The Fiat 508 Balilla was one of the first highly successful people's car in automotive history. Alongside the Austin 7 and the famed Ford Model T, it democratized motoring, which has always been a privileged activity for the wealthy. The 508 was introduced in 1932 as a replacement for the 514, and was designed by of some of the best engineers of Fiat, Tranquillo Zerbi, Bartolomeo Nebbia, Antonio Fessia and the famous Dante Giacosa. Its simple but effective L-head 36 bhp L head four cylinder engine mated to a three speed transmission provided sufficient performance for cruising and enough to carry four people and their luggage. Its simple body-on-frame construction proved to be a fantastic modular platform on which it was possible not only to build sedans but also commercial vehicles and in some cases, racing cars: in 1937, a 508S even won its class at the 24 heures of LeMans! The Balilla was a commercial success: around 110.000 were built until 1937 under license by NSU in Germany, Simca in France and in Poland by Polski Fiat.
The name was an hommage to Gian Battista Perasso, nicknamed "Balilla", who was an Italian patriot who in the 18th century rebelled against the Austrian occupation of the town of Genoa. Such a name was true to the atmosphere of nationalism which was permeating Italy at that time: it was obvious that a popular car should be given the name of a well known hero.
Spanning from the daily life of countless motorists to the heights of success in racing, the Balilla was a remarkable motorcar with humble origins that made history.