The ‘new’ (not by the time I posted this) Fiat 500 TwinAir meets its older sibling. While the new one would be fine as an everyday car the old 500, or Bambina as it was known in NZ, is one for my “When I win Lotto garage”.
Have you heard of the Fiat Coupé? I’ll admit, before my father bought one when I was a kid, I hadn’t, but when he brought it home I instantly fell in love with it. The sounds of the turbo, the decadent interior, and oh boy, the looks…
I seriously thought about getting one of these when shopping for a car to replace my mighty Uno. I remember seeing them arrive fresh off the boat at Continental Cars (then the Fiat agents) and loved the style. In addition to the shapely exterior there were some really nice details like the headlight ‘bumps’ (inspired by the female form), a chunky retro metal external filler cap and body coloured dashboard panel strip.
It was a true successor to the 70s Fiat 124 Coupé and 131 Racing Coupé. A sporty twin cam engine in a stylish two door body at an affordable (if not for me at the time) price. I wonder how the new (Mazda based) Fiat 124 will be regarded in comparison in a few decades?
In some ways I still regret opting for the Fiat Bravo HGT I eventually purchased, especially when I see a Coupé on the road! Although mechanically very similar — 2 litre, 5 cylinder, FWD — it’s a far more practical, rather less stylish, three door hatch. What tipped the balance was the Bravo was ridiculously affordable, OK cheap, in comparison.
Although barely six years old when I purchased depreciation — and perhaps people scared by its rarity in NZ* — and a dealer needing the space for the new 500 models meant I paid less than 1/5 of the $40,000 it cost when new**.
That was about 1/2 the price of an equivalent age/condition Coupé, so style lost out.
* I’ve been told only a dozen were sold here!
** There was the additional cost of front brake discs & pads (not cheap) and a top engine damper which needed replacing but that was factored into the price negotiation. The previous owner had just got through a major cam-belt service and had traded the Bravo in on an Alfa.
Over the past few weeks it occasionally felt odd, with an intermittent throttle lag I can only compare to a poorly engineered turbo installation. Bit of a concern when it is not a turbo!
A few days ago the engine system warning light came on, occasionally at first, then persisting until the ignition was switched off/on, then finally on all the time. Of course the day before it was due to visit to the Fiat wizards at Italian Autos the light went off, and stayed off. They diagnosed a dodgy air flow meter, a part made by Bosch:
A replacement has restored the FSM’s five cylinder heart to its former responsive health. Perhaps it thought it was metering a Volkswagen in a test centre?
My 128 was a 1979 NZ assembled 1300 Bello sedan which I got in the late 80s. It was mechanically sound but a faded orange by then. NZ sun and UV tests paints!
Like most 128s, especially the local ones with dubious rust prevention, it eventually dissolved a bit too far. It had a second lease of life when I stumbled upon a complete set of factory fresh doors to replace the rust ventilated originals. From, distant, memory they were from a parts sale when the local distributor changed.
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…
Got home from work on a wet night, car in the garage, fire on, dinner on, telly on, all is well.
Later in the evening I need some wood so its out to the garage where where I have a couple of days supply to save venturing into the outside wood box at night. It’s perfectly silent (no howling winds, no rain pounding on the steel roof, no hail!) and I heard a very faint burbling noise coming from somewhere near the car.
Maybe I left the radio on (it runs with ignition off but is supposed to turn off after 30 minutes) or something else still running, maybe fluid leaking from the cooling system or engine, air conditioner gas?
It’s not coming from the interior or engine bay, but nearer the rear of the vehicle. By the back tyre there’s a small puddle of rain water, not much larger than the contact patch, which had dripped off the tyre and it was shimmering. I roll the car back a few centimetres to find a nail stuck firmly through a tread block. The noise was air escaping, being compressed by the tread block and bubbling up through the puddle!
What the odds of the nail ending up in right place to be in the puddle when the car stopped, let alone me being in the garage when it was quiet enough to hear the bubbles!
I didn’t avoid a tyre change and trip to the repair shop tomorrow but meant could do it in the relative comfort of the garage and not in the morning rush!