The Bambina returns

Fiat 500 cinquecento bambina
I had a love hate relationship with my Fiat 500 'Bambina'. Got knows what possessed me to possess it in the first place. It was frighteningly underpowered for Auckland's motorway system. It was reliably unreliable.

But it was cute and repairs were easy. For fun one weekend I dropped the motor out of the rear compartment using nothing more than a few spanners and large piece of 4x2. I could remove the entire engine by hand - it weighed less (when detatched from the gearbox) than the motor of my Norton Dominator motorcycle which had the same engine displacement (5oocc).

I have fond memories of driving the Bambina along the sand at Uratiti beach just north of Waipu with the canvas top rolled back. I could stand up in my budgie smugglers and drive the thing with my reedy body poking up through the sunroof cavity like the commander of a Carro d'assalto Fiat 3000 invading Ethiopia in 1935. I terrified my girlfriend and seagulls alike in search of a nice quite spot where we could work of our future melanomas. The car was so light it barely left tracks in the compacted sand.

The car didn't have a radio (or a heater - or anything other than the bare essentials). It sounded like a sewing machine. But it was thriftier than my other vehicle of the time (a Wolsely 6/110).

I loved it.

Including the cost of buying the car ($100) I spent about $250 in total - including fuel - during the whole time I owned it.

It had a nasty habit of popping the spring from the carburettor which returned the throttle. I gave up in the end and replaced the spring with a number of rubber bands courtesy of a secretary in the office where I worked.

The end came one rainy winter night. It was bucketing down - absolutely torrential rain. The candle power headlamps were barely penetrating the gloom and the already feeble brakes were soaked and virtually unstoppable. As I approached the Auckland Harbour bridge I floored the throttle (every ounce of momentum was required to cross the 1 in 2 gradient of the clothes hanger shaped structure). The rubber bands gave way in spectacular fashion and the power vanished as the tin-pot twin-pot heart puttered to a stop - starved of gas. The lamps dwindled down to embers without current to the 6v battery.

The benefit of having such a light machine was that it was no effort to push it between the posts of the overpass where traffic police now wait like carrion crows to cop miscreants. Without looking back I gingerly crossed to the other side of the road, stuck out my thumb and waited for charity to get me home.

I never saw the Bambina again. To this day I have no idea what happened to it. Reasonable to assume it was never used as a high speed getaway car though…

So I was delighted to read about Fiat's revival of the Bambina (did any other country called the cinquecento 'Bambina'?). I am certain it will find a willing audience. The success of the new Mini and Beetle prove that. We have an appetite for the familiar and evoking nostalgic emotions.

The design seems to have captured the spirit of the original and the reviews have been favourable.

Can't wait to get my hands on one.

Do they come with a sun-roof?


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