Dating from early 1962, with chassis number 110D 290168 (chassis numbers ranged from 288934 to 421569 in 1962), is this adorable Fiat 500D. Engine number is 110D 000 841106, and colour is the original Rosso Medio (Medium Red, code 115-60). These delightful cars are variously referred to as the Nuova 500, Cinquecento, Bambino, Bambina, and probably a few less flattering terms as well.
I purchased this car, largely sight unseen, from a West Australian car dealer who was selling this and a couple of other 500s for a collector who had apparently moved across the Tasman to New Zealand. Many photos and a couple of videos were sent to me, and I decided to take the plunge and satisfy a desire I'd had for probably 40 years. The Fiat 500 is definitely a classic design, and the original 'suicide door' models were definitely my favourites.
However, while the car was indeed very original and had been quite well restored bodily, mechanically it turned rapidly into a disaster. After having it transported 3000km across Australia, the 250km drive from the Melbourne transport depot to its new home in rural Victoria turned into a nightmare from the outset, with major oil leaks, a loose distributor causing timing to vary widely, constant petrol overflows from the carburettor caused by rust particles from a ridiculously rusted petrol tank causing me to give up the drive after just 25km (which took hours with all the breakdowns in afternoon peak hour traffic) and finally flat tow the car home behind my trusty Mercedes 230E (terrifying even at 70-80km/h just 3 metres from a bumper while traffic at 110km/h is constantly looming in the rear-view mirror).
I managed to get the car running again for another 60 or so kilometres to take the above photographs, before it finally died a very sad death when appallingly bad welding done by the previous 'restorer' on the all-important cooling air shrouding caused a part of the shrouding to break off and completely block the cooling air flow to the cylinders, with predictable results. See the depressing photos I took with my phone when dismantling the engine here.
Many other errors in the previous assembly were found, on almost every area of the car - steering, transmission, suspension, electrics, interior, on and on it went, plus many interior and exterior and mechanical items were missing (such as the aluminium sill trims, headlining, rear head pads, air ducts from the grille to the engine, air hose from engine to heater, almost all body rubbers, and many other items).
After this, the little Fiat was pushed into my workshop for a proper restoration. The further I delved, the more I realised the previous 'restorer' had no idea what he was doing. Incorrect parts, incorrect installation, dangerously unroadworthy flexible brake hoses (one replaced, three cracked and perished beyond belief - what was he thinking?), frayed cables, on and on it went, so the car was dismantled, put on a hoist where I could get access to all areas, including some minor rusted areas underneath (overall, the body was in very good condition, original, and definitely worth using), and a proper restoration commenced.
Many thousands of dollars later, sourcing parts mainly from Germany and Italy, the car is becoming what I thought I had originally purchased (and paid way too much for as a result). Many thanks are due to Holtmann & Niedergerke Gmbh and Passione 500, who both provided invaluable assistance and quality parts at a very good price. I must also mention the splendid service from Rob Roy Classic Road & Track P/L, who supplied the Accuspark Stealth electronic ignition module. I heartily recommend these businesses to any Fiat 500 enthusiast.
The only modifications I have done to the vehicle in view of the terminal overheating episode is the discreet fitment of both an accurate thermocouple digital readout of the cylinder head temperature and a standard 2" gauge showing the engine oil temperature in the sump. The digital cylinder head temp readout is fitted inside the flip-up ash tray (visible when the lid is flipped up to the open position), while the full-time engine oil temperature gauge is fitted without any drilling or other irreversible modification under the central parcel shelf. This way I can keep an eye on things temperature-wise, and avoid a repetition of the depressing failure which occured despite my careful checking that the engine cooling fan was operating correctly and that hot air was being expelled as expected from the two hot air outlets. Pictures of these highly recommended modifications can be seen here. I am looking into the practicality of offering both of these as a kit to other Fiat 500 owners.
Please enjoy the below photographs of the restored 1962 Fiat 500 D.
click here to see the other shed inhabitants
Fellow enthusiasts are welcome to drop me an email.