She’s the first and only car I’ve ever owned, and last year when she arrived filled with balloons, I instantly named her after an old girlfriend that had equally wiggly rear panels.
Anyone that has ever owned a FIAT cinque cento knows that there has never been another car like her, the sound of the engine, the feel of the thing over cobble stone streets, the way you have to shift in a special way, the much beloved ‘doppietta’.
When not on my bicycle, my cinque cento is most often my means to explore la Puglia, the piece of land I love like no other.
As a member of the Historical Automobile Club of Italy, I often talk about Emilia as though she were an old faithful and beloved mule: Those that keep their FIAT 500 in mint condition would never treat their cars like I do mine, as a means of transport, out tooling about the countryside and along the stunning coasts.
Car snobs peel their top lips off their teeth over the fact that someone changed out her engine and steering wheel in the mid-80’s, that she’s not the original colour, that her wheel hubs are actually that of the FIAT 126, a much easier to maintain model.
I too have made a few augmentations: Her stereo is powerful, with a four-speaker system. It has an iPhone jack and a USB port, for listening to the music that was issued in her era. I had Dario put in recoiling seat belts and a removal passenger side seat that allows me to load whole cases of wine into her backseat.
But come to the Puglia and watch out when you’re on the dusty-red, country back roads, for a tiny car that really picks up speed, her tiny chassis vibrating enough to worble the human voice. Keep your eyes peeled for a tiny teal car huffing, her backseat laden with guide books, fishing pools and cases of local wine and extra virgin olive oil.
And listen careful and you might hear her giddy owner, singing old Italian torch songs, that blissful cocktail of vintage engine noise, whistling wind through the windows and a fabulously out-of-tune human voice, ‘Respiri piano per non far rumore , ti addormenti di sera , ti risvegli con il sole , sei chiara come un’alba , sei fresca come l’aria’.
Ours is a love story. And like anyone in love, while my eye might wonder every now and then towards a younger, sleeker model with sportier dimensions, my heart remains steadfast, true, faithful. Keys in hand I catch of glance of her in the school’s courtyard everyday and the same phrase comes to my lips. ‘Ciao gioia mia. Ti voglio bene assai’.