This week we drive the new Fiat 500, review the Fast 5 movie and take a mind trip to Reno in the 80's.



WE drive the new Fiat 500 at Road Atlanta during the Mitty.

  After the buy out of Chrysler by Fiat, it was only a matter of time before we would once again see some mainstream cars from the giant Italian company in the US, besides the Ferrari's. That is correct the Fiat and Ferrari are made by the same company. This is another modern car that takes styling cues from its name from the 1960's Fiat 500.

Just like the new Beatle and the Mini Cooper there is nothing in common with the old and the new except a similar shape and profile. This is a completely modern car in every way and has some very advanced engine management technology directly developed for Ferrari's Formula 1 racing team. Many comparisons are being made with the Mini, although similar in size they are not in the same price category, the Fiat ranges in price from $15,500 for the base model and $19,000 for a fully loaded model like the one we drove. 

This car belongs to John Montgomery President of the Fiat Lancia Unlimited Club FLU, and a big thanks to Cynthia Meitle of CAR PR USA for introducing me to John. He was on our radio show last week and since he was coming to The Mitty at Road Atlanta where I would be, we got together and he let me drive his car. 

John said it best "if you are a fugitive or in the witness protection program, don't buy this car". Every time we stopped, a crowd would gather around the car. They asked to sit in it and if John would let them drive it. John accommodated just about every one. If he had come to the Mitty with ten new cars to sell, they would have been all gone in the first hour. That is just how positive everyone, including me, feel about this little car. This car is cute, men like it and women adore it. I am not easily impressed but I must admit that the Fiat 500 exceeded my expectations by a very wide margin. At first glance I look at the fit of the panels and the smoothness and shine of the paint, it is better than most, and on par with cars that cost much more, like the MINI and the VW, much more expensive cars. Opening the wide door you are greeted by a very nice bucket seat with height and back adjustments and seat cushions wider than the European version to accommodate our larger butts and shoulders.(copy-write that as a possible brand for something) Once in the seat the room is very ample for my 6 foot 225lbs size 12 shoes. The ample width and height makes the car feel bigger, and that can be attributed to the large airy cabin. Instead of stretching out, you sit as in a minivan, seats at a comfortable height, like a dining room chair. That height transfers to the rear seat also. I initially sat in the backseat, behind my six foot tall assistant Stephanie, the space was adequate for medium distance for some one my size, that says a lot! The truly incredible part is that it also has a usable trunk and when you fold down the rear seats you could carry some serious cargo! 

Getting into the drivers seat. First thing you notice is the complete integration of all the instruments,gauges, and control indicators in to the round digital display in front of the driver, the washer wiper stalk on the right side of the column ha a button to page through the menu options from trip meters to fuel mileage monitors. The model we drove also had Cirrus satellite and blue tooth pairing and will completely integrate your phone and call list onto the vehicles hard drive. It is also voice activated and will read your text and email messages for you over the cars sound system. All in a very unassuming clean look. The steering wheel is also trick, with controls for radio, climate controls, and phone functions.

So how does it drive. To say I am a believer puts it into perspective. The power with 3 adults and Johns luggage and literature in the trunk was very acceptable. The 1.4 litter engine puts out 101 horsepower and has a pleasing growl and is very smooth. The shifter for the 5 speed feels very, dare I say it, Ferrari like. The spring load on the shift gate was a little stiffer than I like and it may soften up as the car breaks in. Johns car is so fresh that it barely had 300 miles on it. The adjustable suspension has a normal and sport mode, normal is firm and not jarring at all, switch to the sport mode it also changes the engine mapping and firms the suspension up a little bit more, still comfortable. The handling on the roads was really pleasing and very sure footed.

There is so much more and so many details but this is a Digest. I like it, and with a starting price of $15,500 and fuel mileage in the high 30's to low 40's it is an economical drivers car that does not make you feel that you compromised in any way. It even has features such as the hill holder and an optional 6 speed automatic, standard 5 star crash rating with seven air bags. When Fiat gets more cars out we will do a longer term test and take it out to get the performance numbers on the track. Yes an Abarth Performance model is supposed to come in to the market with 170 horsepower. Check back on Teaser Link as I post more of the video we shot while driving John's car. 

 

Photos Video and words By Miguel Caparros

Review of the Fast 5 Movie

My Partner Mike Thies and I are emotionally invested in this movie. When on the day that the Atlanta Casting call for the under the freeway scene was schedule to happen, it became apparent to one of the organizers that the Tuner Generation get their information from other sources not necessarily from the classified section of the news paper. At 8 Am when we found out about it, we immediately posted it on our events calendar and emailed all the members to what was going down that afternoon and where. In short order we had 400 cars and owners show up for consideration and many were chosen for their 5 minutes of fame.
From the cheering that went on during the street party scene shot in Atlanta, I think all of our friends came to the same showing. We were invited by Abby Cain from NOS Energy Drink,Year One and Mahdavi Motorsports to a car show and the Movie.


