This listing on trademe reminded me of a fine little Fiat didn’t own and only ever drove a few times. The price seems a bit OTT but if as good as looks in the photos would be in my “When I win Lotto Garage”, if I had won Lotto.
My Aunt owned a yellow, or was it mustard?, Fiat 850 Coupé until the early 80s. She’s partially responsible for my Fiat fondness as I remember at least one other 850 and a 1600 124 Coupe in her automotive past.
I vaguely recall going with her to Tim Bailey’s “Town & Country Motors” (which became Continental Car Services) to collect them after servicing. Later I used to go there by bicycle, ~60km!, and still call by occasionally, to see what CCS (Coutts & Giltraps too) have on the lot. A huge amount of the NZ/Euro car history cluttering my brain is due to those pilgrimages!
She decided it was time to get a new car and we went to try the Mitsubishi Mirage (the twin stick mk1) at Todd(?) Motors Albany. In those days Albany was a village on the main highway North, not today’s suburb bypassed by motorways, so the drive was mostly open road. I'd not been driving for long and drove her 850 for the first time on the way there and, even though it was an old car by then, remember it was fun.
The Mirage test drive included the Albany hill which, thanks to its 1200cc engine, gave plenty of opportunity to shuffle those gear levers. I’m not sure exactly why the Mirage had a 4x2 8 speed box but it was certainly novel. It reminded me of riding a derailleur multi-speed bike where the next highest/lowest gear might require a double shift onto the other cogset. I suspect once the novelty wore off the second ‘box’ was probably only ever used as an overdrive gear in top. Later models had a conventional 5 speed manual so it mustn't have been a component of the Mirage sales success. They were popular cars back in the day, something the recently re-launched range seems to be trying to resurrect!
Anyway she liked the Mirage, ended up buying it, but going home up the same hill I remember the 850 surprised me. I’m not sure how the actual performance figures would compare but the 850, with 1/4 less engine but probably quite a bit lighter, felt far more peppy. Maybe it was gearing, just having 4 to choose, or engine noise but the 850 impressed up the hill. Later I owned a Fiat 127 so got to know that awesome little 903cc engine very well.
Continuing on to the Coatesville – Riverhead road revealed even more. Today this is a speed limited 50/80 km/h sanitised almost suburban road but back then it was a 100 km/h, narrow twisty country road. I remember my Dad ‘enjoying’ it and after travelling the route many times as a passenger, cyclist and driver could call it, rally co-driver pace note style, from memory!
I’m sure the ultimate limits of the 850 were low, skinny tyres, but it handled pretty nicely. Although inferior in many ways it was more fun to drive than the 2 decade newer Mitsi!
PS: Aunties Mirage, and my Mum’s Fiat 132, were both written off by a ‘stolen’ bus (fortunately when unoccupied & parked). Its replacement was a Fiat Uno 70SL so perhaps her Fiat addiction was only briefly suppressed…