5 April 2006

The Fiat's Last Dance

The saga began in the winter of 2004, when Editor Martin purchased a 1960 Fiat 2100 from SCMer Howard Jacobs of Ohio. He was very thorough in his description, including work he’d had done to the car, adding that it “can be driven and enjoyed as-is.”

SCM could have shipped the Fiat back to World Headquarters in Portland, OR, but Martin had an idea: He instead asked readers to volunteer to drive this thing in stages from Cleveland to Portland. In a momentary lapse of sanity, our managing editor at the time, Jeff Sabatini, took the first leg, bringing it from Cleveland to Ann Arbor, MI, where it spent the winter.

Offers and professions of Fiat love flooded our inboxes. Our first subscriber/driver was Neil Johnson, who took it from Ann Arbor, MI, where it stained his garage floor, to Fort Wayne, IN (May 2004, 151 miles).

The next driver, Hugh Baldus, has the distinction of being the only pilot of the SCM Fiat to reach his destination without incident: Elkhart, IN (June 2004, 109 miles). Granted, he only took the car 109 miles. Baldus also procured the front- and rear-window “SCM America by Fiat” vinyl signs.

Najeeb Khan and his daughter Sarah (who loved the car) drove it to a Chicago suburb (July 2004, 120 miles), where they handed it over to Fred Panici, a task we had planned on accomplishing the previous February. The car did not see the 2004 Concorso Italiano, but its day would come.

While the car was in Panici’s care (July to September 2004), SCM had seatbelts installed along with numerous other repairs, including “windshield gasket ineffectively caulked and duct-taped.” It may not be pretty, but it is resourceful. Panici’s last words: “I have no doubt that it can now make Portland, OR, without much more trouble.”

Mike and Ann Griese picked the car up in Wilmette, IL, and drove it to their home in Byron, MN (October 2004, 390 miles). They even managed to get it to the Wheels and Wings car show in Osceola, WI, with the help of Lotus Owners, Oftha North. The rejoicing was short-lived, though, as the carb cracked and leaked gas once back in Minnesota, sidelining it for several weeks.

Charlie Gaetze of Sioux Falls, SD, not only offered to pick the car up and drive it home (December 2004, 235 miles), but also to get the Fiat to Scottsdale in time for the Barrett-Jackson auction in January 2005.

He and co-driver Rick Barrett made only one mistake: stopping at the Corn Palace in South Dakota. The Fiat refused to start up, necessitating a trailer ride to Scottsdale (January 2005, 1,593 miles—few of which were under its own power). Of course, once in the relative warmth of the Southwest, it started right up. Or maybe it was just happy to see Editor Martin and the SCM staff, our first glimpse of the car in person.

Airline pilot Matt Packard of Phoenix had the car when it suffered what he called a “catastrophic failure. The distributor started eating itself and parts started dropping out of the engine bay onto the road.” Packard’s accomplice Matt Hoza fortunately carries the title of “Fiat guru,” and got it running again.

Packard and his wife Gina Cuciniello finally were able to deliver the Fiat to the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles (July 2005, 375 miles). It is worth noting that they also used the SCM fix-it of choice, duct-tape, to repair the cooling system overflow cap – a smart move before driving across the desert in 108-degree heat.

Petersen Museum Director, Dick Messer, delivered on his promise to have the car in Monterey for Concorso Italiano, the event the little Fiat had missed the previous year. He did not, however, drive it himself. He roped AutoWeek writer Mark Vaughn into making the trip, along with Museum intern Brian Martin (no relation to SCM’s editor). With a case of oil in the trunk, the Fiat 2100 made its spectacular concours debut on the stage at Concorso, where Editor Martin was emcee (August 2005, 375 miles).

SCM contributor Martin Swig drove the final leg of the journey to Portland (October 2005, 735 miles), where Jim Feldman was kind enough to let the car rest – and drip – in his garage.

The 1960 Fiat 2100 is home now, in the official SCM garage (November 2005, 9 miles) after being pushed downhill by a Honda Element driven by General Manager David Slama. “I couldn’t understand why Stefan [Lombard, Auction Editor] had the brake on going downhill,” Slama said. Of course, the brake wasn’t on at all, nor was the car out of gas when it conked out at the top of the hill. It was just the Fiat, doing what it does best. Nothing.


Months of ownership: 22

Miles driven since purchase: 4,421

Recent investments: Starter Fluid, $4.99; lunch with repairman, $25

Total investment: $3,828.65

Cost per month: $174.03

Cost per mile: $.87

Cost per day: $5.80

New car equivalent: 2006 Chevrolet Aveo, $173/ month, 60-month loan (That’s right, we could buy instead of lease.)

–  Kristen Hall-Geisler
Sports Car Market magazine


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