If you just squint and listen it could be a 912...

| 21 Jun 2011

It’s taken a while but I’ve gone air-cooled again. It’s even rear-engined and European, but I have a feeling it isn’t going to challenge my now-deceased Porsche 912 for power. Yep – what every man who completes a 110-mile roundtrip to the office is… a Fiat 500. Not the new retro thing, but a proper one – complete with two-cylinder engine and an almighty 21bhp.

Like every good classic car purchase, this wasn’t intended in any way. The Port garage already boasts a Mini, so why on earth would I want something even smaller? The answer I’m afraid is quite simple your honour. It ‘just happened’. One minute it was sat, not being used and for sale. The next minute the money was on it’s way out of my account and I was taking the Fiat for a test-drive around the multi-story car park at C&SC towers. In truth, it was a pure fluke that the money was even in my account (it’s usually kept in the Land-Rover fuel tank), but fate dictated that the planets aligned for a short moment and the deal was done.

Peculiarly, when I was considering a fleet reshuffle, I was heading in the opposite direction: Reliant Scimitar with it’s nigh on three-litre V6 engine, four seats and boot large enough to fit a pushchair in, but I never got around to looking properly. I had a quick glance at one on a very rainy day in Portsmouth, and I made a few calls about a rather cheap example in Barry, Wales. There my search ended. It would appear that my heart wasn’t captured.

Instead, I decided to plough some time and effort into making the Mini what I wanted. I began planning a few modifications to make it less ‘granny car’ and more ‘Goodwood racer’. But that is a difficult thing to do with a 1980s 1000cc Mini in Primula Yellow with a blue tartan interior.

Then along came the Fiat. It had sat in a quiet corner of a car park for months. Slowly gathering more grime under a mis-fitting car cover – perhaps that is why I resisted its charms for so long. If I’m honest, it wasn’t until I dragged it out of it’s hiding place and stuck a jump pack on the battery that I began to really soften. When it fired first time and ran to a smooth idle (as much as a two cylinder air-cooled engine can), it instantly brought a smile to my face.

Like many classic owners, I am guilty of thinking that cars have characters. This one certainly did, and it seemed to be willing me to drive it. It has a cheeky look to it because of the obvious lack of stature, and it’s little thrumming engine sounds more Qualcast than something with an Italian family line. My son has already named it Luigi after the Fiat in Disney’s Cars and despite the even smaller interior, smaller engine and smaller footprint, the plucky foreigner is already mounting a challenge for affections against the Mini. The Fiat will be off for an MoT soon and that’s when the battle will really begin. Who will win? Watch this space. Ciao.