And I’ve bought Fiats. Yes, I did it twice, knowingly. Now, there’s really not a Fiats Anonymous organization although starting one might not be a bad idea. FIAT is unfortunately an acronym and the Americanized version is “Fix it again, Tony” with some rationale for this.
Fiats have always been fun to drive. They handle really well, they’re generally speaking peppy, for the four-cylinder small car genre, and, in the sedan versions, they’re somewhat practical. But their quality control has always been, well worse than Chrysler. Now, the ones I’ve owned, a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (’70) and a Fiat Strada 3-door (’78) never had major problems all that often, just profoundly irritating small ones.
Remember vent windows? Before the side windows of cars got bigger and more complicated in shape, they were basically rectangular with a separate, moveable triangular addition along the front edge of the side windows. These vent windows would pivot in and bring fresh air in without it blowing on the driver. The vent wondows. My 124 coupe had vent windows that rested on a stylish, well-designed pivot that was basically half of a cone in shape, with a flattened bottom that the glass sat on as it turned. The glass was glued to this cone-shaped pivot. The first time I used the vent window, while moving from Nashville to Chicago during the service, I opened the vent and, to my surprise, still had the glass in my hand as I moved my hand back towards the gear shift.
The glue failed. The window had pulled down out of the socket at the top as the glue had separated from the glass and that nice, stylish half-cone of a support at the bottom of the window was still sitting there patiently waiting for its glass to return. From this point on I entered into a world where I discovered that attaching differing materials – such as glass and metal, was actually nearly impossible to achieve – this was before super glue had been invented. I just learned to live with the limitations of the window (the passenger one came unglued too before too long). The closest dealer was in the process of going bankrupt, had inconvenient hours and really could care less about my problems.
The second one really only needed service once, blown head gasket, but that led to other issues with it. The 1970s were the last few years Fiat had dealers or parts suppliers in the U.S. While my car was being repaired at Import Auto Maintenance, it and every other car in the vicinity, was broken into by vandals to steal the radio. They busted up the dash, the door panels, windows, etc, in their attempt to clean out the radio. That’s when I discovered that the few remaining dealers had difficulties getting parts. I could only get a door panel that was the wrong shade, for example, or door handles in black, not brown like the other door. That car ran and ran and ran. It was M&M Green. You could park it in a sea of cars at a mall and NEVER lose it. It glowed green.
And, as a hatchback, you could plop the back seats down and put all sorts of stuff in it and carry all sorts of stuff on the luggage rack on the top, including 16′ 3/4″ rebar, which barely missed hitting the ground both in front and in back (we were building a house then). That car was our truck and we used it like one until one day when I pulled out of an electric supply house with $2,500 in breakers, breaker boxes, heavy wire and everything needed to wire our house. (It may have been a little overloaded.) As I tried to accelerate up the hill back to 12th Ave. S., a puff of white smoke came out from the dash – I’d set it on fire. I quickly shut off the car and started pulling fuses to things I could spare and then I was off.
Unfortunately, by then the car had almost 150,000 miles on it and the fire seemed to have fused a few circuits together. The heat and fan were out as were the wipers. But the lights and turn signals worked. And, by then we were deep into house-building and the little green car was our home-building vehicle. Every night we’d load up the hatch with tools, materials and whatever we’d need, and then set off on the house trek 20 miles farther away. Most times I didn’t rain, but when it did, the combination of Rain-X and removing the wiper arm from its shaft and storing it conveniently on the dash where I could get to it was Plan B. Then I’d roll the window down, stick my left arm out the window and wipe off the windshield as I drove merrily out Hwy. 70. But (aside from the one head gasket incident) that car always ran and ran and ran.
After the house was mostly built, we stored it in the barn and hardly ever used it. Two years later, when I bought a truck, the salesman asked if I had a trade in and I got $500 for it. He asked if it ran and I told him it did, but it looked like hell. He asked if it was worth $500 and I said no, not even if he was blind. I don’t think, as a car salesman, he was used to honesty, so he gave me the $500 on it while in shock. So, on a day with no rain forcast, I went down to the barn, put in the key and fired it right up (after sitting for two years, remember) and drove it to Madison. (By the way, that dealer with the Push, Pull or Drag deal thing — it is a scam. They hard line the retail sticker price plus dealer packs and refuse to drop two cents off that. I tried using the Fiat for that and had never seen the price of a basic Toyota truck that high before. It was like they’d tacked an extra two grand on there.)
So why all this posting about Fiat Anonymous?
I’m in trouble.