December 4 – TBC (edit: Fiat Panda)
Today is going to be a little bit tricky because I’m on a train and have been for most of the day. I’m going to London on the East Coast Express from Edinburgh, and being all Web 2.0-ey and 21st Century-esque I’m blogging on the move. Only problem is there are no blinking cars in sight for me to write about as we are torpedoing through England’s green and pleasant land somewhere south of York. Please excuse the filler as I try to keep the train of thought going whilst scanning the horizon for an interesting vehicle…
Hmm, looks like a motorway over there, but we’re not close enough to see anything…
Series 1 Disco. Naw. Nissan X-Trail. Boring. Hyundai Accent in housing estate. No thank you.
Bloody hell, someone’s having a massive bonfire. Nutter.
Ha! Yes! An original Fiat Panda parked at a cabbage farm. Get in! I loved the original Fiat Panda, the ones made in the 1980s and early 90s. We had two of them in our family. My Nana was the first to get one, buying a brand new G reg 1100 Fire in matt flannel blue. Inside, the use of a cloth hammock where the glovebox should have been allowed many cassettes, cough sweets and window scrapers to be stored in a manner that would insult thieves by goading ‘even if you did chib in the window, there is nothing in here you would possibly want.’
And then my parents bought one. My Mum had just gone back to work as a teacher so we needed a second car while my Dad used the Volvo 340. A Fiat Panda appeared in the local paper being sold in a village not far up the road, and after a brief test drive my father handed over some cash to a green-jerkined, bearded man and returned home with a yellow-cream Panda. Not just any old Panda, though – a 4×4. For some odd reason these things were sold for quite a while. Basically, they were a jacked-up standard Fiat with four-wheel drive, white steel wheels and a funny wee lever next to the gearstick that ostensibly did things to the diffs but to all intents and purposes could have been controlling a swing bridge in a far-off country for all the effect it had on the car’s driving dynamics.
Slap a Steyr-Puch badge on the back and add a small set of bull bars (this was 1993, before safety was invented) and away it went. My wee sister and I were never really allowed to ride in it due to the lap belts in the back, our parents preferring their offspring not to be cut in half in the event of an accident. On the odd occasion I was allowed in it, however, my memories are of furious revving, very fast windscreen wipers and a continual smell of burning. This thing made an awful lot of noise without really translating this into speed, acceletration or torque.
Being Italian and old, it was prone to rusting. My Dad was nonetheless determined to keep it going and so set about the corroding doors with chicken wire, Cataloy and touch-up paint. The tin worms mercifully steered away from the silly ‘4×4’ graphics in front of the rear wheels, instead choosing to chomp their way through the lower part of the car’s access portals. Eventually, though, it became clear that the Panda was becoming more of a burden than it was worth and it was sold to make way for a Vauxhall Cavalier. Boo.
Despite being seven years old – or maybe because I was seven – I was pretty upset when this funny little car went away. It and the variant my grandmother had have long gone, but the spirit of the four-wheel drive lives on. One day, as my father was working furiously away on the driver’s door, he impaled his hand on a protruding piece of ferrous oxide. A panicky phone call to the doctor’s surgery followed to check his tetanus jab was still in date, but he was soon back out, lying on the tarpaulin and finishing the job. He was fine, but a one-centimetre chunk of the Panda had become irretrievably lodged in his hand, where it remains to this day. Older Fiats may fall to bits easily, but it takes a lot to kill one off completely.
(n.b. now I come to think of it, this was perhaps the only vehicle on which I ever saw my old man engaged in the manly pursuit of Fixing a Car By Himself with Tools and No Help).