its body tub was tired and scruffy. When I commenced restoration by rubbing down the bodywork I found that the original paint colour had been British Racing Green. I was able to use the original boot lid, bonnet, doors and wheels. The car had been fitted with a replacement Ford 10 engine but unusually this had been allied to the original four-speed close-ratio gearbox. Many of the instruments were missing.
It was necessary to fit a new body tub, wings and floor. As original Fiat 508S engine 995cc parts were difficult to obtain, I fitted a Fiat 508C engine of similar design but much more robust. This engine was used from 1937 to 1951 and is a 1089cc OHV unit. The car has done 21 post-restoration miles and has been carefully stored since its rejuvenation was completed. As the engine is virtually new, it will want running-in, the brake shoes have high spots and no doubt adjustments will need to be made.
The accompanying buff continuation logbook lists the Fiat's date of original registration as 28th May 1936. Subsequently, DVLA Northern Ireland confirmed its first owner to be John McGrattan of Bangor County Down who together with W. McMillan, Tommy Black and W. Sullivan achieved some notable competition results aboard 'BZ 4078':
International County Down Trophy Race, Bangor - 20/6/1936. Driven by John McGrattan to tenth place.
Ulster Automobile Club Hill Climb, Craigantlet County Down - 29/8/1936. Driven by John McGrattan in the Nelson Trophy.
International Leinster Trophy Car Race, Tallaght County Dublin - 17/7/1937. Driven by W. McMillan with Tommy Black as his designated reserve.
Phoenix Park International Grand Prix Meeting - 11/9/1937. Driven by W. McMillan and W Sullivan in a 7-lap handicap.
Craigantlet - 27/8/1937. Driven by McMillan, Sullivan and Montgomery. Took three firsts and a third.
Knock Club's Car Trial - 2/10/1937. Driven by McMillan to second.
International Leinster Trophy Car Race, Tallaght County Dublin - 16/7/1938. Entered by Mrs R.E. Parish (Bangor) and driven by Tommy Black with McMillan as designated reserve.
The car was advertised for sale in the 14th November 1958 edition of Autosport by Graham Readett who is the last keeper recorded in the aforementioned continuation buff logbook: FIAT Balilla 2-seater sports, Ford 10 engined with Ford 8 head, twin Sus, good hood and sidescreens, goes well, gearbox and body a bit rough. £100 o.n.o. - Readett, Luton'.