Classics World’s Peter Simpson test drives and reviews the Fiat 500 Transformable…
At first glance, this may look like any Fiat 500 – albeit an exceptionally clean, tidy and well-restored example. However, as the rear view shows, it’s actually the rare Transformable version, which features a 2CV-like full length roll-back fabric roof. This was never officially imported into the UK, and is rare even in its homeland. Good examples are highly sought after.
This particular car was being sold on commission by Kim Cairns on behalf of an anonymous collector/small Fiat enthusiast, but all the usual dealer facilities and support come with it.
The car has been the subject of a full rebuild to an extremely high standard – as new in fact – and also comes with a few sought-after period accessories including the engine cover rack and picnic hamper and a period radio that’s incorporated in the rear-view mirror. I was unable to pick anything up on it, though that could simply be poor medium wave (aka AM) reception in this particular corner of rural Norfolk. Period door mirrors also add to the period feel.
The car has come from Italy and remains LHD. Little – in fact no – pre-import history is known.
Being an early Fiat 500, the car has suicide-style front doors. The original engine has, it is believed, been replaced by a 600cc unit – probably during the rebuild – but the original gearbox has been retained.
Close inspection of the body and interior confirms the initial impressions that this is a very well restored example. There are no signs of rust in any of the usual places. Just as importantly, there were no signs that I could see of repairs, so either the car was good to start with, or the repairs have been done so well that they’re invisible even to an experienced eye. Panel gaps, too, are superb, and certainly every bit as good as the factory would have produced.
Fiat 500 interiors aren’t exactly luxurious but that’s not what it’s all about. But it is very original-looking and very tidy. We suspect the vinyl seats have been re-covered, but only because of their condition and it being unlikely that the originals would have survived 53 Italian summers so well. The rubber mats are in excellent condition and, as well as looking right, the interior smells right.
ON THE ROAD
Starting one of these cars is easy when you know how. There are two small levers, one on each side of the handbrake. One operates the choke – though full-choke is generally needed only in very cold conditions. Once that is set, you turn on the ignition – a one-position key-operated switch – and then pull the other lever to operate the starter. Simple, but very effective.
Even though it hadn’t been started for several days prior to our test, the little Fiat fired up immediately when the above technique was used. Of course, it sounded busy – but delightfully busy.
It’s been a few years since I last drove a baby Fiat, but almost immediately just how much fun they are came flooding back. You can’t help but smile!
It’s highly chuckable and feels a lot faster than it is, something I was reminded of on the way back down the dual carriageway. But on the trip round the lanes to the coast it was an absolute delight – the ultimate fun car in fact!
I also suspect that rear seat passengers would, on hot days, find it hard to resist the temptation to stand up through the roof space or sit on the rear lip – highly illegal I’m sure!
The steering feels tight and precise and the brakes do exactly what they are meant to and in a dead-straight line.
Overall, I was highly impressed. I’ve got to admit that as a general rule, small cars aren’t really my thing. I’m much more into mile-munching luxobarges than small buzz-boxes. But when retirement and a house by the Devon coast finally arrive, I can’t help but think that something like this might just be the ideal ‘pop down to the seafront and sit awhile with the roof back’ fun car.
Thanks to the Europe-wide appeal of these cars the parts back-up is generally very good – rare early cars-only stuff excepted – and a Transformable must be the ultimate.
TOP SPEED: 65mph (eventually)
GEARBOX: 4-spd man