My affection, my amour, my attachment these past few years has been fixed most assuredly not on a woman, but on cars of Italian heritage. However my enchantment is not fixed upon the flashy Ferraris that most Americans think of when they think of italian cars. Though certainly this venerable brand has written the loftiest chapters of automotive history and left its indelible mark on the heart of every man. This is not enough though, to be a luxury item of the rich never to be tasted by the common man. The zeal, passion and dedication have not been limited to this noble steed, but overflows and expresses itself though sometimes subtlety in the everyday Fiats and Lancias. Panache and elegance, performance and precise engineering, all of them on a budget.
And so my story begins in 1998 or 1999 my uncle from Kansas City knew that our family needed another car and basically gave us a light blue 83(maybe an 84) Pininfarina badged Spider. He was the only owner prior to us and it only had 50k miles, but being a KC driver it had terrible rust in the usual spots and I don’t really think he was that sad to see it go. It was the only convertible we’d ever owned so I tried to borrow it from my dad any time the weather was even slightly above freezing so I could drive with the top down. It was amazing how much easier it was to wear a sombrero in this beautiful machine than crammed inside my own car. I loved this car and even though it was really my dad’s primary driver I forked over the cash to put on all new exhaust, that I’d been lusting over in the IAP catalog, from bow to stern. Unfortunately even with the low mileage the engine turned its last very shortly after this great upgrade and I was too poor and inexperienced to even know where to begin. My dad saw the car as a loosing battle and a money pit and so probably would have discouraged any more money being thrown at the it even if I’d been able to, so we got rid of it.
2002 rolled around and I found a spider in amazing condition nearby with a clean title for 50 bucks…minus engine and interior. I hatched grand schemes to restore my first car…with no tools, no know how and not really a ton of motivation. It sat in my parking spot in my roommates garage for about a year and half enduring excruciating ridicule from all my friends. They loved writing derogatory things in the dust on the windshield about my Italian beauty. It made one more move with me, but that was it and I gave up the idea for a little while.
Eventually I stumbled onto Mirafiori’s site and saw Courtney’s 128 Corral page and got over my Spider bite and fell head over heels for the 128. Thanks to those two hillclimb video’s Courtney had posted it was the beautiful sound of the engine that lured me in. And wouldn’t you know it I spied a yellow 128 Rally on ebay for sale in Philly in 04 I think. Chalk it up to being young and still not knowing a whole lot and so thinking it would be the only 128 Rally I’d ever get a chance to grab hold of I convinced my dad to drive up in his new to him truck with me and tow it back to Missouri. I’d like to think if the seller had taken better pictures maybe I’d have avoided the up and back 30 some hour trip, but I doubt it. We got there and I drove it around the block, but was less than impressed seeing it in person. I’d never even seen a 128 before and so I was really excited about it, but she needed a lot of body work beyond my skill and I’m sure shortly would have needed a fair bit of engine work making his asking price much more than it was worth. We decided to leave this one be and in Philly dropped off our two wheel u-haul trailer that we’d towed up from Missouri, bouncing around empty the whole way. A few years passed by and I started reading(dreaming) more about these little cars and luckily I kept my ears perked up when I found a little green beauty in Denver that was in much better shape. I made an offer and I flew out, apparently just beating someone else I’m guessing from the Mira crowd, and in a great show of faith drove it home. Only 80k miles doesn’t mean much when the car is 37 years old and it’s the middle of summer so I drove across Kansas at a gentle 55-60 mph. Later I found out my gauges weren’t so accurate and it was actually only 50-55. Excited about how little rust it had I drove it around until a shim bucket split open and the engine stopped running and thus began my real Fiat education. Stripped it down this summer for a slooww engine rebuild when I got antsy this winter and fate dropped a Yugo into my lap as well which has produced in shorter time a daily driver just in time to play around in all of our midwest snow.
I entertain thoughts of my next next next projects all the time dreaming of a 131 works replica or an Abarth 1000 OTS. If you were to look inside my brain I think there would be some parts stamped Fiat there. Now if only I could figure out how to meet a beautiful Italian woman to go with the Italian metal. Thanks in large part to the Mirafiori guys for my Fiat sickness, I hope it lasts the rest of my life.
If I were to put together a bucket list of cars here’s what it might look like.
Black Betty – Fiat 131 2dr w/ Alitalia rally paint and rally spec, engine and rally trim
Bella – Lancia Integrale 16v
85 Mustang GT 5.0
Pip Squeak – Fiat 850 reverse rotate twin cam engine
Sweet Pea – Fiat 128 Rally spec
late 60s Ducati Mach3 Desmo or a 67 750 Ducati Sport
67 Fiat Dino