Seventy years ago, Fiat Campagnola became queen of Africa

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It was the morning of January 21, 1952 and a Fiat Campagnola AR 51 set off starting from Cape Town in the direction of Algiers. The aim was to break a distance record, crossing all of Africa, from South to North. The crew consisted of the pilot Paolo Butti, an expert in African raids, and Domenico Racca, one of the Fiat test drivers who had developed the military prototype and who knew all the secrets of the Campagnola. Two cars were used for the enterprise, built starting from the long wheelbase version with “transformed” and closed bodywork, compared to the normal one which was open and tarpaulin. The additional equipment installed for the company consisted of a solid roof rack, two auxiliary lights on the fenders, a folding bed and auxiliary water and engine oil thermometers.

Of course there was no shortage of accessories such as petrol cans anchored to the bodywork, shovel, pickaxe and various mechanical spare parts including a complete crossbow attached to the front bumper. The final touch was the words “Algiers – Cape Town and back” in both Italian and French on the sides. This adventurous idea was born to promote the first Fiat-branded off-road vehicle, created to meet the criteria of the Ministry of Defense tender and then also developed for civil purposes. The Italy of the first post-war period was preparing to experience the economic boom and needed a means to move around in bad areas, without forgetting the needs of the agricultural world. Also for this reason the name chosen at the beginning, Alpina, was replaced with Campagnola which was less linked to the military world.

The project was signed by the legendary Dante Giacosa: 53 HP 1.9 petrol engine, 4-speed gearbox with reduced, insertable rear and front wheel drive, differential lock on the two axles and frame with side members. The suspensions are independent only in front, while at the rear there is the rigid bridge with leaf springs. All this available in various wheelbase and cockpit configurations. “The Campagnola was an innovative car on a technical level and also had very intelligent solutions such as the power take-off, very useful in agricultural work. Driving one today is a kind of driving school, which I recommend to all young vintage car enthusiasts ”explains Roberto Giolito, Head of Heritage at Stellantis.

Giolito also underlined the importance of a record – 11 days 4 hours 54 ’45 “- still undefeated, also for geo-political reasons” It was one of the first reports made by car in Central Africa, more focused on exploration than on the competition, and it is an undertaking that has inspired many others that followed. “The outward journey was also attended by the cinematographer of the Istituto Luce Aldo Pennelli and the pilot’s wife, Maria Pia Butti. North to South he also towed a trolley for film equipment and the crew sent by telegraph suggestions to modify the twin Campagnola, which would then make the return journey to set the record. crossing of the Sahara for a car with a trailer: 3,800 km in less than seven days.

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