Have you ever wondered what the most collected classic car in Europe is? If you’re guessing something exotic like a Ferrari or a Porsche, you’d be very wrong. Because it seems that the one car that is recognized and beloved above all others throughout Europe is the old Fiat 500 – an Italian style icon and one of the great symbols of the “Dolce Vita”. Can such a small, popular car, of which almost 5 million were made, really become a major collector’s item? Well just ask the almost 1,000 owners who attended the latest Fiat 500 Club of Italy International Meeting in Garlenda (near Savona on the Italian Riviera) on the weekend of July 4. They are in no doubt, and given how many have been sold to the USA and Japan, they could well be right.
Between 1957 and 1975, Fiat manufactured 3,893,294 examples of this iconic, very compact, 2 cylinder, 500cc car. Engineer Dante Giacosa, its creator, managed to provide room for four in a beautiful car only 20 centimeters longer than a modern Smart. The Fiat 500 Club of Italy is the biggest single-model car club in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with about 21,000 members in countries from Italy to New Zealand. Their annual gathering takes place in Garlenda, a small village close to the town of Savona on Italy’s Riviera Ligure, where the club has its headquarters. Now in its 32nd year, the event attracts an average of 850-1000 cars. A noisy but very peaceful invasion…
“You’re wrong to ask me this question,” says Domenico Romano the founder of the Club, when asked for the logic that explains such success. “Everything about collecting a Fiat 500 is totally illogical: it’s not rare, it’s not valuable, it’s very uncomfortable and noisy, and you usually have to spend more than the market value of the car on repairs and restoration. It was a car built for the poor. A first 4-wheel vehicle after graduating from a Vespa or Lambretta. Many Italians remember it as a rusty old battered car, sometimes used for very long, tiring, hot summer journeys. Today, 40 years after production came to an end, there are still about 350,000 of these cars registered in Italy. If you arrive at an event in Italy in an old Fiat 500 you’re cooler than someone in a modern supercar. Modern car drivers stop to let you pass at crossings even when it is not your priority; and even if you’re the slowest on the road, nobody ever honks or complains. Green city authorities have passed laws preventing cars from entering downtown, making exceptions only for electric cars and the old Fiat 500. And if you drive in a Fiat 500 to the Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo, they let you park it in front of the entrance. If you can see any logic, you’re smarter than me. The truth is that the 500 has simply been part of the family and of the life of many millions of people. It was there every single day, driving children to school and parents to work, and taking families to the seaside in the summer. For many it was the first taste of the freedom that cars can give. Four generations of Italians learned to drive in it; thousands have probably been conceived in it, and when our club asked for pictures showing the 500 being used for weddings, we received so many that we decided to arrange a dedicated exhibition.”
Every year the International Meeting is dedicated to a specific foreign country. This year was the turn of Belgium, which sent a strong contingent of over 30 Fiat 500s, most of which were driven to Italy. Ivo t’Jampons, president of the Fiat 500 Club of Belgium, arrived with a very rare Fiat 500 Midi Maxi Moretti. This “beach car” was the very last built in 1973. It was based on the 500, a 1972 L, he says, and was originally sold in Belgium. “It spent most of its life in southern France, between the Cote d’Azur and Provence, perfect locations for such a car. It was bought back to Belgium by a Fiat dealer, and remained in the show room for about 25 years before I bought it in 2008. I didn’t drive it to Italy, as many members did, because this model really isn’t made for long highway journeys, so I put it on a trailer.” Marc Meuleman did drive 1200 kilometers in his 1972 500 R: “I bought the car in Italy ten years ago, and I totally restored it, but kept the outside panels as they were. It might look like a dented, used old 500, but under the skin everything is absolutely perfect.”
Santa Claus in Garlenda
What are Santa Claus and a couple of his reindeer doing in the 40° heat of Italy in July? “Taking a holiday before the winter work begins,” jokes the Finnish team who drove south from Rovanjemi, the Santa Claus town just above the Arctic Circle. “Three of my family and I took some holiday and drove the 3,500 kilometers to Garlenda. It took a few days, but what could have been a boring car journey, especially for the children, became an incredible adventure thanks to the 500.”
Fiat 500 Scioneri
The 500 meeting at Garlenda is open to every type of classic Fiat 500, even if they’ve recently been pimped or are miles away from any form of originality. But many owners take pride in their totally original cars, or if they restore them do everything to keep them as original as possible. One of the most interesting cars at the meeting, because of its meticulous restoration and its rarity, was a 1971 500 L by Scioneri. “It’s impossible to know how many were built,” says owner Alberto Simonutti from Milan, “because when Scioneri closed in 1993, all the archives were lost. I only know that very few are still around today. There are 3 to 4 known in Italy. I bought mine, which is based on an “L”, in 2013 from a friend. The car was blue, but during the restoration we discovered the original green, and we kept it. On the exterior it is like a normal 500, except for the badges and the front grill; but inside, the dashboard is totally different. The only question I can’t answer is whether this car, being originally an L, had the small protective pipes on the bumper or not. When I bought it, they were missing, and I can’t find any original documentation stating the original configuration”.
And that’s all the evidence you need to know that collecting classic cars brings all the same joys and worries, regardless of the market value.