Sergio Maffeo characterized it well.
“It’s a toy,” he said. “But it is also a car that you can use every day. You can go to work every day smiling. What’s wrong with that?”
He described stopping in his 500 to pay the toll recently on the Tobin Bridge into Boston. “A girl looks at me and says, ‘What kind of a car is that?’ No matter where you go, people have something to say about the car.”
I witnessed the same reaction test-driving a 500c last week. The drive-up teller at Salem Cooperative Bank asked, “What kind of a car is that?” When I explained it was a Fiat, of Italian heritage, she commented sincerely, “It’s beautiful.”
When I walked past with my mutt, a neighbor asked about the little car in my driveway that week. He wondered if it is as fun to drive as it looked.
A friend stopped by my house. The sight of the new-age Fiat sparked cheerful recollections of his adventures in South America on a pro bicycle team. The team traveled in an early, European version of the 500, which Italians called the Cinquecento. Technologically, today’s modern, amenity-filled 500 bears no resemblance to the first Cinquecento, built from 1957 to 1975. But Fiat succeeded in capturing the original model’s chummy, get-around spirit. From Gene’s recollections, his South American model served as team mascot as much as transporter.
When I purchased a sheet of plywood for a home project, I stuffed it in through the open top of my 500c, so it stuck up like a sail, or maybe an enormous shark’s fin. My next-door neighbor laughed when she saw me pull in.
“You’ve been to Home Depot,” she chuckled.
“It’s the only way I could get it home,” I said.