Fierce Fiat: Rob Rizzoli’s Blown 1937 Fiat Topolino

Rob Rizzoli is a fabricator, racecar builder, and some would say an artist based on his resume of rolling creations. He’s built everything from record-setting racecars to Ridler Award-winning machines over his career. Rizzoli’s latest creation is a 1937 Fiat Topolino that prowls the streets with a supercharged engine and could be one wild ride at the track.

Back in the late 1970s, Rizzoli got his start in the fabrication business by back-halving street cars and racecars for customers. Rizzoli also began bracket racing his own 1969 Camaro and did some NHRA racing, as well. Over the years Rizzoli’s shop, RCD Race Cars, has built Funny Cars, bracket cars, Pro Mods, and even a few SCCA road racing machines. Rizzoli won the prestigious Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama in 1995 for the 1992 Mercedes Benz C/A 560 SEC racecar he built.

Building so many different cars exposed Rizzoli to a variety of body styles, and one he had always liked was the Fiat altered. That affection led to a build of his own that was the stepping stone for his current car.

“Having always been fond of Fiat altered racecars I decided to build my first one back in 2001. I put many miles on it, but in my mind I was constructing what I felt would be the ultimate street rod. The new one would have doors, a longer wheelbase for more leg room, and an additional radiator for better cooling,” Rizzoli says.

So, Rizzoli sat down and began some drawings and came up with a car with a 134-inch wheelbase, a custom 1937 Fiat Topolino body from Class Glass, a set of giant Goodyear tires in the rear, and a blown big-block Chevy for good measure to provide power. On paper, the car looked like a pretty straight forward build, but when sparks started to fly and metal was cut the plan had to be modified slightly.

“Even though I had built one of these 12 years earlier I found once again that packing everything in such a narrow body is challenging. I ran into many problems that really caused me to back up and make some chassis design changes. There’s nothing worse than to look at a new build and clearly see where mistakes were made and corrected with band-aids. I wouldn’t settle for that,” Rizzoli explains.

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The revisions Rizzoli made during the course of the build paid off as anybody who looks at his Fiat can see how well thought out the build is. The chassis is made of 4130 chrome-moly and is based on 25-1 SFI specifications. For the front suspension, Rizzoli used a set of Strange Engineering aluminum struts and custom A-arms. The rear suspension was all custom-made in-house with a monoshock setup and a wishbone. A Strange Engineering rearend with 40-spline axles, aluminum center section, spool, and pro gears rotates the Weld wheels and giant Goodyear tires.

 

Powering the Fiat is a 434 cubic-inch engine with a Dart block as its base. Inside the engine is a Crower crankshaft, connecting rods, and JE pistons. The Brodix cylinder heads work with a COMP Cams camshaft and have been decorated with COMP Cams lifters, Jesel shaft-style rocker arms, and titanium valves. Behind the engine is a Jeffco four-speed transmission with a two-disc clutch. On top of the engine is a custom fabricated intake manifold from RCE along with an 8-71 blower from The Blower Shop.

Fuel comes from 16 injectors and a Weldon fuel system. An MSD crank trigger and coil provide spark from the 7AL box that Rizzoli selected. Controlling everything for the big Chevy is a Holley Dominator ECU.

Rizzoli’s Fiat might look like something you would see at a nostalgia drag race, but it sees mostly street driving at this point. Even on the streets, there are plenty of people that want to try and test Rizzoli and his ride, but he politely declines due to the risks that come with street racing.

“I have lots of money invested in my cars and way more design and fabrication time. I’m not willing to risk destroying this car in one reckless act,” Rizzoli says.

Getting the Fiat done took a lot of time and effort on Rizzoli’s part but he had some help from good friends along the way. Without their assistance, getting the car done and built to such a high level wouldn’t have been possible.

“George Reggio from Maryland Performance center made a few trips to my shop to help tame this radical engine down and make it work on the street. Al Calloway also helped out on this build and was key to getting it done. Both of them work full-time jobs and live a good distance away so coming to help was very much appreciated,” Rizzoli explains.

Rob Rizzoli’s years of experience building hot rods and racecars culminated with his wild 1937 Fiat Topolino. There’s so much to love about a car this car that looks good and makes brutal horsepower. Rizzoli is proud of his Fiat, as he should be — this could be one of the wildest street cars you’ll ever see.

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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