Arrivederci, bella macchina!

4

Author: Martin PortPublished:

Some of you may have read my blog about a spur of the moment decision to buy a Fiat 500 back at the end of June. If not, then here’s a brief précis: I spotted a 500 sitting at work and I offered some money for it. The offer was accepted. I bought it. Simples (as one of those annoying Meerkat things says).

As it turned out, it had covered just half a dozen miles in four years, but with a jump-start both cylinders turned over and the engine fired up. As soon as insurance was sorted I took it to the MoT centre, figuring that rather than guess, a list of fail points would be a more accurate starting place.

“Your Fiat is ready. Passed – no advisories. Lovely car”, came the tester’s voice.

I was shocked, but ecstatic of course. After rescuing it from its hiding place, I had washed, polished and vacuumed the car (essential MoT preparation). With it looking shiny, I had begun to fall in love with it. The fact that it had breezed through the MoT only cemented my affections for the car. Or so I thought.

Then came the momentous day: I was to take it home to meet the family. Like introducing your first girlfriend to your parents, I was nervous of the reaction it would get. However I was more nervous about the prospect of driving it home – covering 50-odd miles and two motorways.

It started well. Out through Twickenham, Feltham and on to the A316. The little motor wound itself up nicely and by the time I hit the M3, I was doing about the same speed as I usually do in the Land-Rover. Settling in for the duration, I decided to open the heater vents just to satisfy my curiosity of just how I would cope in the winter months. That was when the car filled with a thick, oily smoke. So I shut the vents again. Ignorance is bliss, but no sooner had I done that, than she gave a cough, slowed, and I found myself on the hard shoulder.

I didn’t panic, and rightly so – the thermostat had failed to open, meaning that the small cooling flap in the tinware was stuck firmly shut. I managed to jam it open with a box spanner secured with a length of old clutch cable and once things had cooled down again, I set off.

Once off of the motorway, I took it easy and the car ran like a dream. Roof folded back, sun shining, thumbs up and smiles from passers-by: everything should have been perfect, but it wasn’t.

In my experience, it is the journey home with a new classic that establishes the future relationship and boundaries of acceptance. I drove our Mk2 Mini from Cheshire to Berkshire with a misfiring engine, yet loved every minute of the nervous journey.

I drove my MGB from Kent to Reading with knackered wire wheels promoting vibration at anything over 60mph, yet the experience of my first soft-top resulted in a firm friendship that lasted several years.

The maiden journey from Herefordshire to Newbury in my Porsche 912 couldn’t be faulted in any way and is perhaps the best journey ever – the driver still not believing that he had actually bought a Porsche.

But, the journey from Teddington to Newbury, in a Fiat 500 failed to move me. I was gutted. I couldn’t get comfortable, I didn’t like the way it drove and I found it hard to forgive it for the minor breakdown (tellingly, one which I know I would have – and many other times actually have – forgiven other classics). I don’t think I have ever felt so deflated. I arrived home, the family admired the way it looked and then it went into the garage with me looking forward to driving the Mini the following day instead.

Before you judge, believe me I tried to love it. I went on holiday and the first thing I did when I got home was take it to the shop so that I could stock up the fridge. I was excited – a feeling that quickly changed when I was half a mile up the road. The car was performing well, it looked fantastic, yet my heart remained inexplicably untouched. Still gutted, but I guess some relationships are just not meant to be.

And this is why, after only a couple of months of ownership, the car is off to its new owner – a nice gent who is buying it because of its similarity to a car he used to own. I have had to abandon thoughts of attending the Goodwood Revival in the 500, and of the road-trip to Turin that I had started to plan in my mind, but I know he will love and cherish it and that makes me happier.

As for me? The Mini gets a makeover instead, and I get to keep a smile on my face. Apologies to all 500 enthusiasts out there, but for me – the best small classic is still British.

Comments

TimGee

Martin: your "Arrivederci" essay reminds me of the time I 'accidentally' bought a Positano Yellow (Seventies orange) Fiat 500L for a friend who had accompanied me to a Coys auction a few years ago. I didn't have any prior affiliation to Fiats or to 500s, but the one-owner, original car was a hoot to drive, and I grew to enjoy the small bow-wave of smiles and waves it generated anywhere on London streets.

What do you think it was that the car lacked for you? Certainly it's no high-speed cruiser, but once you've mastered the crash gearbox and the revs the engine obviously enjoys, I found the 500 to be a real charmer.

peterhughes512002

I didnt like mine when I first got in similar circumstances in 1988
However a 650cc bore with original box and a weber 18 some new tyres and re bushed and a love affair still blossoming began
they are different and a Mini is not better just different and probably each a brilliant reflection of the national culture
And no I am not daft because I love Porches and Lotus as well !!!!
peter

peterhughes512002

Oh by the way I still have a serious itch for a really good Mini to scratch if anyone wants to help !

Swordfish

Martin, when my Mum was in a nursing home a couple of years back
I had to find some documents, and came across a card that read,
Dear George (my Dad)your wife's new Austin Seven will be delivered on 23rd December 1959.it was signed George Harriman, and had the BMC rosette logo .
Coming home from school for the XMas hols, I saw this odd little red car outside our house, already sporting a hell plate,as Mum was to learn, hail mary's all round.
Back in that day in Sputnik, as it became nicknamed the new7,didnt need adornments to make it stand out. It just gathered eager crowds wherever.
Later in the 80s I had a 65 Morris Mini Minor Deluxe, which was precured mainly for some sport
It had same sliding windows, pull cord door handles and even the button start on the floor. The seats even were the same as the 1959 Austin DeLuxe ones.

By that time the grill was silver not painted.
I also added rear wheel bolt on spacers, a short throw remote gearstick to convert the wand/ but once chopped there was no going back, a smaller very, steering wheel and all set off by a nice walnut dash from a Riley Elf.

The drivers door was held onto the exterior hinges and c panel, by a wing nut and prayer and after a sprint it fell off/ well with a bit of shoe leather help.so the door went into the back and I drove it home without,, in the depths of winter..
A replacement panel was 3 quid-
I had a couple of days use in a 500F in 1969,and that had a lever for the choke and a starter one, also on the floor.
Fun with some sun in the open rof, but dicing with mikfloats and Reliants did'nt float my boat.

Later I swapped a Minor 1000(hateful bit of kit) for a 600'
A snooty Jensen owner(about yank tanks) in a Southend club, whose wife had a Minor said shoud'nt that be t'other way around/ so I said nar I'd sooner have the Fiat, but there we are, each to their own.

I liked the 600s beatly fast back, suicide doors and that was just about equal to an 850 Mini which wasnt equal to much else, if one tried progress in top, except around corners-which I think was only bettered by an Imp, (no staying power, and Fiat 127 Sport Abarth, coming apart from within)but all great fun bargain basement brekers yard fodder.

-but then the later Minis were far better than the earlier buzz boxes, and certainly didnt fill up with water like the 59 jobbie wanted to ,especially the later Rover engined ones..
Have fun
GAv

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