The Autobianchi Stellina is a story I've wanted to cover for quite some time. Because I like the idea of a little plastic roadster called "Stellina," which is perhaps the most romantic name any car has ever had.
The Autobianchi Stellina has been the first Italian production car with a fiberglass body, but this hasn't made it a success, and few even know what it is. To understand the Stellina, we first need to look at how the Autobianchi brand was established.
While Bianchi and Pirelli left the venture after a few years, it was Fiat's management who had been calling the shots at Autobianchi since day one
When the company was founded in 1955, its shares were equally distributed between three companies: Bianchi, Pirelli, and Fiat. The company's original mission was the production in Milan of the Bianchina, an upmarket derivative of the Fiat 500 that went on sale in 1957. While Bianchi and Pirelli left the venture after a few years, it was Fiat's management who had been calling the shots at Autobianchi since day one, often using the brand as a "guinea pig" for testing new vehicle concepts or innovative technical solutions on the market. The Stellina was one such experiment: even though GM had been building Corvettes in fiberglass for a decade by 1964, when the Autobianchi Stellina entered production, the material was still something of a novelty for the Italian automobile industry... And it kind of shows!
the Stellina's engineering was conservative to a fault
The Stellina's designer, Luigi Rapi, designed a quite conventional little car whose design neither took advantage of the new material's properties in its construction nor looked particularly attractive: cute, yes, but not especially pretty. Under the unstressed plastic panels, the Stellina's engineering was conservative to a fault, with a sturdy steel monocoque that made it no lighter than a Fiat 600 and just as vulnerable to rust. The Stellina's performance was no better than the 600 either, given it was equipped with the same four-cylinder engine, carried over unchanged despite the considerably higher price of the Autobianchi roadster. In 1965, the arrival of the faster and more attractive Fiat 850 Spider then transformed the Stellina from a hard sell into an impossible one, and its production was terminated after only 500 cars were made.