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When Bianchi made cars and trucks

roadsbookcoverSeventy-five percent of my book is now written. A pesky 25 percent is still brewing. The book’s first chapter goes through the copy-editing mill next week, via a copy-editor with an interesting history of his own (more on that later). The 65,000-word cycles-begat-automobiles chapter went out for peer review last week. So far, two professors have got back to me: both said “Wow!”

In that book-length “chapter” I list 64 motor car brands with bicycle beginnings, including Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, and GMC. Perhaps just as little known is the fact that Bianchi, one of the world’s top bicycle brands, used to make cars and trucks. Below, there’s an extract from the book, complete with notes. The book is a breezy read but, under the surface, it’s robustly academic. The cycles-begat-automobiles chapter has more than 600 notes, including references to all the sources referred to.

Kickstarter backers will get the book first and it’ll then go on general sale, in all the usual formats. All of the text will also be published on this website, via an ad-supported PDF. Sign-up for publication notification updates in the box on the right.


Autobianchi, an Italian motor car manufacturer, was created in 1955 by Fiat, Pirelli and Bianchi.[1] F.I.V. Edoardo Bianchi S.p.A was founded in Milan, in 1885, as a bicycle manufacturer.[2] Company founder Edoardo Bianchi died in a car smash in 1964. From the early 1900s to 1939, Bianchi built motor cars and trucks.[3] A 1917 advert for “The Italian Bianchi” placed by the company’s London agent said Bianchi was “The Car of the Connoisseur.” In 1927, Bianchi was Italy’s second biggest car manufacturer (Fiat was first). Pope Pius XI was driven in a Bianchi.[4]

Bianchi cars (and motorbikes) were raced by Grand Prix legend Tazio Nuvolari. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari the “greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future.” Il Mantovano Volante, The Flying Mantuan, won his first automobile race in a Bianchi, later driving for Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo, which also has a bicycling back-story.[5] Nuvolari was inspired to become a racing driver thanks to his uncle, Giuseppe Nuvolari, a bicycle racer, several times winner of the Italian national track championships. Nuvolari’s father was also a top cycle racer but it was his uncle who taught him to ride a motorcycle.[6] Bianchi’s involvement with motor-sport had followed the company’s earlier successes in cycle racing. Bianchi’s first sponsored racer was Giovanni Tommaselli, winner, in 1899, of the prestigious Paris Grand Prix, considered, at the time, the European road cycling championships.

Famously, Bianchi sponsored Fausto Coppi, the Campionissimo, Champion of Champions, the first rider to win the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia double, achieving this in 1949, repeating the feat in 1952.

Bianchi is still one of the world’s top cycling brands, famous for its “celeste” turquoise. Picasso had a Bianchi bicycle in his studio in Vallauris, France. He described his bicycle as “one of the most beautiful and purest sculptures in the history of art.”[7]

BianchiAdvert 1917

[1] The Bianchi family had a 33 percent share in the business.

[2] And maker of surgical instruments and other products.

[3] Bianchi’s first shop was at No 7 Via Nirona. Five years later, success required a move to bigger premises on Via Borghetto. In 1895, via royal decree 969, King Umberto I made Bianchi an Official Supplier by Appointment to the Royal Court. In 1897, Bianchi attached De Dion engine to a tricycle. The company’s first motorbike was made commercially available in 1901. In 1989, the Autobianchi brand was rolled into Lancia but was marketed in Italy as Autobianchi until 1996.

[4] Pope Pius XI got his Bianchi in 1926. Pope Pius XI was the good pope, the pope before Pius XII, the Nazi-apologist.

[5] Nuvolari won his first motor car race at the Circuito Golfo del Tigullio in 1924, driving a two-litre Bianchi. In 1926, he raced only on motorcycles, riding a Bianchi 350, the legendary “Freccia Celeste” (turquoise arrow). Alfa Romeo was formed with the help of bicycle maker Alexandre Darracq of France. In 1909, Società Anonima Italiana Darracq became Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or ALFA.

[6] Tazio Nuvolari museum.

[7] *Edoardo Bianchi: 1885–1964*, Antonio Gentile, Giorgio Nada Editore, 1993.

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