Style Review: 1974 Fiat 500 "Cinquecento"
I've always been enamored with San Francisco classic car culture even though I know little about cars in general. Even as a boy I remember visiting my uncle at his place on Lake Street and being taken with the number of vintage foreign vehicles zipping around the city, mostly in good to mint condition.
In sharp contrast to the muscle car driven classic car culture in Southern California and the North Bay (excluding Marin), San Francisco's offering gravitates more toward smaller European cars - mostly Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Jaguars. And if you've yet to attend the start of the California Mille, it is an absolute must on the calendar in late April, a race chronicling Italy's most famous open road race, the Mille Miglia. Earlier this year I got the opportunity to borrow my friend's 1974 Fiat 500, affectionately known as a "Cinquecento", when my car was in the shop for a few weeks (a different story altogether). When he offered, I jumped at the chance to contribute in my own little way to San Francisco's classic car tradition.
As you can tell from the photos, this little gem is a pillbox. At an even 6 feet tall, it comes just below my chest and makes me look like a giant upon entering and exiting. Overheard at Golden Gate Park one afternoon: "look at that giant man getting out of that little car". Not sure I'm a giant at 6' but, okay, I'll take it.
Driving the car required full attention. To get it started, I had to use both the manual starter and a choke to get the engine to finally engage. Two pumps of the gas, choke all the way open and a tug on the starter. Most of the time, that seemed to work.
Braking - that was less of a formula and more like a wrestling match. Given that the brakes were in horrible shape (which my friend gave me fair warning), using them was actually the last resort. Typically I would have to downshift out of third, eventually ending up in first and then applying a combo of the foot and emergency brakes (while operating the clutch of course) to finally come to a stop. This meant that when I wanted to stop, I needed to start my preparations about 100 yards in advance. All part of the charm and a fun change from my power everything SUV I've gotten so accustomed to driving.
Of course the vehicle caused a bunch of attention, literally stopping people in the middle of the road, at intersections and while parked, to stop, run in front of if and take a selfie. Even the ballers out on Market Street lost their shit when they saw me drive one day into the studio here in downtown San Francisco.
Other interests of note: the sunroof is a ragtop, which is not watertight - which is why I received strict instruction not to drive her in the rain.
The gas tank, in the front, held just over two gallons ensuring a hefty range of about 74 kilometers. We calculated that we'd have to fill it up approximately 65 times to drive across the country.
Every time I got in the car it brought a huge smile to my face as it did everyone I passed. I think, in that, it needs to be out on the street more (hint hint Dan), enriching the lives of San Franciscans, both car aficionados and not.
All photos were taken by Leigh Nile (@leigh.nile).
Winston styling: himself.