It’s the summer of 2018 when George and his wife Judith, on vacation in Puglia, contact me because they are looking for a vintage Fiat 500.
Let’s make an appointment and we’ll meet at Denitto classics place. George and Judith are very nice people and they tell me about their holiday in Puglia. After a short chat I understand that they already have very clear ideas: They want a totally restored Fiat 500 F, Giallo Galbani color with a black 500 L-style interior and original engine.
Once the final details of the restoration have been defined, we greet each other with the promise to hear from them as soon as they return to the UK.
A week goes by and here is their email with all the details for their restored Fiat 500.
Let’s start with the search for a car suitable for the purpose.
There are for sale a couple of cars in the south of Puglia that need restoration. I organize to go and see them both the same afternoon
Arrival at the place where there is the first Fiat 500 F. On the phone, the seller tells me that the car has already been dismantled and his brother, an expert on classic cars, has already carried out many restoration works, so the body only needs a repaint.
The appointment is with Ruggiero who gets into the car and takes me to his parents’ home where his brother who sells the Fiat 500 F lives. As we move forward he assures me that as soon as I see the car I will realize the excellent condition of the car.
Parking, I get out of the car and the door opens. I enter and see a fiat 500 in a corner of the room. Ok this must be a “donor” car used to fix the other, I think to myself.
With my eyes looking for the other car, but there are no other cars …
The guy looks at me with a smile on his face and with his hand shows me the car – here it is the 500 – he says.
I rework everything they had told me up to that point, trying to figure out if I had misrepresented their words.
I think: ok now I’m here and I’ve done so many kilometers, I see the conditions this car, maybe the appearance deceives.
The guy who “worked” on the car continues to describe the car as a gem. Actually the Fiat 500 is full of rust repaired with filler, tons of filler! It seems that working on it was a construction company rather than a body shop. I put my hands in the area between the fenders and the wheel arches and discover filler balls.
I take a look at the floor inside the car, the guy says he has fixed it, but they have too much cover, obviously they have to mask something really ugly. I get down on my knees and put my head down. The situation is catastrophic. The reinforcement bars are all rotten, but painted … I do a bit of strength with my thumb on some points and I make a hole.
I still make him an offer, which is half of what he asks for, but far beyond the real value of the car. I need a car, I have the cart attached to the car and once in my body I can replace all the rusty parts.
At that precise moment two old people and a middle-aged woman enter the room. They are the dad, mom and sister of the two salesmen.
– Perfect, if I knew it before, I also brought my family, a bottle of wine and taralli – I think.
As an Italian and moreover southern I should be used to these “family reunions”, but oh well, Never mind!
The father begins to tell me that the 500 is worth much more than what they ask and that being a rare car (?) once over it will be worth a lot of money.
I try to explain, very politely, that in Italy the Fiat 500 is not as rare as they believe and that the final selling price must always be in line with the real condition of the car, unless you want to defraud the people , as they probably intend to do them.
They explain to me details and peculiarities of the car that leave me speechless. They do not know that for the past 15 years I have been buying, restoring and selling Fiat 500. I am silent because it amuses me too much to hear the things they tell and the exceptional things (?) that only their fiat 500 has.
While I leave them I renew my offer, which is not accepted. Maybe it’s better this way.
I move a few kilometers and go to see the second Fiat 500. It is mounted, working but parked outside. The body is to be redone (like all the 500 I buy) but it looks like a genuine car. its flaws show them all. We agree on the price and I carry on the Trailer.
On the way back I receive a message from the “holy family of the 500” that urges me to think well of their offer because it is an opportunity (for whom?) not to be missed.
I send them the photo of the trailer with the 500 purchased and I avoid writing “f**k you”. For the record, after a few days, then, they will lower the price of the car’s announcement below my offer. Congratulations champions!
Now I have a Fiat 500 F and it’s in the workshop. We dismantle it, we cut all the rusty parts that will have to be replaced and we take it to sandblast.
The Fiat 500 returns after a week, I give it a quick look and what I see is awe-inspiring, for a moment I am reminded of the Fiat 500 F “of the sacred family of the 500” and I almost regret it, but I immediately drive away this thought and I go back to concentrating on the car I have in the workshop.
I remember that the salesman had told me that I could feel comfortable because the car was used daily by his wife, so I promise myself that the next time they tell me something like this I have to ask if the relationship between wife and husband is good or not. .. it could vary a lot the quality of the car….
Yes, because this car is really bad. We don’t let ourselves be taken by despair and the guys in the workshop immediately get to work. In addition to the usual mudguards, wheel arches and floors, they will also need the sheet metal of the pedals.
Work is proceeding fast and the discarded plates, perhaps, weigh more than what is left on the car. Before placing the new panels, a protective layer is passed over the internal metal sheets.
Once all the new panels have been fixed, an epoxy primer is applied.
George and Judith meanwhile are back in Italy and come to visit us. They take some pictures of their car and take delivery of the car’s original license plate.
The work proceeds: Correction of surface irregularities, preparation of the bodywork and another protective coat before being repainted.
In the meantime, all the disassembled parts are cleaned, sandblasted and powder coated.
The engine has also returned from the mechanical workshop.
The big day is coming. The body is ready, a few more days and the car will be ready. We work continuously and the car quickly becomes a little gem ready to make its new owner proud.
George calls me and tells me he’s back in Italy, wants to see his car and take a test drive. I hope you make it in time because the shipping company is already on its way to come and load the car, I tell him.
He can’t see it live, but as he comes to our place he crosses the truck with his car on it.
The journey of this Fiat 500 to a new home has begun, she will have new ways to go, and even if she is over 50 years old, after so much work and attention she will have other 50 years to live. Surely she will give so many smiles to George and Judith that they will guide her, but she will also give many smiles to those on the road who will meet them at the wheel of their Fiat 500 Giallo Galbani.
If you have come to read this far, know that you are my hero. It is true that not all heroes wear the Mask. Thanks for reading this story and I hope you enjoyed it.