Part 16 – Ceirano Fabbrica Automobili
By David Cavaliere
The Ceirano name is repeated throughout the initial period of Turin’s industrial automotive history. The four brothers were from Cuneo, a city in the region of Piedmont, in Northern Italy. They were involved in one way or another, with the rise of virtually every prestigious automotive brand born in Italy’s automotive capital before the Great War.
Giovanni Battista Ceirano was the oldest of the brothers, born in 1860. He had apprenticed for his father as a watchmaker. The first motorcar that he built was called the Well-Eyes. It would be the first of many automotive companies that he founded. Confusingly, the next child born was named Giovanni. He was born in 1865. He cofounded “Junior Fabbrica Automobili Torinese” in 1905, ‘Società Ceirano Automobili Torino’ in 1906, ‘Fabbrica Automobili Ceirano’ in 1917 and ‘SCAT- Ceirano’ in 1923.
Third in line was Matteo, who was born 1870. He co-founded the manufacturers Itala Fabbrica Automobili in 1904 and Società Piemontese Automobili (S.P.A.) in 1908. Ernesto was the next youngest, born in 1875. He was the racing driver of the brothers and a sometime production manager. He is the only one of the four that didn’t start his own automotive company. In 1908 he finished third in the Targa Florio driving his brother’s S.P.A. (Società Piemontese Automobili) automobile.
And then there was Giovanni “Ernesto” Ceirano (born in 1889), son of Giovanni Ceirano. He was the co-founder of Fabbrica Automobili Ceirano, the co-owner of Aurea (Fabrica Anonima Torinese Automobili -F.A.T.A.) and a two-time winner of the Targa Florio. In 1911 and 1914, he won the Targa Florio driving the SCAT 22/32 HP and SCAT 25/35 racing cars, each equipped with a 4,398 cc engine.
For 30 years, the saga of the Ceirano was marked by constant bickering among the brothers. They were actually far more alike than they were likely willing to admit. Each was driven to create, but their temperaments were more artistic than business-like. None of the four seemed to have had the slightest concern about the financial aspects of their enterprises. Although the Ceirano’s were present at the beginning of Italy’s automotive age they were not responsible for the sustained growth of the industry. Thus, the Ceirano brothers created company after company, only to plunge into headlong competition with one another and usually to be gobbled up after a time, by someone with acute business savvy, plus managerial and organizational genius. That someone was usually Giovanni Agnelli, but the contribution to the birth of Italian motoring by name Ceirano was decisive.
How it started – in 1888, after eight years apprenticeship in his father’s watch-making business, Giovanni Battista started building Welleyes bicycles. The name had been adopted because English names had more sales appeal. After 10 years in production of the bicycles, Ceirano GB & C. was founded by Giovanni Battista Ceirano, Emanuele di Bricherasio, Attilio Calligaris, Pietro Fenoglio and Cesare Goria Gatti in 1898. The headquarters of the new company was in Turin and in 1899, it began to build a small car equipped with a twin cylinder engine (663 cc) and a two speed gearbox. It had two seats and was dubbed the Welleyes. Among the workers for the company was Vincenzo Lancia, who later founded Lancia. The automobile was a great commercial success for Ceirano, but the managers of the company managers found themselves hard pressed to keep up with the orders for the vehicle in the cramped factory space. Ceirano contacted members of the Italian aristocracy to see if an agreement could be reached to form a company that could build a true production factory.
At the same time, a former military officer named Giovanni Agnelli, heard about the invention of the new horseless carriage. He immediately saw an opportunity to use his engineering and entrepreneurial skills. In 1898, he met Count Emanuele Cacherano of Bricherasio, who was looking for investors for his horseless carriage project. Agnelli became part of the group of the founding members of this new company, by investing $400 for his share.
A preliminary agreement was reached between Ceirano GB & C. and the investors on July 1, 1899, and on July 11, 1899, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino – F.I.A.T. was officially founded with the “Welleyes” was launched as the F.I.A.T. 4 HP.
Giovanni Battista was employed by F.I.A.T. as the agent for Italy. He hated the role. Automotive sales were never his passion, creating new cars was. Within a year he left F.I.A.T. to found Fratelli Ceirano & C., which in 1903 became Società Torinese Automobili Rapid (S.T.A.R.), building cars badged as “Rapid.” Several outstanding models were produced during the life of this Ceirano enterprise.
Matteo Ceirano left Ceirano GB & C in 1904 to create his own brand – Itala. This company produced some of Italy’s great racing cars in the early part of the twentieth century. We have already had a number of occasions in this series to mention the brand, which will be cover in depth in another feature. Matteo had five partners at the company. As a restless and impatient man, he found that the frustrations of having so many partners was more trouble than it was worth. He left Itala in 1906 to found S.P.A. (Società Piemontese Automobili), along with chief designer Alberto Ballacco. In 1921 S.P.A. acquired S.T.A.R., but due to (inevitable) financial difficulties, in 1925 S.P.A. was taken over by FIAT (S.P.A. and S.T.A.R. will be covered in separate features in this series).
Here, the history becomes somewhat convoluted, so please pay careful attention. In 1906 Giovanni founded SCAT (Società Ceirano Automobili Torino) in Turin. He was soon joined by his nephew, Earnesto. They achieved great success in racing, winning the Targa Florio in 1911, 1912 and 1914. The two remained in control of the company until 1917, when they were forced to sell their interests in the company (due to financial difficulties). The shares were purchased by a French group of investors, led by industrialist, Henri Brasier.
Following the end of The Great War, Giovanni and Ernesto co-founded Ceirano Fabbrica Automobili. In 1922, they took control of Fabrica Anonima Torinese Automobili (FATA). In 1923, Ceirano Fabbrica Automobili reacquired S.C.A.T. from the French investors to form SCAT-Ceirano. The cars were branded as Ceirano. The launch of the type N 150 in 1924, formed the basis of production until the end of the 1920s. Nicknamed the “Ceiranina,” the model used a 1,458 cc 4-cylinder engine with side valves. Curiously, this car had a body that was similar in size and appearance to the former Ceirano GB & C. employee, Vincenzo Lancia’s Lambda. Later in the year came the 150 S, with the engine now producing 40 horsepower. The final derivative of the model, the VVV, had independent front suspension. In 1926, the type 250, was introduced. It was powered by an inline four cylinder 2,297 cc engine. This car was the last model produced by Ceirano. Financial problems in late 1929 led to the acquisition of SCAT-Ceirano by FIAT. The name lived on under the control of FIAT until 1932. Thereafter, the name Ceirano was no longer associated with any new models of automobiles, although various trucks were produced up until the war under their name.