I was driving down the street in Moorpark, California, in a massive Roush F-150 pickup truck when out of a small driveway on my right pulled this tidy little Fiat. I had no idea it was a Fiat. Being a Lancia fan I assumed it was a Lancia. All these postwar Italian masterpieces look the same to me. It turned off down another side street and by the time I was able to muscle the massive Ford around, change directions and drive into what I thought was the big grocery store parking lot it had driven into, it was gone.
But only for a minute. A little cruising through the huge lot and I found it, lined up directly aft of a big transporter truck, ready to be hauled off to God-knows-where.
It was here that I found out it wasn’t a Lancia. The chrome script on the back end said “1600S.” The grille and steering wheel said “Fiat.” And a grille badge said “O.S.C.A. Fratelli Maserati Bologna.”
After the car was loaded into the big rig, I asked the truck driver who owned it. He asked for a business card and said he’d give it to the car’s owner. Sure enough, the next day, Roger Groves, the owner, called. He seemed to enjoy the fact that someone liked his car. He figures he’s had 50 or 60 cars in the slightly more than 50 years since his first Jaguar XK140 in high school, an enthusiasm he maintained even though things with that first Jag didn’t work out.
“I figured something was wrong when it needed a valve job before it got home,” he said of the XK140.
His luck got better after that. For a while he had more high-end cars. He has owned: a Ferrari 275 GTS, the 1956 Ferrari Pininfarina Prototype Geneva show car that became the Ferrari Boano, a ’57 Mercedes 300SL roadster and a ‘57 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkIII. Among others.
Then he changed, or his tastes changed, or something changed, and he went with smaller, less well-known cars that were still fun to drive. Now he owns: a ’56 Porsche A Cabriolet, ’60 Alfa Sprint Zagato, a ’62 Triumph Italia (serial No. 215), a ’64 Triumph TR4 and the car you see here, the 1962 Fiat OSCA 1600S. He likes exotic bodies in pedestrian cars, like the Vignale body on the Triumph TR3 mechanicals, or the OSCA engine in the Fiat-badged Pininfarina body, shown here.
“I was looking for something along this line and stumbled across this,” Groves said. “There’s a number of convertible 1500 Fiats with OSCA engines, then I saw the coupe and there were only 200 to 250 made and I said, ‘Ooh, that’s a cool car.’”
It was in Amsterdam and he only saw the photos but bought it anyway. The body was in great shape, but there had been some “deferred maintenance.”
“They don’t do maintenance over there, they just put Band-Aids on everything.”
So he shipped it to the Sports Car Shop in Eugene, Oregon, where they made it shipshape (I know because I heard it start and saw it drive). When that work was done, he had it shipped home, which was where I intercepted it.
Like all of Groves’ cars, it’s the history of each that he appreciates as much as anything. And the history of this car is as circuitous as anything ever made in Italy.
Start here: All the Maserati brothers ever really wanted to do was go racing. Their first car, almost 100 years ago, was a race car. Brother Alfieri Maserati even won the Targa Florio in 1926 in a Maserati. Three years later a V16 Maserati set a land speed record of 153 mph that stood for eight years. Just before the war, Wilbur Shaw won the Indy 500 in an 8 CTF. After the war Fangio drove a Maserati 250f to the world driving championship.
In 1937, in a bit of corporate weirdness, the three surviving Maserati brothers sold their company to industrialist Adolfo Orsi, with the contingency that they keep working for him for 10 years. About 13 seconds after the 10 years was up, they started OSCA.
OSCA wasn’t as big a company as Maserati, but they nonetheless entered their cars in sports car races, as well as Formula 1 and Formula 2. One of the first OSCA race cars was the beautiful and quick MT4, expensive when it was new and much more so now. The centerpiece of the MT4 was a DOHS inline-four that the Fratelli would reinvent again and again for the next 20 years according to the needs of various racing formulas.
So through that byzantine series of deals, the Fiat 1600S I happened upon was actually an OSCA Fiat, with Pininfarina bodywork (you can see the Pininfarina logo on the driver’s side forward of the door). Pininfarina would have also built it, a service that firm performed over the years for more than a few carmakers who couldn’t be bothered with “small” specialty car runs. Under the hood, then, would be an OSCA engine manufactured by Fiat, an evolution of that first MT4. In a separate but nonetheless lovely fluke, Groves points out that the doors are the exact same doors as those found on Ferraris of the period.
“The doors on that car are interchangeable with any 275 or 365 Ferrari,” he said, taking obvious delight in yet another oddball quirk of his lovely coupe. “You’ve got a $10,000 door there!”
So the car is really the best of all possible Italian worlds, at least for 1962. It had the twin-carburetor version of the long-in-the-tooth MT4 OSCA powerplant, which by that point, under a deal beneficial to both parties, was built by Fiat. In addition to the dual carbs it had chain-driven overhead cams. By this point in the engine’s evolution it was making 100 hp, which was pretty stout by the standards of 1962 four-bangers.
Groves’ car is in terrific shape. As the transporter driver got in and turned the key, it brapped to life after only a few revolutions of the crank, and he drove it forward into the big truck. That would be all I ever saw of it, and all I’ll ever see of an OSCA for God-knows-how-long. Maybe if there’s ever another Concorso Italiano, or any car show ever again, I’ll see it there. Or who knows where? Street-Spotting is a real game of chance. I climbed up into my Roush F-150 and powered onto another anonymous California freeway, where there was nary an OSCA to be seen.
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