Italian cars and Soviet steel
Posted 23 November 2002 - 21:49
Of course that it isn't full and only reason behind demise of Italian cars, one can also point to dry climate that logically led to taking less care of rust protection than, let's say, German or Swedish manufacturers... Doing business with heart instead of brain is also too common case in Italy, as we all know it (and I do believe that quite a lot of us like that kind of approach...), but that thing with Soviet steel often intrigued me, so I would like to know a few things about that.
When exactly Italians started to use imported Soviet steel in car manufacturing? I believe it was around 1970, but it would be nice to find out exactly when – and why. Was it related to ever so strong Italian Communist party? It is well known that Agnelli family never supported them but also always carefully avoided direct conflicts with Communists. It could be related – Soviets mostly considered Italy as some kind of should-be Communist country, and relations with Italian Communists were mostly good (even new town built for manufacturing licensed Italian cars marketed as Lada or Zhiguli was named after Palmiro Togliatti). So were Italian Communists key factor in choosing Fiat to motorizing USSR with Lada cars, and in getting steel in exchange for royalties and given technology? IIRC, Soviet steel was indeed a kind of compensation in Lada deal...
Other question is why they used it at all, if they knew it doesn't meet quality standards (and they surely could see it from the beginning)? Was it just Agnelli's greed? I presume that steel had to be very cheap but effect of gaining bad reputation really ate any profits in long term, through lower sales and lost confidence, reflected in fact that Italian cars, apart from very exotic ones, had to be underpriced for several decades, if they were to sell at all. Other thing, for how long they actually used it? Did they stop using it later, after rust scandals of mid-Seventies? Was Alfa Romeo also using it?
This would be a fascinating story to tell (almost as good as one of fateful Lancia family) – including Agnellis, Soviet chairmen, possibly Italian Communists, probably full of strange and hidden political decisions, public scandals and wrong market decisions... If there is a book on this subject, I’d like to know. If there isn't I'd like to see it published one day... But I am afraid that not too much will be left of Fiat empire by then. Probably just a few cheap Fiat models and some Opels labeled as Alfa Romeos. And Ferrari in Bernie's ownership...
Posted 23 November 2002 - 22:31
go to document 114
go to document 134
A Google search under Togliattigrad brings up all sorts of things!
Posted 23 November 2002 - 22:47
Posted 24 November 2002 - 04:53
I had long been aware of the problems the Italians had with the Soviet steel, and that it stemmed from a deal for a factory built in Russia. But I never really got into the nitty-gritty of it all.
Mention of Lada and barter deals with Russia reminds me of when I was in New Zealand for their world championship rally in 1990. Denny Hulme was driving the clerk of course, or was Car '0', in a Lada. He told me the NZ importers didn't pay for them with money, they paid in milk and eggs. He said, "I hope the eggs are rotten, because the cars are!"
Having said that, I tested a Lada Niva on an incredibly tough off-road course once - one that stopped a lot of highly regarded vehicles. Vertical climbs up rocks and all sorts of things. Despite short throttle pedal travel that made driving awkward, the Niva sailed through with amazing aplomb. Long and supple suspension travel made it like a mini Range Rover (also far better off-road than 'purists' would like to believe). Then, on a relatively smooth gravel road, the entire battery carrier and battery fell into the engine compartment. Brand new car with very few km on the clock! Good car off road, but you wouldn't want to own one.
Posted 24 November 2002 - 06:38
The Italian industry's problems were hardly limited to rust. I remember going to Alfa once to drive the then-new V-6 Sedan. It was a fabulous car. Unfortunately, by the time they figured out how to air condition it, it arrive in the U.S. four or five years after the original target date, by which time the competition had been through two model iterations and the Alfa was no longer competitive. I think the same fate has befallen the new Maserati, only now arriving, years after it was intended. So far, it has proven to be absolutely sale-proof here. Maserati promised several arrival dates over a period of years. Each time I would call sources at the US Department of Transportation, only to be told that none of the required paperwork had been filed, and therefore the car was at least six months away from being allowed to be imported. I don't mind being told in an Italian restaurant that "the chef doesn't do it that way" when I make a special request, because the food is so good. But that kind of thinking doesn't work in the world automotive market. None of the intended market for Maseratis in America has any knowledge whatsoever of Maserati's heritage and so many of Maserati's competitors have cars that do everything better for a lesser price that it's hopeless.
Posted 24 November 2002 - 12:42
Posted 24 November 2002 - 14:02
Posted 24 November 2002 - 18:41
Posted 24 November 2002 - 22:40
Posted 25 November 2002 - 12:37
Basically, steel will not rust if it is properly coated so that oxygen cannot get through. On a car, that is done by a variety of means - various treatmetns and coatings, layers of paint, underseal and so on. I suspect that it was the quality (or lack of it) of these processes that was FIAT's problem, along with poorly thought out designs that failed to eliminate rust generating pockets in the bodywork, rather than the quality of the steel itself.
Of course, at the time, others were also still suffering rust problems. Japanese cars were seriously rust-prone until 10 or so years ago, although they had exemplary mechanical reliablity (unlike FIAT). Presumably they weren't using Soviet steel?
Posted 25 November 2002 - 13:02
Posted 25 November 2002 - 13:46
The Beta really was the rot-box par excellance mind you. Lancia's reputation never recovered in the UK, IIRC the last one officially imported was the Y10.
Posted 25 November 2002 - 15:47
Posted 25 November 2002 - 18:05
There were some nice (or rather, well maintained) Maxis at the Classic Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham the other week. Mind you, the guy on the stand (the Old BMC Owners Club or some such name) was amazingly prickly and defensive - he wouldn't let anyone near them if he thought they might be going to laugh at the wretched devices. Although, to be fair, I don't think that the Maxi wasn't a bad car in rust terms. It was the appalling engine and even worse gearchange that killed it off and I think most went to the scrappers with mechancial ailments rather than terminal rust. It was actually an extremely roomy and practical car - with a decent motor and transmission, it could have been the British equivalent to the Renault 16 .
