1950s Euro Family Cars – Fiat Millecento vs. Renault Dauphine

If you’re anything like me (and I’m sure you are, if you’re readying this) you’ve wondered what compact sedan comparisons were like back in 1959. Well, here’s your answer! With 45 raging Italian stallions against 27 Gitane-smoking, beret-wearing French ones, it’s little question who will win the race, but the question is, who cares? We’re not really going for speed here. And for the record, I haven’t actually wondered about 50-year-old comparison tests… but I have wondered what it would be like to own one of these charming little euroboxes.

Continuing with the bad buff-book metaphors, in this corner, we have our Italian contender. It bears mentioning that even though this car wouldn’t actually win you any races, it does qualify you to get into several. And if you’re worried about speed, you should have several options, especially if you speak Italian, since these were used as the basis for many racing specials when they were current. But since they’re Italian, you should be able to give them a pretty decent flogging without having to worry too much about it. All you need to do is contact the New York-based owner to see the car in Arizona, where it’s listed for sale with Minnesota plates for $3000.

1959 Fiat Millecento left

Pretty sweet looking car, no? And the interior, while not quite correct, is clean and in good shape. Just make sure everything’s there, since you can assume that trim bits are the hardest pieces to get. Notice the cool period column manual shifter and bench seat, copies of what the Americans had, and center-mounted ignition switch with the Fiat logo above it. There even appears to be some kind of an under-dash heater, which was probably an option back then.

1959 Fiat Millecento interior

From the owner’s photo gallery, it looks like he did at least one road trip with the car. The car was apparently “restored very well” a few years back, an it shows, but he does mention a couple of minor rust bubbles (which you’d want to thoroughly investigate, of course). So he’s got a decent amount of experience with the car, and might be able to speak to its strengths and weaknesses.

1959 Fiat 1100 camping

Speaking of weaknesses, the engine is in the trunk. Which, unlike on our competitor, is not where it’s supposed to be. So really, you won’t be winning the race against the French horses, because the stallions have gone lame. That said, with all the body work done, and the block and head in decent shape (normally these would be rusty when they’re lying in the trunk), there’s not much between you and a driver. Call up Obert, find out about some cool period mods, and have a little fun rebuilding it.

1959 Fiat Millecento rear engine

In the other corner, we have the French contender. Since we’re talking about light hopping-up, check out a source of inspiration for your work. You don’t have to go as far as that builder did, but you can go some of the way to make it look less frumpy, and a Gordini engine will give you a full 40% (9hp) power boost! Back in the 1950s and 1960s, companies like Shorrock and Judson made superchargers for compacts, so that might help you out a bit too. Even in stock form, though, this car can get you around pretty well, especially in town, and could even get you all the way to Alaska!

1958 Renault Dauphine

Owner says it runs quite well, but needs brakes. He’s replaced many parts on it already, and provides an extra engine for parts. For only $2000, you can have a lot of fun – just make sure to check it over for rust. The French-government-issue blue appears to be in pretty good shape, which is unusual, since mostly they’re sold in a sun-baked rust-brown color.

No doubt either of these cars can be had for a bit less – both have been sitting on craigslist for a few weeks, and likely will continue so. So what are you waiting for? Buy both and run your own euro-box comparo!


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2 Responses to “1950s Euro Family Cars – Fiat Millecento vs. Renault Dauphine”

  1. njsimca Says:

    I’m surprised America didn’t embrace the Fiat more, it was so totally conventional. For the money, though, your best bet was the Simca Aronde, the press and the public loved it, that is until Chrysler took over!

  2. Tucker Lysholm Says:

    This was a car my dad and I refurbished over 10 years ago. It was my mom’s first car. Someone threw a watermelon at the windshield at an overpass many decades ago and they parked it in a field. My dad hauled it back to the house roughly 30 years later from the field it still sat in. We replaced the fluids and it started right up. We refurbished the paint and interior and had it re-upholstered. Unfortunately my mother passed away before we finished the car and never saw me learn how to drive a stick shift on a 59′ fiat. If this car is ever for sale, please let me know.


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