My Secret Dream Car: 1972 OTAS Grand Prix

1972 Otas Grand Prix 820

From the first time I drove a Fiat, I have been a fan of Italian company and all the oddball cars they have built over the years. I have since had the pleasure of driving a number of different Fiats, but there is one that I yearn to drive but so far has eluded me. That car isn’t one of their early cars or even one of the Abarth tuned rally cars, although these did come in Abarth flavor, it isn’t even really a Fiat. It is the OTAS Grand Prix 820, also known as the Abarth Scorpione and the Giannini Grand Prix, and while it might not be a true Fiat, it is based on the Fiat 850 chassis and drivetrain. This 1972 OTAS 820cc isn’t one of the highly desirable tuned versions, but is still quite desirable in my book. It has been in storage since the ’80s and has just recently pulled from storage. It is now located in Austin, Texas and can be found here on eBay. Special thanks to Jim S for the tip!

OTAS Grand Prix 820 interior

Now I’m sure some of you are asking why I would want to take one of these for a spin when there are much faster and cooler cars out there. Now first of all, I have a very long list of cars I want to drive, but the OTAS Grand Prix is at the top of my Fiat list. Now I could go and drive a Fiat 850 and call it good, but it just wouldn’t be the same. The lightweight Lombardi designed body has a considerable impact on the performance and handling of the car. While I would prefer to drive one of the tuned versions by Abarth or Giannini, the original would at least appease my desire to experience the OTAS.

Otas Grand Prix

Like I stated earlier, the 820 and all of its various versions are based on Fiat’s 850. The chassis, suspension, and drivetrain were reworked to facilitate the Lombardi design, but were kept as original as possible. OTAS was a small company and couldn’t afford to build a complete car of their own and be able to export it to foreign markets. By limiting modifications to the 850 and reusing their identification numbers, OTAS was able to export the cars to the States as Fiat 850s. By using the smaller Federalized Fiat 817cc inline-four they were also able to avoid emissions equipment. There were less than a 100 of these cars imported to the States and there aren’t many left today. Performance of the standard OTAS wasn’t all that impressive, but with one of the available tuning kits or the Abarth modifications these became mean little machines.

OTAS Grand Prix 820cc

While I must admit my true dream would be to own a Scorpione SS, I would still enjoy putting this little OTAS through its paces. It is going to need some work before it will be ready to drive, but looks to be in very solid condition. Rust is a notorious issue for Fiats and the few OTAS 820s I have seen recently had major rust issues hiding underneath that fiberglass body. The seller claims this one is solid, but has minimal rust in the floors, so be sure to inspect it closely. Overall it looks to be a good project for anyone with experience working on Fiats and shouldn’t be too difficult to get back on the road. If bidding stays within my budget, it might even end up sharing the barn with my 124 Spider! I will definitely be keeping an eye on this auction. If you don’t dream of driving an oddball like this Fiat, what cars do you dream of driving?

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Comments

  1. RickyM

    This is why I love your emails. I thought I knew about a lot of different cars and you continue to pull unusual ones out of the bag! Never heard of this one but quite cute though. Keep up the great work guys.

  2. Murph

    Never heard of such a beast like this! :P

  3. George

    I dream of owning that Mustang of yours. You’ll need to win that auction and let me have a shot at that 1965 pony you’ve got!

  4. Don Andreina

    Jim S, you’ve excelled yourself. Saw a series one Lombardi at a car show earlier this year and it was the first I’d seen in the flesh. Diminutive dream car, to say the least. Thank goodness it avoided the federalized bumpers.

  5. stanley stalvey

    Nice read. Interesting car. The shape of it would make a nice dragster.. 1/4 mile..

  6. Joe Howell

    Instrument layout is unusual.

  7. Marc

    U could have kept that secret – lol

    • Josh Staff

      Haha I probably should have Marc, but I figure we all have a few secrets we aren’t proud of! If mine is to enjoy an oddball Italian with a tiny Fiat engine in the back, I figure I’m doing pretty good. Now if it were say, owning a Yugo then I would probably take that secret to the grave with me!

      • jim s

        you like fiats but not the yugo version of a 127. how about a lada version of a 124?

