Friday November 10, 2017
Earlier this year I wrote about the 60th anniversary of the Fiat 500, one of the key cars of the post-war Italian economic miracle and the vehicle that tempted many a Vespa or Lambretta owner towards four-wheeled transport.
One of the stars of this year’s Pride of Ownership in the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show is Stefan Graichen’s 1967 500F that positively gleams – and is a rare surviving RHD version.
In the 1960s when foreign cars were still comparatively unusual on British roads, Fiat was virtually the only overseas manufacturer to offer a full range of models, from the svelte 2300 range to the 500 for the urban motorist who wanted an alternative to the Mini.
The “F” version was introduced in June 1965 and it is mainly identifiable by its forward-hinged doors and slimmer windshield pillars.
50 years ago, Motor concluded that at just £417 3s for a car with a sunroof, windscreen washers and a heater as standard, the 500 offered ‘remarkable economic advantages’.
500 saloon production ceased in 1975 and during the 1970s Dante Giacosa’s masterpiece was not an uncommon sight in the UK.
Almost anyone who has ridden in the Fiat at that time will remember that faint aroma of boiled rubber in the cabin, how the rear seat was more suitable to shopping bags than human beings, the sound of the crash gearbox and, in my own case, the alarming sight of the front wheels of a Leyland Atlantean bus apparently towering above the windshield frame.
Today they are one of the most collectable cars to ever hail from Turin and when Stefan recently ‘parked it outside a shopping centre I came out to find about 12 people taking photos of it!’
He discovered the 500 on eBay some three years ago and it matched his precise specification criteria – ‘I was determined to have a 500, the ‘F’ specification is very desirable, and I wanted one that was right-hand-drive’.
The Fiat that he eventually acquired was one that, to use a phrase often seen in small ads, was ‘a restoration project’.
In fact, it had been ‘off the road since about 1972’ and in terms of future jobs, ‘it basically needed “everything”!’ – from seats and windscreen to extensive body refurbishment.
There was also the challenge that many ‘other details were missing’ and one of the most elusive parts proved to be the RHD wiper motor.
After countless man-hours, the 500F emerged from Stefan’s workshop– and was treated to a respray in “Alfa 501 Red” which he regards as ‘the best red on the planet!’ When not appearing at the NEC, the Graichen Fiat can often be seen out and about.
The F’s original top speed was around the 59 mph (although the engine sounds as though it is capable of Warp Factor 10 - but Stefan has ‘slightly improved the engine for modern motoring and my 500 will easily reach 70 mph on the motorway’.
Most importantly, ‘it is such a happy car to drive’ – a sentiment that generations of Italian motorists would automatically agree with.