If I could possibly justify another teeny-weeny cute car, I’d get the new Fiat 500. I’ve only seen one around here, a silver grey one. I like the tv ads, and I’ve checked them out online since I first heard that Fiat/Chevrolet was going to remake the Bambina.
I was so much hoping they’d do a good job – keep the look and spirit of the original, as BMW did with the MINI. And Fiat, bless their hearts, did.
In the 1970s, in New Zealand, I had a 1965 Fiat 500. There, at the time, old Bambinas were the car of choice or, more accurately, no choice for students and others with no money. I learned to drive on that little car and my boyfriend’s parents’ 12-seater Land Rover. It was like switching between a Dinky Toy and a tank.
My Bambina had the “suicide doors” that hinged at the rear (it was 6 months older than the last of those). The back seat would hold two adults as long as they didn’t demand a lot of legroom. Storage was under the hood and the 500 cc engine was in the rear.
It was two cylinder. In models like mine, both pistons went up and down in unison instead of alternating. That meant a lot of vibration, leading to engine parts and wires falling off.
Repairing an old cute car
My boyfriend and I bought a manual for it because we had no money for garage repairs. My father was a mechanic, but he was in Canada and he’d never seen an engine like that anyway. I drew pictures of it and mailed them to him to get his opinion on mechanical problems. But return mail took about 6 weeks so that wasn’t very efficient.
Eventually we got so we could put blocks under the engine, haul the bumper off and push the body of the car away, fix it and put the car back together in a couple of hours. That was to replace the starter motor pins that sheared off regularly from the vibration. The starter motor was located at the front of the engine and there was no way to get in to it unless maybe you had a hoist. We learned to tighten the starter motor every time before starting the car.
Wires also fell off, often at inopportune times like the middle of an intersection. I could push the car off the road by myself. And I learned which wires were more likely to fall off and where they belonged. We learned to check and tighten all wires and cables before starting the car.
But it was a good car. It took us and camping gear all over the North and South Islands one summer. It got crotchety and didn’t like the damp. On those days, it just wouldn’t start. It’s often damp and rainy in New Zealand. Finally, we just kept it for state occasions, opting to walk or take the bus most of the time.
It’s the only car that I’ve known every inch of and known how to fix. And its engine was totally unlike any other, so that knowledge was not transferable. I’ve never had a car that frustrated me more, and I’ve never had a car I remembered with such love. I am so happy that they’re back.