There is no arguing with the fact that most people that will go to see the Fast 5 already have a good idea where this is going. This is an action franchise and the customers demand better and better cars and stunts. The movie delivered in spades! From the running gun battles on the roofs and alleys of Rio De Janeiro slums, to the high speed scenes on the train where they drop some cars off at high speeds. No one in their right mind would drop a real Ford GT 40 or a Chevrolet Grand Sport off a moving train so do not cry, these were movie cars. There were a bunch of police issue Dodge Chargers but to me the most interesting vehicle was the Black OPS armored  Jeep, this jeep kicks ass. I am doing my best not to give the story line away. Just imagine how you would orchestrate stealing $100 Million from a drug lord who owns the police and put all his cash in the world's most secure safe, inside the Police station.

 

The fast and furious franchise did move away from the Tuner based hero cars and has embraced the Chrysler Corp vehicles figuring that the audience can't tell a Nissan Skyline from a Dodge Charger. I am sure the group that I was with can and it may make a difference on its long term cash intake. I hope the Chrysler group gave them enough to compensate.  But wait you say. The 69 Charger in the first of the current Fast and Furious franchise was the hero car, and in Tokyo Drift it was a 67 Mustang with a Nissan Skyline engine. That is all good for representing the culture of the time, but it does not put any money in Ford or Chrysler from sales. This movie is a commercial like many others these days to raise money and brand awareness. Maybe the next one they will return to a purer form, NOT!

 

In spite of my commercial bashing I liked the movie. The chases were awesome and they put the money to good use with some very believable CG effects. If you noticed above I mentioned "the current" Fast and Furious franchise. That is because the title and the story line come from the 1956 black and white movie the Fast and Furious. The cars then were Jaguars, Thunderbirds, MG's and others from sports car racing. Check it out, by today's standards it is a snooze, but like the current one it is so bad that it is good. I got it on CD I am sure if you Google it you can find one. 

I am intrigued by the black ops Jeep as I can not find any photos or info on this vehicle. If any of you find photos or info on this Jeep please let me know.

 

Visiting Harrah's Reno in my mind or is a 150 mile per hour Jeep Really fun?

While visiting the National Automobile Museum (Harrah Collection) recently, I saw many amazing historic and classic cars on display, but could not help with being infatuated with Bill Harrah’s personal “driver”. A 1977 Jeep Wagoneer, fitted with a 12 cylinder Ferrari engine. The “Jerrari” reflects the personality and creativity of the man who owned it, Bill Harrah. I mentioned the car to Miguel Caparros, and he shared his personal experience of driving this very special car years ago…….

Intro and Photos by Steve Natale Story by Miguel Caparros.

The first time I read about the Jerrari was in Road & Track's Ron Wakefield's article. In August of 1971   I just had gotten back home to Plymouth New Hampshire from an all expenses paid vacation by my former employer, the US Army. I had a lot of reading to catch up on so I started with the latest issue of Road & Track Magazine. Now at the time I thought what a waste of a perfectly good Ferrari. In retrospect, if I had his financial depth I would have created stuff even more outrageous than what I have done. When we moved to California and I had a list of things to do, #3 was the Harrah collection in Sparks Nevada. In 1983 my friend Bill Duryea and I drove up, while the wrangling about the collection was still going on with Holliday Inn who bought the Harrah's hotels and the collection after Bill Harrah's death. They wanted to sell it off. I seem to have a talent for worming my way into places and meet the people that actually get things done. On this day I ran into one of Mr. Harrah's son's who was working on something of his own. I started to talk about the Jerrari, referring to the original 1968 Jeep Wagoneer with the Ferrari nose grafted on to the front of the Wagoneer that I had read about in 1971. He told me that car was gone and Mr Harrah had the work shop crew built another with a 1977 Grand Wagoneer. Bill and I were led over to where this very normal looking Wagoneer stood. At that point we were picked up by one of the shop mechanics and Mr. Harrah's son left us in some very capable hands, as this was one of the original fabricators for Bill Harrah. He went into detail as to the problems and fabrication that had to be done to attach the Ferrari engine to the Jeep 4 wheel drive, and the unconventional dual radiators needed as the engine was much longer that the AMC V8 that was originally fitted. After chatting for a while I just had to ask, “Can we go for a ride?” The answer was sure if you drive and buy lunch". Done! We headed out of the shop and besides the usual Ferrari noises from the engine compartment and a dash full of Stewart Warner gauges, it just felt like any other Jeep. We caught I-80 east bound towards Fernly, and it climbed up the hills like no jeep I ever drove. I was able to hold 90 during the climb with out effort. We past Fernly in no time and were now in the plateau that leads to Bonneville. No speed limit from here, foot to the floor and I let the Jerrari stretch its legs. At 140 you can cover ground like a private plane. Elko was coming up fast. My new found friend knew of a restaurant in Elko he wanted to eat at. The food and the altitude were taking a toll on my clarity so Bill drove back to Fernly with his foot plastered to the floor and hitting 150 on some down hill stretches. We did go by a Nevada Trooper that turned on his lights and just as quickly turned it off. He either knew who's Jeep this was or figured by the time he got the cruiser up to speed he would never be able to catch the Wagoneer that had set off his radar at 150 +.
Go to The National Auto Museum in Reno Nevada.

Steve Natale's Blog

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