When my Mum went back to work after raising my sister and I, she needed a car to get to and from school. My Dad promptly took £600 out of the bank in cash, and went and bought a Fiat Panda 4×4 from the next village. On reflection, the fact my Mum thought that teaching in a primary school and commuting back and forth in a Fiat would be enjoyable says a lot about how much trouble my sister and I were.
I wrote about that particular Panda just after I started blogging, so I won’t go back over old ground. The reason I mention the Panda 4×4 again now, however, is that I came across one in Rome last week. This wasn’t a battered old thing being used to force its way round the cobbled streets of the Italian capital, though. No, it was a well-maintained machine that the Geology Department at the University of Rome La Sapienza was using on a weekly basis to do field work in the hills and mountains around the city. One of the oldest and most respected scientific institutions in Europe was collecting its samples in a 20 year-old Fiat Panda.
The previous time I’d been in Rome for work, the mini 4×4 drove away before I had a chance to get a good look at it. This time, it was tipping down with rain when I arrived at the uni, and with my shoes being soaking I was in no mood to be taking photos. Do it tomorrow, I thought…and as expected, when I came back the next day, there was an empty space where the Panda had been. Drat.
It had, however, only got as far as the front steps, where it was being loaded up with shovels, hammers and trays for a day’s research. “We use these nearly every day, they never let us down,” explained the technician who was having a pre-field work cigarette whilst leaning on the Fiat’s roof. “Absolutely perfect for the mountains, you’d be amazed where they can get to.” I vaguely remember hearing that the Italian Mountain Rescue still use them in the Alps, so I had no reason to doubt him.
As we get more and more extreme weather and harsher and harsher winters, something like the first generation Fiat Panda 4×4 could be really useful. But then again, it is a Fiat, so outside of the temperate Roman climes it may well just break.