To track Fiat's changes, you need a scorecard…Fiat’s Logo thru the years.
When you're saddled with a moniker like "FABBRICA-ITALIANA DI AUTOMOBILI TORINO," it doesn't take a marketing genius to figure out that you'd better come up with a more catchy handle, but quick. So it's a bit of a surprise to realize that FIAT's original logo spelled out just that lengthy string of vowels. As if to accentuate its length, FIAT's marque stretched out on an unfurling brass scroll screwed in place on the car's radiator shell.
It didn't take long to make a change. By 1901, FIAT's logo experienced a quantum shift, from antique scroll to an ultra-modern, completely unique font in large block capital letters. Most intriguing was the "A" in "FIAT." In a logical progression, the "A" would have appeared blocky and its width would've conflicted with the "T's" crossbar, resulting in a logo that was off-centre and asymmetrical. By shaving the right corner off the "A," the letters could be spaced perfectly, creating an effect that was at once readable and memorable.
Memorable enough that the FIAT logo stayed true to this design for more than 60 years. Early badges carrying this design featured the lettering surrounded by a rectangle of deep blue, almost black. A pure Art Deco design, the logo itself was flanked by brass leaves, with a sunrise at the bottom of the badge. The full name of the company was spelled out across the bottom, with a provision for a serial number at the top. Beginning in 1903, the badge evolved from an arched rectangle to an oval, surrounded by an Art Nouveau design symbolizing both the leaves and the sunrise in the earlier emblem.
In 1925, the FIAT badge was revised again, this time to a design that many of FIAT's cars would carry into the 1960s: a round design with a gold crest surrounding the entire emblem. The stylized laurel wreath around the outside was intended to celebrate Fiat's victorious participation in the first competitive motor races.
In 1932, the rectangular shape of the FIAT logo was cast into a shield, which was much more appealing on the tall radiator shells of the cars the company was offering at that point. Several variations on this theme resulted in full rectangles, then a truly shield-like design, all with a rich, red enameled field.
As iconic as it had become, FIAT abandoned it in 1968, during a company-wide corporate makeover. All FIATs would be emblazoned with the company's acronym in a parallelogram, divided into four chrome-bordered segments with an italic capital letter in each blue, and later black, section.
The weirdness continued in 1983, when the old logo was again completely abandoned and replaced with something even more outlandish. Company lore says that FIAT's chief designer, Mario Maioli, drew his inspiration for the new crest from the four sections of the old FIAT logo on the factory roof, silhouetted against the sky at dusk. The result was four canted vertical bars, separated by chrome accents, which represented the evening light shining through. Nobody got it, to the point that today on FIAT's corporate Web site, it's conspicuously absent in FIAT's logo history.
The timeline on the Web site jumps from 1968 to 1999, marking the company's 100th anniversary, and the date when the round FIAT logo surrounded by a crest made its triumphant return. This time, the laurel wreath was heavily stylized on chrome, and the FIAT letters were in a blue background.
And in 2007, the logo changed once again. At once both advanced and evocative of its history, the new emblem recalls the red shields of the 1930s, but set into a round badge. The logo, according to FIAT, "suggests advanced technology, Italian design, dynamism and individualism." Okay.... At least it spells something.
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
February 2008 - Craig Fitzgerald