September 2023. Growing Old.

Growing old.

Possibly, half the world’s population are cognisant of the evil passing of time, reminded by annual celebrations. Some of us have a double negative in birthdays that coincide too closely to that other, perhaps, more important celebration, of Christmas - and the solitary present that will do for both! Somehow, its more fulsome tribute still carries a disappointed edge.

However, that is not the purpose of this little essay which is certainly about the passing of time, but one where the recipient has, as far as we know, no recollection of its transience. I am in fact, referring to a motor car. You see, like we humans, it grows old! For a person who has had more old bangers than summer barbeques, the matter was of little moment. The salient fact only becomes of any consequence when the vehicle that comes into your hands is brand spanking new and has seriously emptied your proverbial pocket. I can still feel the pinch now!

Nevertheless, I considered myself an old hand having caressed and tolerated the idiosyncratic nature of these graceful and sinuous creatures that became old loves before the year was out. Indeed, it seemed I was never going to settle down - the grass always being greener on the other side of the trader’s forecourt. If you think this story is going to have a happy end you would not be wrong, but as so often is the case with motor cars, it turned out to be a marriage of convenience.

I will say nothing of my Bristol 403 that became famous among the fraternity by being first in show three times, and thus for all time! Not in my ownership, I’m sorry to say. I still wax lyrical over this quite extravagant, and very handsome, masculine motor car - perhaps the reason my wife spent more time behind the wheel than I did! Whatever the reason, it was a car that turned people’s heads. But, at the time, we were developing plans for a move to Italy, and the thought of alien places for a car that was only one of three hundred made, did not bode well for our ownership. But there was a lesson in that ownership. Being blessed with an aluminium body, it didn’t rust!

When the time came, this matter dominated all considerations. Another was the sense in buying a vehicle manufactured in Italy. Oh no you don’t! I’d owned a string of Alfa Romeo’s, and though they were excellent on the road, they were hell under the paintwork. One diabolical rumour said they didn’t rust, they merely disintegrated! But there were siren voices in the air, and an Italian friend of a very persuasive nature, advised me to look at the contemporary Fiat. Fiat! Weren’t they known as ‘Aero Bars’ after the famous chocolate confection. But persuasive my friend was, and we duly trapsed round to a Fiat dealership, with a proviso that it must be new, and inexpensive, and wasn’t a 500! So, we were shown a new 1600 Fiat Tipo that fitted the bill - as in shekels - being the dealer’s demonstrator, and a vehicle that sported an original feature of an electric sliding sun-roof, that turned out to be its Achilles heel!  I was not initially impressed, but having owned a too long list of open cars, and the mention of it having galvanised body work, besides being European Car of the Year in 1989, made me sit up. Having messed about in boats during another life time I knew that a protective coat of zinc on steel prevented the rusting of metal, even if it didn’t have the passive self-healing feature of stainless steel. In the reasonable environment of a motor car, it could last for up to fifty years. ‘Right on’ as they say in Cornwall, and so we bought it, determined it would last us a long time, if not half a century.

At this point you may be asking where this diatribe is going, after all, it would seem that such a vehicle would be perfect for Italy - ‘going home’ one might say. Of course, we might consider that the problem of a right-hand drive car in a left-hand environment not so clever, but it has some advantages, like knowing you can place the wheels well and truly close to the kerb on the right side of the road. Those, not used to the opposite, can find themselves being dangerously close to the centre of the road, the natural habitation of thirty-ton lorries! So, where’s the beef?

Take heed all those about to buy a car, not as a fashion accessory, but one that you’re determined will be the last, or at least exist for a decade or two while keeping your bank happy. There are hidden traps in this arrangement you should be made aware of. Number one is that motor manufacturers need only provide parts while it is producing the model in question, not ten or fifteen years as generally believed. The figure, therefore, probably alludes to the model’s existence. You get the point. Nicely galvanised bodies are only of advantage while the car is in production. The clock for its existence is running out once that point is reached. A fourteen-year-old model may not answer our criteria on longevity. If you can’t buy a shock absorber or a disintegrating steering wheel, you may be well and truly up the proverbial creek. 

I should get to the point. Our Fiat Tipo was purchased on the cusp of a model change - not of name, but model configuration, adding improved developments that included styling. By the next year our model was no more. We were left on a wing and a prayer. You see, a car does not exist just on a body that will ‘last us out’, but a thousand mechanical and electrical devices that are what really matter. A good body builder can work miracles, but a mechanic cannot fabricate a thermostat or an air conditioning radiator. When it reaches this point, you are at the end of the road.

We have a perfect looking Fiat Tipo. People stand by at the road and admire it, marvelling at a twenty-nine-year-old car in such wonderful condition. And it’s true. It does look good. But any time now those illusive parts will come to an end. Nevertheless, it has served us well.

Cosi è la vita!