It may not be very fast but the Panda’s sheer sim­plic­ity is win­ning Richard over

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News - Richard Gunn ■ CON­TRIB­U­TOR

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.

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