Vintage Cars of ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Fiat 520 ‘Super Fiat’

What Cars Would Jay Gatsby Have Really Bought?

Jay Gatsby's vision - Daisy  from 'The Great Gatsby'

Jay Gatsby’s vision – Daisy from ‘The Great Gatsby’

A 1919-1921 Shopping List by Igor Spajic


Fiat already had a presence in America with a massive four-cylinder model locally assembled and bodied as the ‘American Fiat’. A 7-passenger Touring Car and 7-passenger Limousine, priced at $6,000 to $7,000 could be purchased from Fiat’s Fifth Avenue, New York City showrooms. The cars were obsolete and inordinately expensive. But a better car from Fiat was on the way – one that could challenge any high-price car – the 520, using a new V12 engine.

The Fiat 520 was built mostly for the postwar prosperity market in America. Unfortunately, this market was damaged by the Depression of 1921. Fiat’s heart wasn’t in the big, opulent car and it only lasted from 1921 through 1923.

Had Gatsby been looking for a luxury car in 1921, he could have considered a V12 engined Fiat. The engine was a 6.8 Litre (415.1 cid) L-head, not an overhead valve design and not overly efficient by Fiat’s European standards but a quiet powerplant. Fiat understood this market segment that generally prized silence over efficient power output. With 90 bhp @ 2000 rpm, the 520 indeed had all the power and torque that any well-heeled buyer might want and up to 75 mph top speed.

The wheelbase was sufficiently lengthy at 3.86 m (152”) for the largest of conveyances, and 4-wheel brakes helped to bring heft of up to 2,000 kgs (4,400 lbs.) to a stop. Solid axles with leaf springs all round comprised the conventional suspension.

Exotic high-tech and luxury for Jay Gatsby - 1921 Fiat 520 V12 d'Orsay Coupe deVille.

Exotic high-tech and luxury for Jay Gatsby – 1921 Fiat 520 V12 d’Orsay Coupe deVille.

It was offered as a d’Orsay Coupe de Ville (town car) or d’Orsay Torpedo (touring car). The 520 was attractive with its gracefully curved front fenders and squared-off radiator shell and bonnet lines, the latter shared with the rest of the FIAT family.

1921-23 Fiat 520 Superfiat d'Orsay Torpedo

Showing more European lines is this 1921-23 Fiat 520 Superfiat d’Orsay Torpedo.

A fine choice for Jay Gatsby in 1921, the 520 did not sell well enough for Fiat’s bottom line. In fact, barely a dozen were sold in all markets.

The Italian car maker was already excelling in the low-price, mass market back home and in nearby European markets. The 520 was withdrawn, leaving the 4.7 Litre 519 six-cylinder model as the highest priced Fiat for the Twenties.

It seems unlikely that Gatsby would even have heard of the Super Fiat, much less seen one outside an automobile trade magazine article. It’s an unlikely candidate for Gatsby’s purchase.

FIAT of America (parent company Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino SpA of Italy)

1921 prices – (on application?)

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