Arrivederci, bella macchina!

| 22 Aug 2011

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.