You’ll additionally discover a beleaguered High Gear author forlornly making an attempt to get a small automotive out of town. As Jeremy, Richard and James discovered over a decade in the past, Lucca – achingly fairly, bursting with historical past, a postcard of Renaissance Italy – is a bloody maze.
Images: Olgun Kordal
So benvenuti mi amici, the place your correspondent involves you reside from… someplace within the small cobblestoned metropolis of Lucca in central Italy! Fortunately no person seems to have observed that photographer Olgun and I are utterly misplaced on this cultural epicentre tucked away in Tuscany, as a result of we’re in maybe the epicentre of Italian automotive tradition.
Sure, it’s a traditional Fiat 500, the unique nuova cinquecento, which is as a lot an emblem of small automobiles as it’s of Italy itself. It’s additionally the rationale why we’re by chance creeping by means of a pedestrian zone after taking a fallacious flip and no person is shouting at us for going the fallacious means.
As a result of, fairly frankly, this would possibly simply be essentially the most cute little factor ever created. First launched into the world in 1957 as a successor to the maybe much more cute topolino (actually, ‘little mouse’), the five hundred was a small, rear-engined slice of Italian ingenuity.
Dante Giacosa’s good design gave the five hundred tiny dimensions which meant the automotive may match actually wherever, together with a rear-engined format and a method for the folks of Italy to get about cheaply and effectively. And the folks of Italy and past responded: between 1957 and 1977, over 4 million Fiat 500s have been bought.
However we’re in 2023, and this stuff are getting tougher to return by. “There’s nonetheless loads of them on the highway, however there’s fewer of them now than 5 years in the past,” mentioned The Actual Italian Automobile Firm’s co-founder Amadeo Raffaelli Provenzali. Alongside along with his two associates – Mattia Vita and Anthony Peacock – he’s on a mission to avoid wasting the cinquecento from extinction by restoring it, preserving its legacy so it may be loved for years to return.
The little purple automotive we’re at present crawling down a packed piazza in marks the primary totally restored 500 to emerge from the fledgling firm; an organization that started off as just a few mates simply fixing up their very own motors cinque years in the past.
“It began out as a interest as all this stuff do,” Peacock mentioned. “All of us had our personal 500s, we did them up, after which household and associates began asking us ‘can I get one too?’ So we thought, let’s do it.”
The purple automotive is probably the very best instance of TRICC’s work. “It got here from Sicily, which is just about an excellent local weather – heat all yr spherical. The automobiles we supply from northern Italy have somewhat bit extra rust on them,” he laughed.
Whereas the automotive was already ‘sound’ from the start, the method is as anticipated: strip your entire factor to its naked shell, after which rebuild and recondition every part from the bottom up. “The engine, the suspension, the electrics, the inside… just about every part is new,” Provenzali mentioned. Amazingly, costs begin at simply €10,000 – round £8k – and there will be an internet configurator in the end.
Sourcing the components is as troublesome as anticipated, although not unattainable. Provenzali remarked that on his travels round Italy, he’d stumble into an previous storage that had new-old Fiat 500 inventory mendacity round – the seats for the purple automotive, for instance, are unique Fiat objects that have been simply gathering mud. In any other case it’s flicking by means of his in depth contacts record, or messages from acquaintances who’ve bought one thing he would possibly like.
Typically, they even construct the components themselves, figuring out of a country storage in the back of a Tuscan villa. And sure, it’s as romantic because it sounds. “Simply little bits and items – brackets, door hinges, fiddly stuff which you can’t discover,” Peacock mentioned. Whereas they wouldn’t get into complicated fabrication, “constructing these small components and tweaking the automobiles is strictly how the previous guys used to do it”.
Olgun and I are turning into previous guys in an try to search out town gates, however whereas our concern that we’ll quickly turn into a everlasting fixture of Lucca’s tradition feels grounded, there’s no concern about TRICC’s hardy little 500. Banish any considered previous Fiats being wayward, unpredictable princelings – this one’s holding up beautifully.
Whereas we ‘navigate’ (learn: purpose blindly and hope for the very best) by means of previous yet one more architectural surprise – look, there’s the Basilica di San Frediano! – in scorching noon warmth, threading the five hundred’s diminutive physique by means of slender streets and much more narrowly previous onlookers ingesting espressos, our rosso companion didn’t skip a beat.
It’s an entirely fulfilling expertise, driving one thing this alive. It’s a buzzy, whiny, pleasant little factor lively and character. The steering wheel writhes in your hand and always chatters away. Huge, too, so you actually do noticed away extra together with your arms than wrists. It strikes round beneath selecting up each nuance of the highway. Nothing to distract you inside, thoughts; the surprisingly spacious cabin is so simple as they arrive. All the higher to concentrate on the artwork of… manhandling it. It feels strong and up for fun: our entry into town took in Tuscany’s superb vista and the five hundred felt completely suited to chomping by means of nation roads with merry abandon.
TRICC’s work right here is outstanding: it doesn’t really feel artificially ‘new’, however every part feels stable, workable, and as if you have been within the automotive’s heyday. So it is not highly effective in any respect – 19bhp! – however is pitched completely for town, and whereas the gearbox on this purple automotive does and not using a synchromesh (which you don’t need to mess up when you’re misplaced – look, it’s the Torre delle Ore!), TRICC does provide a synchromesh choice for smoother shifts. We briefly tried one other of TRICC’s automobiles with this gearbox, and it felt nice.
Just a few extra fallacious turns and – look, we’re outdoors the wonderful Chiesa di San Michele in Foro! – one other historic church that dates again to the 1100s. The five hundred’s been raring this complete time and hasn’t missed a beat: no points in any respect from both the 594cc engine (this one’s an R and so will get a slightly greater unit), nor gearbox, nor basic building. A first-rate time to tug over for a breather. As a result of there’s no air conditioning, so the cabin is somewhat… toasty.
Seems the five hundred will get a free move. We’re not actually allowed to be right here, however the native legislation enforcement don’t appear to thoughts. Nor do the stream of vacationers queuing as much as take pics alongside it. As a result of regardless of Fiat promoting thousands and thousands of those, as we speak they’re changing into more and more tougher to search out and thus a uncommon sight. Even in Italy. Which makes preserving it, similar to the Roman fortification we’re misplaced inside, all of the extra essential.
“Ten years in the past this stuff was everywhere,” Peacock mentioned. “5 years in the past, nonetheless not too dangerous, however now, a lot much less. In one other 5 years’ time, who is aware of? That’s the particular half about holding these automobiles alive – we’re holding the custom alive, too.”
The small cobblestoned metropolis of Lucca in central Italy, then, will quickly boast a number of the oldest and best-preserved cinquecentos. Simply so long as we are able to get out of this bloody maze.