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Save the Cinquecento!

photo, red fiat 500

If you see this car, save it!

To Hell in a Teapot

Paris:– Saturday, 20. November:– One evening last week must have been a slow day for TV–news. Amid all the usual stories about mass mayhem, rampant corruption, and the total collapse of the earth in general, there was an item from Italy about how Italians were upset about the possible banning of the national post–war icon, the Fiat 500.

Italy's greens think the little teapot is a major cause of pollution because its rear–mounted aircooled micromotor dates to 1975, hardly updated from its original introduction in 1957. As such it has no catalytic converter – and if it had, there wouldn't be enough power left over to move the car.

Some Italians and Romans are up in arms to defend the national jewel, claiming that the cars are still useful and shouldn't be confined to museums. Of the 3.6 million built, there are about 10,000 in use in Rome and maybe another 600,000 on the road in Italy.

The anti–Fiat 500 bill introduced by clean–air crazies would affect all small–engined carsphoto, sandwiched fiat 500 25 years old or more. Just taking these cars off Italy's roads – hundreds of thousands – would create a mountain of pollution. Small car fans have introduced a 'Save the 500' bill, which is annoying the greens considerably.

The original 'sandwich' car.

They are probably also annoyed at the efforts of a European–wide old car lobbying group, that has the tentative support of some EU deputies. Old cars are part of our heritage – not the exclusive domain of the wreckers.

The TV–news story was a cute oddity, but the real news wasn't mentioned. We are talking about a car that was last manufactured 29 years ago, and some of the earliest survivors could conceivable be 47 years old. How is it possible that over half a million of these cars are still on the road, in Italy alone?

Most other cars made in Europe in that time period, from 29 to 47 years ago, have gone to the wreckers. Gone are VW's 'Beetle,' gone are Renault's R4s and R5s, gone all Simcas, Dauphines, old Opels and Fords, most British cars, old Peugeots, BMWs, Audis, even Fiat's own 600s, dozens of makes, millions of post–war cars. All gone except for a few Fiat 500s, Citroën 2CVs and some Minis.

Not only this but for the time period Fiats had a horrible reputation for rust. They began rusting when they were new and they didn't stop until they were crushed into steel cubes at the wreckers. How have a half million of the cheapest cars Fiat made managed to survive?

Could it be that Fiat 500 owners have a magic touch? Could it be that rust makes no inroads against the tenderphoto, white fiat 500 loving fingers of true fans? It is a deep mystery – obviously requiring that the cars be saved from the demands of the clean–air legions.

Here in semi–summer style with elbow out.

This isn't simple nostalgia. The Fiat 500 – the 'Cinquecento' – is a small car. European manufacturers still build small cars but they get bigger and bigger. Fiat's own 'Punto' started out small and is getting bigger as I write this. It's bloating.

The original Fiat 500 never gets bigger. Two adults can fit into its front seats and two midgets might have enough room in its back seat. The trunk – in front – is filled by a tiny gas tank. The rear windows don't open but there is a fabric sunroof. When open it permits endless headroom.

A writer for the Herald Tribune claimed that the Fiat 500 requires 'complex shifting to change gears.' It might seem 'complex' to anybody only used to automatic shifting. On a Fiat 500 the gearshift was a major power accessory. Maximum locomotion was effected by using deft shifting in coordination with keeping the tin gas pedal 'to the metal.'

In contrast, shifting with another rare survivor – France's 2CV – requires careful attention to the hand on the lever so that it doesn't get ripped to shreds by the raw metal dashboard. You never see Fiat 500 drivers with bloody hands.

Regular readers of Metropole will be aware of the occasional photo featuring the 'Fiat 500 of the Week.' These are shown because they are captured on the streets of Paris,photo, price 6000 euros, fiat 500 in use, rather than as museum displays. So far there is no known move afoot here to ban these cars.

6000 euros! Worth more than the new price.

In contrast, the city is watching the development of the rising sales of over–huge SUVs. In some areas, such as narrow streets, driving a SUV is akin to trying to force a tank through the eye of a needle. In traffic jams – a Parisian specialty – one SUV probably pollutes more than ten Fiat 500s.

When you really think of it, whether you are a despoiler of the planet or a committed greenie, what this world really needs is renewed production of the Fiat 500. No doubt they would be easy enough to counterfeit in China. Everything except the 'complex' transmission.

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