  8. Bryan Cohn

    I’m impressed, you’ve found a car I’ve never heard of! Well done! I’m loving the look, the layout, it inexpensive Fiat baseline and some of the weird things the owner did like the red vinyl steering wheel wrap and the fugly hub caps.

    You need a bigger garage already…..

  9. Dirty Dingus McGee

    ” that fiberglass body.”

    Not sure which parts are fiberglass, but it certainly isn’t the doors or rocker panels as I have never seen fiberglass rust.

    Probably fortunate this car spent its life in the southwest or it would likely have returned to the earth already. One of my friends bought a new Fiat in the mid 70’s. In 2 years the rockers had already rusted thru(this was in New England). To say he wasn’t pleased would be an understatement.

  10. jim s

    this is at $5125 already with more then 5 days to go. should be interest to see where it ends up. is it still within your budget?

    • Josh Staff

      Just barely Jim, but I have a feeling it will soon be out of my range. Shipping is the biggest factor for me, as it adds a serious premium to the price tag. I will keep an eye on it and if bidding stays close to where it’s currently at, than I might just put my money where my mouth is!

      • jim s

        yes you need to think about how long you will have to wait for another one to show up with a for sale sign on it and now much/fast they are going to go up in price. have fun with this one.

  11. RobM

    I’ve owned an OTAS for 12 years. While not speedy, the cornering ability is amazing. It’s a true hand built, mini-exotic. This car appears to be in very good condition and is inclusive of the items usually missing (side view mirror and rear bumper). Mechanical parts are Fiat 850 and easily obtainable, but body and trim are very difficult to find, with only 300 or so cars built. Someone sympathetic to vintage Italian cars needs to save and enjoy this car.

  12. Chris H.

    It kind of resembles a Saab Sonnet from certain angles, I dig it!

    • Alan (Michigan)

      I second that!

  13. MikeH

    Sure looks like rust to me–and not just the floorboards. In fact, the seller doesn’t show a pic of the floorboards and doesn’t say whether it runs or not–only that it is original and the engine hasn’t been worked on. Be very careful.

  14. RobM

    To clarify, the headlight buckets, rear fascia, and dashboard are fiberglass. The rest is steel. The underside needs to be seen to determine how much rust there is, but it’s entirely possible for there to be a hole rusted through the rocker panel and yet be completely rust free everywhere else. The Italian steel of that era is not the best quality, and most of the coachbuilders left the unseen panels unpainted. (PS, I have no connection to the seller.)

  15. Dolphin Member

    “very good condition”…Yes, when you consider how often small Italian cars with Fiat content end up in very sad shape after 40+ years…..if they are around that long.

    “very minor ding”…agreed.

    “very minor rust”… Well, if the buyer gets real lucky maybe those two rusted out areas are all that will need to be cut out and patches welded in, refinished, and the car painted. But often these are the tip of the iceberg.

    I’m with DD McGee—this nice OTAS likely survived because it lived in the sunny Southwest and not in the rust belt. Many Italian cars of the mid-century era were built mostly for sunny Italy, where they would never see road salt. I’ve even heard that some makers stored unpainted pressed steel panels outside until they were needed. The designers / manufacturers just weren’t thinking about survival of their cars in New England or the Upper Midwest. The cars sold so cheap that they might not have had the financial room to do much about it even if they thought of No American winters.

    This one definitely ought to be saved, and from the bidding, it will be if the reserve is reasonable. But I would feel better seeing some underside shots with the car on a lift…..

  16. Jamie Palmer tr6driver Staff

    Josh,

    I TOTALLY get the desire for oddballs…good luck!

    Sharing the garages with the relatively normal cars are:
    1956 Standard Vanguard Sportsman
    1963 Triumph Italia 2000 GT
    1965 Triumph 2000 Mk. I Estate
    1969/86 Hathaway Hunter (TR6-based kit car)

    Those ARE my dream cars!

  17. Dutch 1960

    As the owner of an unusual little old red car (not one of these), two thumbs up on your bidding for this one! Ultra light weight needs to be driven to be believed, and the skinny tires mean that fast cornering is old school elbows out driving, rather than the video game experience of modern low profile wide rubber. The small size gives it extra appeal in person, over and above what the photos look like. The only real world negative is driving it in traffic. Other drivers will look right over the top of you in the next lane over, and not see you when they change lanes. So you need to drive defensively, like a motorcycle rider. Gas station trips involve only a few bucks for a fill up, but plan on answering many questions while you are there. Good luck!

