It may not be very fast but the Panda’s sheer simplicity is winning Richard over
Richard's been outgunning Aston Martins in an unlikely car, Gillian Carmoodie's been giving her Standard a spring shakedown, and David Brown has taken his Rover 200 BRM out for its first run of the year.
It’s been a few weeks now since I acquired my Panda from Fiat Motor Club chairman Gavin Bushby. Well, it’s actually a long-term loan, with the option to buy at the end. The fact that I’ve started enthusiastically buying bits for it suggests I may make the latter decision, but don’t tell Gavin yet. In case he wants the money sooner rather than later.
So far, I like the baby Fiat a lot. While it lags behind the Peugeot 205 it replaced on motorways and long trips, around town it truly excels. 50bhp from its 1.1-litre engine may not be much, but in something basically built from sheets of lightweight corrugated metal, it means lots of urban nippiness. The ECVT transmission – which I assume means rubber bands studded with microchips – gives phenomenal acceleration up to 30mph. Around the higgledypiggedly narrow Georgian streets where I live, I’ve left Aston Martin owners weeping…
I also appreciate how utterly Meccano it is and how simply it all comes apart. For example, the facia is just a few screws to remove. On my Saab, you need a degree in aeronautical science to attempt the same thing. Taking apart the instrument panel of the Panda seemed a good place to start with rectifying a few faults. There was an annoying rattle at speed, which turned out to be a loose bulb securing clip for the heater illumination, and the clock wasn’t working. It ticked, it tocked, but it didn’t advance. With nothing obviously amiss, I took the easy route and sourced a replacement for a very reasonable £17.
Even more reasonable was 99p for a secondhand Grundig WKC3049 radio/cassette player to plug the hole in the lower part of the dash. The Selecta had obviously once had one, as all the wiring plus the parcel shelf-mounted speakers were in place. But the passenger door aerial, with its trapezoid mounting, was missing. Fortunately, Gavin had a spare one.
There was a temptation to go for something modern that could cope with CDs and iPods, but seeing as the rest of the Panda’s interior is so pure and un-messed with, I decided on something appropriate to the car. An internet auction site threw up the Grundig, which was an optional Fiat extra for the Panda (although I was very drawn to a Sparkomatic unit, also in the official accessory catalogues, simply for its anachronistic name). However, when, almost inexplicably, nobody on the the Internet showed the remotest bit of interest in a puny power, tinny, basic 25-year old car radio where the most advanced bit of technology was a button that both ejected AND fast-forwarded Ace of Base, the sub-£1 purchase price sealed things. It arrived in a DAF-branded box too; somewhat appropriate, given what it was going in.
Because I was fiddling with the radio wiring, I also opted to dispense with Fiat’s nearby miserly provision of a blanking plate where a cigarette lighter should have been. The natty sliding ashtray is so prominent in the Panda, it practically encourages smoking. And it is an Italian car. In reality, I won’t use the new socket for lighting up but instead for things like sat navs, and iPods that I can’t actually plug into anything.
That completed the interior tweaks, but I had a few alterations elsewhere. Although the Fiat passed its MoT in January, I knew it had been standing unused for a while. Sure enough, the rear wiper rubber was splitting so I replaced that (or rather the entire arm, as you have to do). The Fiat grille logo was missing one of its five bars; Gavin let me have one of his spare ones, plus an extra in case it fell off again. I also sourced genuine Panda wheeltrims, to fit until I do something about the surface rust on the steel wheels.
The finishing touch was, ahem, a black bonnet scoop. I know, I know, but they were a Panda add-on to cover the yawning air intake. Now I’ll be able to convince drivers in front of me that I’m really in a Subaru Impreza. So long as it’s dark. And I’m quite a way behind them. Which, given that I’m in a 1.1-litre automatic Panda, I undoubtedly will be…
‘It’s got phenomenal acceleration up to 30mph – around narrow streets I’ve left Aston Martin owners weeping’
Grundig WKC3049 radio arrived in DAF box; rather right for a something going in a small CVT-assisted classic. Until Richard gets around to cleaning up and repainting the steel wheels, genuine Fiat Panda wheeltrims will suffice. Fitting the bonnet scoop was simply a matter of two screws and washers underneath to hold it on. Perished rear wiper needed to be replaced in its entirety; you can’t just swap the blade as you can with the front.