Asmara had rolling Fiat rides though its roads a century ago!

Giovanni Agnelli founded F.I.A.T. in 1899 and led the company until his death in 1945. In 1903, Fiat produced its first truck. In 1908, the first Fiat was exported to the US. That same year, the first Fiat aircraft engine was produced. Also around the same time, Fiat taxis became popular in Europe. By 1910, Fiat was the largest automotive company in Italy — a position it has retained since. That same year, a plant licensed to produce Fiats in Poughkeepsie, NY, made its first car. Owning a Fiat at that time was a sign of distinction. The cost of a Fiat in the US was initially $4,000 and rose up to $6,400 in 1918, compared to $ 825 for a Ford Model T in 1908, and $ 525 in 1918, respectively. Upon the entry of the US into World War I in 1917, the factory was shut down as US regulations became too burdensome. At the same time, Fiat had to devote all of its factories to supplying the Allies with aircraft, engines, machine guns, trucks, and ambulances. After the war, Fiat introduced its first tractor, the 702.

In 1921, workers seized Fiat’s plants and hoisted the red flag of communism over them. Agnelli responded by quitting the company. However, the Italian Socialist Party and its ally organization, the Italian General Confederation of Labor, in an effort to affect a compromise with the centrist parties ordered the occupation ended. In 1922, Fiat began to build the famous Lingotto car factory — then the largest in Europe, which opened in 1923. It was the first Fiat factory to use assembly lines; by 1925, Fiat controlled 87% of the Italian car market. Fiat also made military machinery and vehicles during World War II for the Army. And controlled the world’s automobile taste ever since.

In January 2004, the Fiat Idea made its debut and was the first full-sized MPV built by Fiat and the design was truly unique. The idea was made elevated to improve visibility and its interior was enhanced for flexibility, including sliding rear seats.2007 saw the Fiat 500 have stiffer suspension, wider fenders and a 150 hp turbo 4-cylinder engine that runs from zero to 60 in eight seconds. The Fiat Sedici is a smart looking mini SUV at home in the city or country introduced in 2006.

Fiat continues on the path of innovation and superior technology into the 21st century with a line of new engines and new models. Sergio Marchionne has been CEO since 2004 and along with Chairman Luca di Montezemolo has steadily increased the standing of the company from one that once looked to be in financial trouble, to one that can now be seen as an example of success.

But for now I want to take you way back to its origins and its history in the beautiful and classic city of Asmara.

It was in 1899 and Sir. Giovanni Agnelli launched his visionary invention; in that same year Eritrea was officially declared as a colony of Italy. And soon after that Eritrea became one of the most developed countries of Africa, and it’s capital city became and still is the most beautiful and the most classic city in the whole continent, the buildings and all the infrastructure in Asmara made it look like the smallest yet the most elegant city ever, and just to spice up its fair beauty a bit more, Asmara had rolling Fiat cars though its roads.

Fiat Zero was already in Asmara very soon after its launch in 1912, subsequently the so called “Topolino” followed. Most famous though was the brand fiat 508, nominated by the Eritrean as “BALILA” the word car in Tigrigna. Afterwards Fiat 1100, “Musone” started gaining fame among the Eritrean folks, this brands also used to serve as taxis painted in blue until the early 1990s.

There were also many Fiat service centers, among them: the famous “fiat Tagliero”. A very eye capturing Futurist Style service station completed in 1938 and designed by the Italian architect Giuseppe Pettazzi, with a resemblance of an airplane. The building consists of a central tower which incorporates the office space and cashiers desk and shop. The tower supports a pair of 15m cantilevered wings, which are built in reinforced concrete and are structurally unsupported. Although this was Petazzi’s original design, local authorities at the time insisted that each wing should be supported by pillars. This was believed to be a local myth, until proved when the original plans were found in 2001. Another urban legend states that Pettazzi settled the argument by holding a revolver to the main builder’s head, threatened to kill himself if they did not remove the supports. In the end the supports were removed and the wings held, just as they do today, and have been that way for more than 70 years.

600, “Seicento”, was the one that toped them all. It was the most famous and the most acquired brand in Eritrea and it’s still in use especially in the driving schools.

During this time although the Italians built an amazing city it was all on the bleeding backs of our people whom slaved to the Italians to satisfy their recreational and economical visions of Asmara  and Eritrea in general. And just as natural people were carving for freedom and hated the Italian colony just as much.

Therefore, in many lyrical ballads of that period the importation of the Fiat cars was metaphorically compared to the emanation of the Mussolini’s regime. In time even though the song kept going on it had only a symbolic value because ownership of cars and driving license was allowed to the people.

It’s a true fact that after the Italians were out of Eritrea, the monopoly of fiat brands was dominated by Volkswagen’s brands mainly because it was more efficient and designed to meet the expectations of the market. But yet again Fiat cars were always famous, elegant and beautiful especially in the memories of the elders. Always so special in the ancient city of Asmara! In fact for inhabitants of Asmara, even if there are new cars in the city nothing can compare to the classic old cars.

(Sourced from several pages on the web)

Billion Temesghen

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