  18. Shilo

    Run do not walk. This is a truly awful looking car.

  19. PeteL

    I own one of these that is red as well. It too is a bit rough, but has potential. These have a jewel for a motor, not your average 850 motor by any means. I was in the Austin area this week but the seller did not reply to my request to see it until I had left the area…I suggested he post underbody shots as there are folks interested and that is an important area. Considering the rust showing up top (mine rusted underneath in a couple spots and not in any of the locations of this one), I am doubtful of the underneath condition. No information on whether the engine turns over or spins…

  20. jim s

    not sold at $10100 as reserve was not met!

  21. PeteL

    @jim s
    I saw the price and reserve not being met…that was very strong money for a car which did not run (did engine spin???), showed rust, the seller would not take pictures (I did ask as well as asked to do an inspection) of the bottom which is a known issue with these as are the join with the rockers, a shot without stuff in front under-bonnet spare tire area and other details. Better luck next time. The markets seem to be going up pretty hard lately, guess I better get mine sorted too!

    • jim s

      i hope you will keep us updated, including photos, on your car

  22. Mark N.

    I also owned an OTAS 1971 model, having purchased the car from Mr. Rich in Glendale and actually drove the car from the boat to the dealership, along with 4 other OTAS vehicles, where I took possession, and then put on some 75,000 miles on the car, before selling the car to an airline pilot, prior to going to graduate school. The handling was phenomenal and I was pulling 4 wheel drifts down Laurel Canyon in Southern California way before drifting was all the rage. I had two different vehicles crash into the cars in front of them while their drivers were driving and looking at my car. It was an amazing automobile given the years it was built, and I wish I still owned it.

    Like 1
  23. RobM

    Thanks for posting Mark. It’s great to hear 1st hand accounts from “back in the day”. I was all of 13 years old when I saw the OTAS on the Siata International stand at the 1970 New York International Auto Show. It left a permanent impression which I finally satisfied in 2002 when I bought my car.

  24. PeteL

    @RobM Whew a blast from the past. I was at that show as well but was a tad younger and was enamored by the Ferrari and NART stands. The Ferrari Dino captured me but not enough to go after ownership. Many cars blew me away at those shows. I have the catalog from the 1969 show floating around somewhere. I was in the town adjacent to Bob Grossman’s dealership and so always had eye candy whenever we went shopping for groceries at the store across the road. My collection veers toward that late 60’s to mid 70’s so the influence of the shows and era is strong. The OTAS just appeals to me and amazingly I fit which is not always the case at 6’2″.

  25. RobM

    @all – there will be a gathering of OTAS Grand Prix cars at Import Carlisle 2018. Right now we have 5 cars lined up, but we want more! All cars made by Francis Lombardi are welcome.

  26. RobM

    @PeteL, yes those shows are reflected in my collection as well. There were some really fun and different cars available back then. Coming of age in the greater NYC area was great for scoping out unusual imported cars.

  27. Dustin

    i never found these post about my car. I did not actually end up selling it. Now im finally getting around to getting it running.

  28. RobM

    @Dustin, there’s a wealth of restoration info on the Fiat 850 forum on Yahoo Groups. Hope to “see” you there. Rob OTAS#0035

  29. James C Simpson

    I have owned OTAS Gran Prix #75 since about 1985. I used PBS engineering bell housing to install a reverse rotation 1438CC OHV engine in it that is tricked out with taller Abarth ring and pinion. As a foreign parts manager back then, I collected MANY extra parts, and still have extra Lombardi body panels, glass, and assorted parts. I put in an X19 radiator up front, and converted the headlamp lift motor to a far more compact version. On and on. HOWEVER, as filled with extras as it is, I am so busy restoring OTHER PEOPLES parts, that It has not been on the road since 1989. Damn Doctors Carriage! Hardly ever get to my own! I know a LOT about these cars – and enjoy trading information. Jim Simpson and my ODD Parts!

    Like 1

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