Track time – Abarth 500 esseesse

I’ve gotta admit, I was a little apprehensive when I first heard the news that Fiat were building a new 500. The old 500 is an icon of motoring, an icon of Italy and an icon of all things fun and lighthearted. In this day of crash safety regulation, emission regulation, mass production and the growing size of cars, how could Fiat possibly do the badge justice? The news worsened when Fiat announced that the new 500 would have an engine mounted at the front, driving the front wheels.

Like the rest of the motoring world, I was genuinely surprised when I saw the first pictures of the new 500. It was a thoughrougly contemporary design, it was small, it was light and it was affordable. It was unmistakeably a Fiat 500. And from the first test drives, word came through that it was also genuinely good fun to drive. It gave the driver a feeling of ‘con brio’, just like the original did. What we had here wasn’t a retro modern car, it was the new Fiat 500. Continue reading


Passenger ride – Fiat Dino Spider

It’s not often you see a car so beautiful it stops you in your tracks, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I first laid eyes upon David’s gorgeous yellow Fiat Dino Spider a few weeks ago. Just look at it. It’s stunning.

And what’s more, David was kind enough to take me for a spin in it early one sunny Saturday morning.

The Dino fits perfectly into a long heritage of the kinds of Italian convertibles I dream about. Cars that have the classic 60’s movie star looks and a powerful, aurally magnificent engine to back it up. To be perfectly honest, riding in the Dino Spider early that morning was as close to my dream of driving a Ferrari 250 California at sunset as I’m likely to get in a while.

How so?

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Sighting – Giocattolo Group B

I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I unexpectedly found this Giocattolo Group B at the recent Fiat Nationals event. The Giocattolo is one of my all-time favourite cars as it possesses the unique combination of giant killing performance wrapped in an attractive and very purposeful looking (modified) Alfa Romeo body shell, all built by a group of blokes up in Queensland. So bear with me if I gush a little while we get the rare privilege of studying a Giocattolo up close and delving a little into it’s fascinating history.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a Giocattolo is, not many people do. Giocattolo is Italian for ‘toy’ and in short, a Giocattolo (above right) uses the bodyshell from an Alfa Romeo Sprint (above left). It throws away the Sprint’s front engine, front drive 1500cc boxer 4 and instead replaces it with a mid-mounted 304ci Holden V8 from a VL Walkinshaw, transferring power through a 5 speed ZF transaxle. There were only 15 built in Coloundra, Queensland during (about) 1985-89. As you can imagine it’s significantly faster than the Alfa it once was, and embodies everything that was great about automotive styling in the 80’s.

So, a quick history lesson about a determined man with the financial capacity to realise the kinds of fanatical ideas we can only dream of, and the car he and his mates built. Continue reading

2012 Fiat Nationals

The annual Fiat Nationals took place at Benalla, Victoria, this past weekend (20-21 January). In what has become an annual pilgrimage for us, we made the 900km trek over in our 1987 Alfa Romeo Sprint and 1979 Fiat X1/9. Yes, that is correct. Every year we drive old Italian cars halfway across the country in the middle of an Aussie summer. Crazy.

See here for motorkhana photos.

See here for Show & Shine and Supersprint photos.

The event has been run as a motorkhana and next year will be celebrating it’s 50th running. Historically run around places like Dubbo and Wagga Wagga, 7 years ago the event moved to Bathurst and enjoyed the addition of a speed event for the first time – a hillclimb up the famous Bathurst race track. This was when I started attending and I ended up competing at the Bathurst hillclimb three times. The event then moved to Goulburn and featured a supersprint around the Wakefield Park circuit. Attending both of these locations from Adelaide involved crossing the Hay Plains (not a great deal of fun in summer), so it was with great happiness when I read that the event would be moving to Benalla, Victoria, for 2012. The event would also include a supersprint around the Winton circuit.

So that’s how I found myself behind the wheel of the Alfa last Friday, chasing one of the most amazing dawn sunrises I’ve seen into the distance. It was forecasted to be a hot day and the early morning air was refreshingly balmy as it kissed and caressed the skin. Lights on, windows down, we sped through the darkness with the knowledge that things were going to get quite a bit warmer as soon as that sun rose. Continue reading