If you are fortunate, like me, maybe privileged and one day you arrive in Italy. It’s the beginning of winter but still that doesn’t break your spirit, you went ahead and toured Italy, walked the streets, eat the food and most importantly admired the cars, I mean the Fiat.
The Birth of FIAT
But the real history of Italian cars begins after Italy unified into a nation when? on July 11, 1899, F.I.A.T. (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) was founded as a company, after acquiring other major Italian brands.
The first model produced by Fiat was the Fiat 3 ½ HP. Built in 1899 by design engineer Aristide Faccioli from an inspiration he received from his previous drawing of the Welleyes, the 3 ½ HP had a maximum power output of just 3.5 hp and 400 rpm. Fiat produced just eight copies of the automobile, a far reach from what modern automotive assembly lines can churn out, but at the end of 19th Century, the car was not a common good, but a luxury that only a wealthy few could afford. The 3 ½ HP was not equipped with a reverse gear and its frame was made of wood.
A few years later Fiat achieved the first of many victories in car racing with the help of Vincenzo Lancia, winning the Torino Sassi-Superga in 1902. In subsequent years, Vincenzo Lancia was to create his own car company.
Today, the streets of Italy are filled with Fiats, something to really admire. Italians have gone ahead to develop worlds best sports cars racing in different grand pix all over the world.
Many of you might not know or remember the Nyayo Car. The Pioneer was to be Africa’s first independently developed car, and the project was started with this amazing quote from Kenya’s then president: he asked for the development of a car, “no matter how ugly or slow it may be.” This must be borrowed from many quotes, The need for a people’s car – VW Beatle or a cheap car for everyone as long as it came in one colour – Ford. Elon Mask said “when Henry Ford made cheap and reliable cars people said, nah! whats wrong with the horse? That was a huge bet he made and it worked”
There’s something really refreshing about hearing this sort of brutal honesty when it comes to cars. Everything that any car company says about their cars or the origin of their company is almost invariably a string of overwrought hyperbole that proclaims their cars to be the finest, noblest, wheeled saviours of humanity. So hearing one exasperated leader plead with a university to develop any ugly, slow car they could be remarkable.
One of the remaining of the Pioneer car rests at Numerical Machining Complex at the Railway Godown in Industrial area. It’s been almost 40 years since the Pioneer car and just last week I managed to see it with my eye.
The University managed, after four years and a bunch of money, to develop five prototypes: a five-door sedan, a sedan with a trunk, a pickup, a sports coupe, and even a rally version. The cars look pretty conventional for the time, and seem to be transverse, FWD cars in keeping with many economy cars of the era.
They used a 1200cc engine designed locally and the Pioneer could make about 75 MPH with it, with the state of roads we had then remember. So, not really all that slow, and it wasn’t even particularly ugly, either.
The start of the Nyayo car might have not been good, Only two of the five cars that were displayed at the Kararani Sports Complex could start, and when the President jumped in one of them he could not manage more than 400 mitres.
The Nyayo Pioneer was an engineering disaster, many people said. The headlights, bumpers and boot did not come together neatly, and the car lacked the finesse you would expect from a consumer product.
Eventually, the factory built for the cars was sold to another firm, and in some ways that did become successful, becoming one of Africa’s first and comparatively few plants capable of producing automotive and locomotive parts, lathe equipment, and other machinery.
In this country, people will kill something and they will surely make sure that its dead. I agree that this was a disaster, but at least it was the start. I have travelled a little and I can tell you that I have come across a lot of automotive disasters, AMC Gremlin – 1970 Ford Pinto on the same year, Fiat Maltipla – 1998, Ford Explorer – 1995, Lamborghini LM002 (1986).
When Kenya was making their First automobile disaster, Lamborghini too were making theirs. The difference between Lambo and Kenya is that they learnt from their mistakes, WE DID NOT.
Today Lamborghini is the fastest car, if not one of the fastest cars, made in Italy and sold all over the world, the FIAT, rules the streets of Italy, while in Kenya we still import cars from Japan.