BIG IDEAS IN LITTLE PACKAGES: Tiny but terrific offerings from the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection

Written by independent automotive journalist Roger C. Johnson


Pint-size pickup: This 1940 Austin Bantam (Lot #398) will be joining a number of other diminutive collectibles on the Palm Beach auction block as part of the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection.

Pint-size pickup: This 1940 Austin Bantam (Lot #398) will be joining a number of other diminutive collectibles on the Palm Beach auction block as part of the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection.


The vehicles in the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection come in all shapes and sizes. Here are three prized examples of the classic smaller-is-better philosophy.

1959 Fiat Bianchina – Trasformabile (Lot #397.1)

18PB-1959-Fiat-Bianchina-4085Edoardo Bianchi began building bicycles in 1885, and four years later turned his attention to motorcycles and automobiles. In 1955 he struck a deal with Fiat to supply his car company, Bianchina, with technical components and volume production know-how. The result of this collaboration is this Trasformabile (convertible) model. Based on the Fiat 500, it offers a rear mounted air-cooled two-cylinder engine with a 4-speed transmission. This particular model had been a cherished member of the same family for almost 50 years. That family bought the car new, and it lived in the Reno, Nevada, area virtually all its life. It still shows and drives beautifully, thanks to a restoration performed early on.

Originally white in color, it has since been painted Rosso Red with black accents, which was also a factory color combination. Although the engine is not a matching-numbers unit, it does carry all the correct components as original. You may recall seeing the twin to this car in the original “Pink Panther” film starring Peter Sellers. This rare homage to that movie star is offered with the original owner’s manual, Safe Motoring Hints booklet, body parts manual and a special parts supplement.


1971 Fiat Jolly Custom Convertible (Lot #387.1)

18PB-1971-Fiat-Jolly-Custom-6703The chairman of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli wanted his company to make a small car he could carry on his 82-foot yacht, the Agneta, as a land-bound “dinghy” so he could motor around and see the sights near the ports of the Mediterranean. It had to be lightweight so it could be readily lowered off the yacht and winched back on again when it was time to sail.

Initially, the Jollys were powered by a two-cylinder engine and based on the Fiat 500 architecture, then modified by coachbuilder Ghia. The roof and doors were deleted, and wicker seats and a fringed surrey top were installed. A version of this car was later based on the larger Fiat 600 with production estimates of around 400 units.

This 1971 model has undergone a complete restoration and features recent paint and upholstery on the conventionally padded seats. A rebuilt 500cc four-cylinder engine coupled to a 4-speed transmission gives this little machine sufficient performance for all your coastline jaunts.


1940 American Bantam Pickup (Lot #398)

18PB-1940-Bantam-Pickup-3562Founded in 1929, a company based in Butler, Pennsylvania, was organized to sell a U.S. version of the Austin 7, which would be referred to as the American Austin. The goal was to capitalize on the perceived interest of the drivers of the day for smaller vehicles. Obviously, 1929 was not what you’d call a banner year for new businesses, so after some early success the company was forced into bankruptcy. The Bantam’s production was restarted in 1937 and continued through 1941, after a run of 6,000 units that included a variety of body styles such as pickups and Woody wagons. This restored mini-truck is the perfect example of the company’s innovative spirit. The yellow beauty runs and drives perfectly, and can reach 50 miles per hour thanks to an inline four-cylinder engine with a 3-speed manual transmission. Dependability has always been a Bantam trademark, as witnessed by their creation of the very first Jeep prior to World War II.

Pickup trucks are all the rage nowadays. They represent a no-nonsense kind of work ethic and style that is just so American. It’s only fitting that a little company in Pennsylvania by the name of American Bantam has known this all along. So if you’re looking for a collectable with some giant-sized history behind it, don’t take this little yellow truck lightly.

Even though we all love our full-size classics, we still have an appreciation of smaller cars, because in many ways they represent the ultimate in efficiency of design. If you’d like to showcase this style of engineering spirit in your own collection, these three small vehicles provide the perfect examples of big-time imagination.

For an up-to-date look at all the vehicles in the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection, click HERE.