Thursday, September 17, 2009
In 1970, after a year & a half with the Sunbeam Tiger, I knew I really wanted a Lotus Elan.
But I also knew that finding an Elan I could afford was not going to be easy, or quick.
Also, I couldn't afford to buy an Elan before selling the Tiger.
And Tiger buyers were not too thick on the ground.
And I couldn't manage without a car in the meantime.
So I decided to get a little, cheap, car as a bridging strategy, to cover the period of selling the Tiger & finding an Elan.
It would have been most sensible to go for some "commodity" like a Morris Minor, but, even then, sensible was not at the top of my priority list for cars.
So I bought a 1967 Fiat 500.
Only 3 metres long, with a tiny 2-cylinder air-cooled engine at the back, scooter wheels & swing-axle suspension, it is hard to get much smaller or simpler than this.
But Fiat managed to make it look very attractive. (They are now enjoying enormous success with the similar-looking new 500 as a Mini rival.)
Of course, it didn't need power steering or a brake servo.
And the performance was better than you would expect from looking at it.
And it came with a throw-open roof.
Generally & in retrospect, I found it a likable car & an admirable design exercise.
I remember it as doing most things better than expected, which is not saying too much, of course.
Certainly, I had to re-adjust my driving style & overtaking manoeuvres drastically when switching between the Tiger & the Fiat.
The worst thing was the low top of the windscreen, so that even I (not particularly tall) had the choice between crouching to look through the screen, or stretching to look through the roof!
The Tata Nano is a very logical development of all the basic ideas & layout of the Fiat 500 & it looks set for well-deserved international success, thanks to that simplicity.
Parting thot: "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them." - Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh