There is nothing tricky about driving the Topolino, but it gives back what you put in.
The roll-back roof has been refurbished
Its light and precise steering has an amazing lock, and the car has a responsive, go-kart feel that must make any journey fun, exploiting a cheeky character that chimes perfectly with the way the car looks.
The engine is fairly smooth and very flexible, pottering along in top from low speeds without complaint.
It is surprisingly civilised in some respects, with a ride the defies its light footprint and upper gears that don’t grind or moan.
You can move the long, robust-looking lever quickly between third and top, but need to match road speed to revs to get a quiet change into second, which, like first, is of the low ‘Alpine’ type typical of a car bred in the mountains.
‘The car has a responsive, go-kart feel, exploiting a cheeky character that chimes perfectly with the way the 500 looks’
If the Topolino avoids the garden-machinery feel of its rear-engined successor, you still have to admire the grit of those brave souls who campaigned these cars in the Mille Miglia.
People did cover long trips in them, including our racing Earl.
When he was stationed near Glasgow in WW2, Howe took the first of his Topolinos, FYO 892, with him.
Rivers Fletcher told a story about the Earl giving a girlfriend a high-speed run in the car around the Glasgow suburbs “to prove to her he was a racing driver”.
This classic Fiat was apparently untouched for decades
Keeping momentum must have been key, but you would not gain many friends today holding up traffic on steep inclines.
The noise, poor rear vision and the general terror of mixing with giant modern vehicles tends to make the Topolino as much as a social history lesson as a car.
The Earl lived in much less risk-averse times.
Rear vision? I doubt he was much bothered about what was behind when he used his Fiats to drive the 1.7 miles from Curzon Street to the House of Lords: past The Ritz, right on to St James’s Street and left on to The Mall.
‘The engine is fairly smooth and very flexible, pottering along in top from low speeds without complaint’