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Fiat 500 Club Italia Meeting - Garlenda or Bust

Peter Siddall

I had always wanted to take my now 45 year old 500 to Italy and now there was the perfect excuse. I have lived and worked in Italy, my daughter still lives there and now Jan and Jimmy live there.

My son Chris volunteered as co driver, we met at Folkstone station where he traveled down from Teeside that morning. The tunnel traffic was delayed for two hours but that did worry us we had all weekend. Everything was going well, the car performing great and at a steady 70mph (650cc) we were making good time. 200 miles down into France we lost the first silencer support bracket, 100 miles later two manifold bolts and half of the second bracket.

Picture: Peter Siddall

We reached Dijon at 9.30 that night and found a hotel. Bright and early the next morning we headed for the first garage and bought four new long manifold bolts and temp. gaskets. We also noted that one of the pipes to the silencer was starting to fracture. We opened the windows and turned up the radio, The car was going well and all was well with the world

Thru the Frejus tunnel by 3.00 pm the little car was doing great but starting to sound a little loud. By this time we had lost all of the bolts in the manifold, one pipe was completely fractured from the silencer and one bolt remained in half a support bracket holding the whole thing together. We reached Albenga at 8.00 that night and were met by Jan and Jimmy off the motorway where they took us to our hotel and we parked up. We had dinner with good company and drank a little wine. We had made it by the skin of our teeth. But we made it.

Picture: Peter Siddall

The next day brought Jan and Jimmy to our rescue (again) They had managed to procure a silencer from a test engine on display at the Garlenda show and two new brackets. We proceeded to Jimmys garage where he found new bolts and gaskets The car was still sick and refused to start, Jimmy felt that we may have blown the head gasket as well. Off came the rocker cover and the camshaft to reveal the cylinder head bolts just about hand tight . After a retighten down, the car started first time and off we went to the show. We had a great day and saw some amazing 500s we visited the museum that Jim now looks after and ended up in their apartment in Garlenda.

The night took us to the town of Alassio just down the coast from Garlenda where we met up with my daughter and had a pizza in the harbor. The car was performing perfectly.

Next day we headed out of town towards home, the car was still going great , we turned off the motorway at Turin heading towards the Frejus tunnel and France. At this point I have to say that the Italians do some daft things for no apparent reasons and today was going to be no exception, they closed the motorway to France. No reason given, probably someone wanted to use it to test a new car or there was a cycle race but it was out of use to the rest of the world, Try the next exit they said. But the next exit was closed and the next and by the time we got to Frejus there was a convoy of cars buses and camper vans heading up the mountain.

Picture: Peter Siddall

On reflection we should have stopped and waited for the road to reopen or go back to Turin and headed north to Mont Blanc tunnel but we were stuck for time, we had a 1.00 pm tunnel appointment the next day and needed to get as far into France as we could that day. Countless hairpin bends and many miles in second and third gear took its toll on our little engine. Don't get me wrong the views were fantastic the drive was great going down and with a healthy engine and more time I would do it all again off the motorways.

Two hundred miles further on and just past Lyon she gave up, coughing and smoking like an old barbecue we tried every spare part we had brought with us but she was very dead. I should mention here that we purchased a very good offer from The RAC just before we left for Italy, for £35.00 they would cover you and your passengers in the event of a breakdown if you were on your way to your event or returning home from it, Get you to the show put you up in hotels and get you and your car back to Blighty.

Picture: Peter Siddall

A phone call to RAC got us off the motorway (mechanic confirmed the head gasket had gone )took us and the car to a garage, a taxi collected us from the garage and took us to a hotel . The next morning a taxi collected us from the hotel and took us to Lyon airport where we got a flight to Heathrow, my son carried on to Newcastle, we had only paid for the airfares and will be reimbursed most of this amount. The car will be brought to my door in a weeks time. Best £35.00 ever spent top marks for the RAC.

Moral of the story make sure the car is in top condition, the Fiat 500 is an immensely strong motor for its size and it was a pure joy driving it to Italy even when you expect things to drop off it did not disappoint. Make sure you have breakdown cover I highly recommend the RAC they where faultless, and finally make sure you have friends like Jan and Jimmy DiCarlo. I cannot thank them enough for looking after us and helping us in every way.

There is a sequel to the tale: The little car was returned to my door two weeks later and the top was off the next day to reveal the damage. A hole in the piston no less. How it got as far as it did is beyond belief.

At the moment the cylinders are being bored and new pistons are on order. The main bearings were equally shot as was the clutch plate, down to the rivets.

Picture: Peter Siddall