Everybody in the UK is sick to death of Goodie Two Shoes being strong and stable, so here’s a tale about something that wasn’t very strong and not particularly stable. Fran will like this.
Once upon a long ago, Scuderia Rondine had a Fiat Panda. What a great car that was, despite its manifold shortcomings. Fiat built it as a way of using up the spare parts they had left over from production runs of some of their even less successful vehicles. You could pretty well have built one yourself if you had a bodyshell and access to a breaker’s yard.
The body panels appeared to have been pressed by Indesit, the washing machine manufacturer. There is a historical precedent for this; the old Nash Metropolitans were built by Kelvinator, the refrigerator company, and Fiat clearly saw a business opportunity. Anyway, the metal was so thin that if you leaned on the bodywork the panels flexed, springing back into shape with a satisfying ‘clonk’ when the pressure was released.
The Panda was black, but in keeping with its parts bin origins came with seats and trim in a rather startling blue. Odd trim options were not confined to this low budget addition to the Swallow transport pool.
For many months we were plagued with damp carpets in the passenger footwell. Well, not so much damp as sopping wet and a bit smelly. It took us a while to realise this may not have been unconnected with the passenger side windscreen washer being inoperative. In a great piece of design, something the Italians are supposed to excel at, the washer feed for the passenger side ran just above the footwell, but was not secured in any way. A careless foot dislodged the pipe, and every time you used the washers the water came straight out into the footwell. Ah me.
Like a VW Beetle it had liftoff oversteer, but its natural handling characteristic was terminal understeer. For the uninitiated, ‘understeer’ means that you turn the steering and the front end simply ploughs on straight ahead, almost as if you hadn’t bothered. This didn’t matter too much at shopping speeds, but could be hazardous if you were pressing on a bit. Again at the Elephant and Castle roundabout, driving with a bit less care and attention than I should have been, I had the Panda plough on, backed off, had the tail end snap round, hit what passed for the power again to put things right, ploughed on, and so on ad nauseam, taking the exit I wanted in a series of lurid slides and corrections. The skidmarks were there for days, and even now I can see the cars around me ducking and weaving to avoid catastrophe like one of the Red Arrows’ finer set pieces.
Even so I loved that car. It had real character, something that has largely been lost as manufacturers get ‘better’ at their job. I wouldn’t have liked to been involved in a big shunt in that Panda, but boy could it make me grin.