Originally posted by Garagiste
When did you last see a Chrysler Alpine or even an Austin Maxi? They used to be everywhere and I've not seen one moving in years.
IIRC, the Beta suffered a really specific and disastrous rust problem. The body would look OK, but the area where the engine mountings met the chassis rusted through completely leading the engine to actually fall out. This damage was completely uneconomic to repair, so you had to scrap what still looked like a quite presentable car from the outside. Understandably, Beta owners were unhappy about this!
Originally posted by Garagiste
The Beta really was the rot-box par excellance mind you.
Posted 25 November 2002 - 21:25
Posted 26 November 2002 - 00:08
Mid 70s British cars were very nearly as bad as the worst Italian ones. VWs though? I'm not suggesting that they were entirely rust free, but compare the numbers of early Golf and Polos still on UK roads against Lancia Betas or Chrysler Sunbeams.
Oh I think the problem went a bit further back than this - proper rust proofing didn't arrive in the UK until the 80's.
Back in the 60's, a colleague of my Father's bought a new Vauxhall Viva HA ('65 ish) and, two weeks after purchase, leaned on the bootlid and fell through it; the only thing holding the panel together was the paint! Also bear in mind that in 1964/65, 1 in 3 of all cars sold in the UK was an Austin 1100/1300 - where are they now?
On the subject of German cars, I'll concede that there aren't too many Sunbeams and Betas around now, but then how many were sold relative to Golfs and Polos? When I started in the motor trade in 1984, I was told to check Golfs very carefully for rust (bearing in mind that even the oldest was only 8), and Passats and Scirrocos were twice as bad!
To be fair, I think the biggest problem is that the UK is one of the very few countries to use salt on the roads. The European manufacturers didn't know how to cope with this, but desperately wanted to sell cars over here; Britain isn't known as the Golden Goose for nothing!
Posted 26 November 2002 - 12:39
"The Great Rust Scandal" was mostly due to the PR-fiasco from the Lancia importer.
(Compare to Audi that managed to kick them self out of the American market simply because one of ther customers manged to press the throttle instead of the brake!)
All mid '70s (massproduced) cars rusted badly. This was largely due to that new manufacturing technics allowed the body to be made from larger steelsheets. This caused for odd placed weldings and "rust pockets" (that allowed water and dirt to get in). This combined with a general decline in design quality, workmanship and poor material quality, really caused a severe increase in rust damages in the '70s.
The main problem with the Beta was (as said before on this thread) that if it has started to rust is almost impossible to determine unless you tear parts of the car down. Equally if it has rust it is really hard to repair. On of the main rust areas are at the rear upper suspension mounts.
That said I know of several nice and rust free Betas.
Posted 26 November 2002 - 23:44
Italian cars of that period are about the only ones I've seen (and I've examined a few cars!) that rust in the centre of panels. When you are appraising vehicles for part-exchange, most have their trouble spots, and a few have places to look that indicate worse trouble elsewhere; only 70's/80's Italian cars have NO panels that are safe from tinworm!
The Beta is also about the only car I've come across where UK dealers were advised to check for rust on new cars fresh from the transporter.
Posted 16 December 2002 - 11:53
I have known about 20 Betas through the years. Surely most of the rusted but not much more than any car of that era, and certainly not in odd places. They did rust in very typical places, that unfortunately was hard to see, and hard to fix. This killed off lot of Betas.
I do know a handfull of Betas still alive today (Including my fathers, wich is of the road due to mechanincal problem, but he intends to put it back on the road as his winter car )
I do believe that Sweden is one of the heaviest users of salt on the roads, in the world.
(Ok the cars that I have known are probably a bit more enthusiasticaly maintained than normal cars.)
Posted 24 February 2003 - 08:31
That said I know of several nice and rust free Betas.
You must have a -------------------------------------------------------------------- sence
of humour Kaha in 1977/78 i wanted to buy one an send it back to OZ .however a
saleman i know told me not to even think about it, they were the BIGGEST rust bucketin the
world bar none.An this guy would sell his Grandmother to make a quid.
Also i have had 3 FIAT 850 coupe,s over the years an they only began to rust in our dry
climate after 16 /17 years of service not bad for IRONCURTIAN steel.
Posted 24 February 2003 - 12:08
The Beta certainly did not suffer the front subframe rust that they suffered in England.
My experience with Italian rustboxes goes back 15 years. The worst was interestingly a Lancia (Flavia) 2000 where the subframe mounts were rusty and there were holes everywhere. What I continually noticed was how "good" cars deteriorated when left out in the weather for an extended period, or happened to be parked near the beach - this has cost me dearly. Also cars with "original" rust just bodged up are a nightmare in waiting! It becomes twice as hard and twice as expensive to fix.
The problem with Soviet steel is that no part of a car structure is immune. Instead of expecting rust in box sections like sills or known water traps, Italian cars have been known to rust in the middle of the roof (no sunroof.) But most 70's Italian cars that have survived are now preserved and looked after - like my 1975 Alfetta GT
Posted 24 February 2003 - 16:09
Thank god for BL and Lancia in the 70's. Paid for my first go-kart....
Posted 24 February 2003 - 20:43
In the Netherlands, the importer bought back hundreds of these cars from customers at list prices. All those cars ended up in the shredder. They weren't even stripped for reusable parts. Which is one of the reasons that late '70s luxury Audi sedans are exceptionally rare over here.