Italian cars are notoriously unreliable. Everyone says so. This isn’t true, at least according to Richard Heseltine.
It’s a tired old acronym, and one that lingers like a bad smell. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the legend ‘Fix It Again Tony’ whenever the name Fiat comes up in conversation. I don’t know who Tony is, but he is clearly a lousy mechanic if cars he keeps mending then keep breaking. I have owned several Fiats and they have mostly been perfect. I went two-and-a-half times around the clock in my 1997 Barchetta way back when; the same car that ‘knowledgeable’ friends insisted would dissolve the first time it saw rain. Or have electrical fires. Or throw a fit of pique for no reason other than, well, it’s an Italian car and they do that.
I drove ‘The Bucket’ every day for 14 years. It lived outside in London and started first time every time. It never broke down. Not once.
I have owned and driven Italian cars for close on 30 years and am sick to the back teeth of hearing about corrosion, dodgy wiring and all that other guff. Most of all, it grieves me that these and other lazy stereotypes are perpetuated by people who should know better. OK, there was a period – let’s call it the 1970s – when certain Italian cars dissolved faster than Alka-Seltzer. As we all know by rote, they were made of Russian reclaimed steel, blah, blah, blah. They did rot, but then so did my dad’s BMW 2500 when I was young ’un. My uncle’s Audi 80 also erupted in pox, but neither brand was stigmatised.
I’ve owned quite a few classic Alfas. Whenever my much-missed Alfasud 1.5 Ti ever needed parts, all I ever heard was jolly-japes about how unreliable it was. Should, say, a 40-year-old Ford need new widgetry, one would conclude that four decades is a good service life. Should a 40-year-old Italian machine require new parts, people invariably make snide remarks that it is because the cars are always breaking. Can you say, ‘double standard’?
As for the Fiat Panda 100HP that was my daily driver for three years, I covered more than 100,000 joyous miles before something electrical went pop – cue endless jibes. The component was made by a German manufacturer. As was the replacement item, which also failed.
Perhaps there’s a simple explanation behind all of this? Could it be that other car makers are better than the Italians at marketing their product? If, for example, I asked you to name the company that makes the world’s best 4×4 by far, you’d say Land Rover. Yet you only need to drive through the Alps in winter and you’ll soon come to appreciate that the locals swear by the Fiat Panda 4×4. Since when did we all start believing the hype?
What really sticks in my craw is that I’m a hypocrite. As much as I like to think I’m an equal opportunities enthusiast, that I like all types of car, that isn’t strictly true. Or any other kind of true come to think of it. I’m not above giving certain marques a kicking based on nothing more than long-nurtured (and irrational) prejudice. But, hey, I never said I was consistent.