Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not Much Luck

Every time we take the Fiat out at the moment the heavens seem to tear open in to a torrential downpour, leaving me scrambling for a cloth to stem the all-too-familiar water dribble from the corner of the windscreen.

It's extremely irritating. The weather keeps doing this "I'm a lovely day... oh no I'm not!" trick... like a cat inviting you to rub his tummy, then clamping his teeth and claws in to your hand as soon as you accept the invitation.

And to cap it all off, on Monday afternoon the garage door stuck open. So there I was, in a hail storm, at the end of May, dripping wet, wrestling with a stuck garage door while my girlfriend wiped the car down. (I failed, by the way - the council are fixing the door on Friday and the car is on the street.)

Anyway, weather aside, I checked the "hand accelerator" and it is there. I forgot to try it though, as I got caught up in other things. I also checked for the paint code on behalf of a Fiat 500 Club member who is looking to paint his newly restored Fiat 500 body the same colour. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it, but he believes the Fiat colour is Avorio, which makes sense - it's the Italian word for ivory.

I also found the drains mentioned on the Fiat 500 Club boards which channel the water away from the windscreen corners and are intended to prevent the water dribble from the corner of the windscreen.

I say I found them. That's all I did, however, as we were anxious to get going and the pipes had been painted so pulling them off wasn't such a simple task. I'm also well aware of what happens when you pull old, perished rubber pipes off. They invariably refuse to return to their original position. So it may be wise to purchase some replacement pipework before pulling the old stuff off.

I've also just this moment realised I forgot to make a note of the engine number. D'oh!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cruise Control??

I discovered something amazing the other day. Something I would never have believed. The Fiat 500 has cruise control, or rather, what is known as a 'hand accelerator'.

This little device is in the form of a cable and a lever (so far as I've read - I'm yet to check for it in ours, but I'm assured I will find it). It is rather simple really. You pull the lever and it opens the throttle, simply locking in place (a bit like a choke) where you leave it.

As one club member observed, "it means you can stand up through the sunroof and still drive"... Quite. I shan't be travelling anywhere with you, Mike!

The down (and rather dangerous) side to this device is it has exactly the same effect as dropping a brick on the accelerator pedal. There are no nice disengage safety features when you brake or anything like that. Oh no. Neat as it is, only a true tricolore, young (probably male) Italian would ever use this 'feature' in normal driving conditions.

Though it comes in very handy if you ever have temporary problems with the idle speed.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Italian Cars Day

As I mentioned previously, on Saturday 6th May we hopped in our little Fiat 500 and drove over to one of the most notorious bikers hang-outs in the UK - the Ace Café.

For the uninitiated, the Ace is where all the Rockers used to meet in the 1950s and 60s, up on the outskirts of London, for wild parties and street racing on the North Circular London bypass road. (I initially said the Mods and the Rockers, but as a 500 Club member, John Briggs, rightly pointed out, the Mods weren't welcome!)

Still a very popular haunt for bikers, it has also become home for all motorists of a nostalgic persuasion, and has both classic car and bike days.

We arrived (fashionably) late for the Italian Cars Day and the weather was dreadful, so unfortunately all the Ferraris, Lancias, Maseratis, etc. I was hoping to see didn't show up. Wimps!

But top marks to the Fiat 500 club who turned out in half-decent numbers in spite of the rain. It was lovely to meet everyone and I also discovered we aren't the only ones with a leaky windscreen. As I have long suspected, there is a design flaw allowing water to collect in the corner of the windscreen. Over time the seal fails, then water gets in and corrosion begins, leading to a common failure in the car's ability to not drip water on the passenger's knee!

We also got an excellent tip from the club chairman, Carl. Unclip the roof and open every door, hatch and lid before locking the garage to let everything breathe and give the seals a break while you're not using the car.

The photograph shows Carl's Fiat 500 with rather fetching trailer too. It's made up of half of another (previously rotten) 500 he chopped especially after stripping for spares. (Sadly some of these little Fiats are simply beyond repair, and this is a good, innovative use of what would otherwise have been scrap metal. Bob has one he wants to turn in to a sofa.)

Unfortunately, ours isn't in the picture because we were parked behind (with a gorgeous original Abarth - which had already left before we braved the weather to take photos... more's the pity). And I have to say, we were rather shamed by the immaculate condition of everyone elses Fiats. But at least ours was the only left hand drive there.

We now have to decide if we can be bothered to drive all the way to Beale Park from Epping in a Fiat 500 a week on Monday. It will be a nice day, but it's a pretty long way...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Runabout Is Dead

My new wheelsLong Live the Runabout! Actually, it's not 'dead', strictly speaking. It's for sale, as I have gone upmarket and bought myself a rather nice Rover 600 as a replacement. Unfortunately, this means I have to endure endless 'flat cap' jokes and various other amusing jibes. From my father, of all people. The nerve of the man!

In case anyone is interested, the Citroen is going for £125 on Autotrader.

What about the Italian Cars Day?? Patience. I'll get there. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Golden Age Of Advertising

German Fiat 500 advertisement from the late 1950sThe cheesy smiles, smart pin-stripe suits, boys in caps and 'short trousers', knee-length dresses, perfect families with super-modern accessories. Hilarious. I found this website with a collection of old Fiat 500 ads from all over Europe. It's well worth having a quick flick through, if you have five minutes. As someone who worked in advertising until recently, I always enjoy flicking through old advertising. It makes me smile.

And while I'm posting links, I also came across this website with a reasonably accurate account of all Fiat 500 models from the 1936 Topolino onwards, including visual representations of the changes from model to model. All good stuff.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May Day Fun

I think it's fair to say Spring has officially Sprung. We have flowers exploding all over the garden, the sun is shining, my grass seed is growing (in spite of the best efforts of the the local pigeon population), I haven't worn my winter coat for a week or two now and haven't needed to. Even the lazy, good-for-nothing cat (who has utterly failed to prevent avian seed theft) has ventured in to the garden temporarily, if only to uproot some carefully tended bulbs. At least he did a little of his molting outside for once!

So this Bank Holiday weekend the Lotus took a spin over to Derbyshire for a stag do. It was the first time I'd driven it since it was worked on over the Winter - in fact, the first time in months - so I was very glad to give it a good 100 miles on the clock to see how things feel.

Firstly, it starts like an absolute dream with the new starter motor! I am extremely pleased I no longer have to spend half an hour with a pair of jump-leads trying to coax and tease it in to life every time I want to go anywhere. It's a vast improvement.

Once going, I think it runs a bit leaner, but when you get to 3,000 RPM and put your foot to the floor it leaps in to life with impressive vigour. Nipping by people in 4th was definitely easier now the twin Delorto carbs have been cleaned and tuned.

The only remaining (or rather, newly developed) problem is the clutch master cylinder seems to be doing something funny. The clutch simply disappears temporarily. I need to get that fixed before we go to France in June, but it's not a big job. More expense.

Saturday will be busy. Weather permitting, we're off the Italian Cars Day at the legendary Ace Café on London's North Circular road. I'm also replacing the runabout. I've seen a nice Ford Escort Estate I want to look at either this evening or tomorrow, if the chap still has it. I'm fed up of driving around in a battered, noisy old Citroen AX!