Panda-ing to cus­tomers’ needs

Hamp­shire-based Fiat en­thu­si­ast be­comes world class Panda re­storer

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - richard dredge www. lim­it­ededi­tion­sun­lim­

A Fiat panda re­storer has be­come the go-to spe­cial­ist for these char­ac­ter­ful econ­omy cars – with­out even try­ing.

Vernon Hib­berd bought his first panda in 1992 as cheap trans­port and has ended up be­com­ing the UK’s big­gest spe­cial­ist for them.

Says Vernon: ‘I used to work on my own cars and be­fore long other panda own­ers asked me to look af­ter their car. So four years ago I set up Lim­ited Edi­tions Un­lim­ited and can’t keep up with de­mand. Con­sid­er­ing, on av­er­age, a full restora­tion costs about £10,000 you’d think the mar­ket would be lim­ited, but so far there’s been no short­age of en­thu­si­asts keen to re­vive their cars. One owner has just spent ‘One owner has just spent £30,000 on up­grad­ing her 4x4’ al­most £30,000 on her 4x4, in­clud­ing some up­grades.’

There are usu­ally 15-20 pan­das at Vernon’s premises in Drox­ford, Hants, in­clud­ing spe­cial edi­tions like the Fan­ta­sia, Bianca and Ser­gio Tac­chini. There’s also an ul­tra-rare pink, which Vernon is restor­ing vol­un­tar­ily in con­junc­tion with the Fiat Fo­rum, to raise funds for Breast Can­cer Re­search and Chil­dren in Need.

Vernon con­cludes: ‘Most de­sir­able of all pan­das are the MkI 4x4s which are now very rare; su­perb ones can fetch £8000-10,000. The later 4x4s such as the Sis­ley can reach £6000 while ex­cel­lent front-wheel drive MkII ver­sions are more like £3000.

‘Some fans want up­grades such as Alfa Romeo 147 seats and a 16-valve 1242cc en­gine. There’s much more en­thu­si­asm for the panda than I orig­i­nally re­alised – the best MkI 4x4s will be chang­ing hands for £20,000 soon.

Vernon Hib­berd with some of the cars he’s restor­ing at his Hamp­shire busi­ness.

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