words and photos by leo dijkstra

Picture
photo taken from a brochure of a Fiat Dino. From 1971. So from the same era as the picture with the small family cars.
I guess it started with peering through the driver's window to catch a glimpse of the speedo. Standing on our toes, I must have been 6 or so, hoping to find a round dial instead of the strip speedos typical for the slower and older cars. The game we played was to find the fastest car parked at the square in front of the apartment buildings where we lived. We knew the speedos were optimistic and not a true reflection of the actual top speed. So we subtracted 40 and compared car models. 
Growing up in the outskirts of working class Rotterdam meant that exciting cars were far and between. But even so, or maybe just because, my appetite for rare cars was growing. The most common cars models were Opel Kadett, VW Beetle, Simca 1000, Citroën 2CV or the Renault 4 that we had. The Renault 4 was a versatile little car and we loved them more than my uncle's 2CV.

It did not lean like crazy in corners and it had a four pot that always worked and at least that sounded like a normal engine. Even though it had a similar stick shift sticking out of the dash, it felt a 100 percent more car than the French 'ugly duck' (the Dutch name for the car). But none of the speedos went beyond 140 or 160 kilometers an hour. Never did they touch upon the magical 200 mark…as optimistic as the speedos were.
But sometimes more exotic material showed up. A Citroën GS with self-raising suspension or even a DS, sometimes an older model Mercedes. New ones just were not around where we lived. 

Italian machinery was the best. When an Alfa Romeo Giulia parked, we flocked around to stare at the beautiful wooden dash with the two trade mark Alfa dials behind the wheel: 220 km/h! Wow! To see the '200' and '220' marks printed on that dial created visions of travelling to unknown elite destinations like France or Italy and actually doing so in the left lane! Remember, these were the times when a holiday outside Holland was as rare as seeing 200 on that dial...

"On a summer holiday we had to put towels on the seats and behind the windows as curtains to keep the heat out."

As the seventies progressed, and just before the floor of our trusty '4' faded to Flintstone-like transparency, we traded up to what I as a boy considered a “real car;” stick shift on the floor with the rubbery harmonica thingy at the base, rear wheel drive with a prop-shaft tunnel dividing the car and wind up windows instead of the weight saving sliding version of the '4'. Plus it had an exhaust at the back instead of the side pipe exiting near the rear hubcap.

Ok, so we had the base spec 1300cc version with a whopping 65hp, two doors (which I thought was way cooler anyway with the folding front seats) and a brown skai interior. 

The sales pitch for that upholstery must have been something like this: 'Yes sir, it looks just like leather, you can clean it with some soapy water, no maintenance required.' But the instruction manual forgot to mention not to put kids in shorts on the back seat after the car sat in the sun. 

At least on a hot sandy beach you can run and lift your feet and head for the water. On a summer holiday we had to put towels on the seats and behind the windows as curtains to keep the heat out. And summers in the seventies were hot!
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this is one of the classic photos in our family. It is taken around 1970 at a family gathering, where my uncles and aunts took their first cars and lined them up. It is a typical street view of the period where people that could afford to buy their first car spent their hard earned cash at one of the typical family cars of the era. In this picture: Fiat 600, NSU Prinz, VW beetle, Citro├źn 2CV, Renault 4
But this Fiat had something special to me, the badge at the back.

You see, apart from my early interest in speedometer dials, the Fiat badges also sparked my imagination. Seeing the characteristic trapezoid blocks with 'FIAT' in the clean looking italic font with the model number to the right and below still takes me straight back to the seventies.

Strange how these apparently unimportant things make your brain jump into a time machine to transport you straight back to your youth. Like holding that toy car from your childhood again, or hearing a bell similar to that of the ice cream truck. It brings back memories from my happy childhood playing with friends in the streets and fields.

And one of those games was with the badges—to find all different Fiat model range numbers. It was a game that found its origin in the Renault models (4, 6, 8, 10, 16) and Peugeot's of the time (203, 304, 504). With Fiat, the 128 was very common, 124's less so and only sometimes a 125 would pop up. There was a clear distinction between these “real” cars and the “entry level miniature” cars. 
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typical of the model numbers when I was a boy.
Those were numbered in 'hundreds'. As if Fiat wanted to separate 'penny' cars from 'dollar' cars; or 'cents' from 'guilders' in my case. The 600 was a common site in our neighborhood, as was the 850. There were less 500's back then compared to now it seems. These 500's have been imported a lot as a classic car due to their cuteness factor. They now outnumber the 600's.

So imagine my pride when we got the 131 with that beautiful badge. Fact is, Fiat's number game confused me as some newer small cars like the awful 133 and 126 hit the streets. A class mate's mother had a 133 that she used as a city runabout in true Niki Lauda style, much to the excitement of the two boys sliding from side to side on the rear bench. (Yes, skai upholstery too...) 
And the tiny 126 wasn't taken seriously at all. Although that car continued to be produced in Poland for many more years as I found out later when I was there in the mid-nineties for work. 126's were plenty about and mixed happily with Fiat 125 derived FSO Polonez's.

Automotive hell.

But there was an end to the “number game.” Soon, cars started to get names like Fiat Ritmo and Renault Fuego. And only Peugeot (to this day) and expensive cars like Mercedes and Porsche played the number game for a while longer. Badges like 450SLC or 280SEL still make me smile with reminiscence.

Even Ferrari now has a mix of names and numbers. A name like 'La Ferrari' just doesn't do it for me.

And Porsche?

Well, it was about time they denoted their magnificent ground-breaking new model with a number: the 918. None of that consumer-poll-marketing-mayhem-silly-tagline nonsense names. 
Picture
picture from a Fiat Dino brochure ca. 1967. With a picture of a James Bond like party setting. It might as well been on a different planet from where I grew up as a boy.
Cayenne? Truly nice car, but they might as well have called it Pepper Porsche. Cayman? What was the marketing department thinking? “This car has crocodile eyes but it looks like it had its mouth shortened?”

Not to mention Boxster...We can hear the conversation in the marketing department;

“…nah, Helmut, I cannot choose between Boxer and Speedster.”

No lineage to the great numbers of the past, until now. The 918 revokes memories of my long forgotten games of finding the speedo with the highest number and that badge with the missing link in the model number lineage. Way to go Porsche!

“…nah, Helmut, I cannot choose between Boxer and Speedster.”

Let's hope that silly Macan is the last numberless Porsche.

But why am I writing all this? Well, perhaps I was trying to find out what sparked my automotive passion. And my strange afflictions that seem to be attached to it, like numbered car models, or why I go weak at the knees spotting a 1970's Fiat...Or maybe it was just to warm you up for the story on the link between my Fiat Dino Coupé and the 928. A link between those? Yes, more than one actually; but more about that soon…only in flüssig.

Perhaps my story was just to get some consolidation. So share your stories with me, maybe I’ll come to understand that I was not the only boy playing these silly games that led to an expensive hobby...

Vriendelijke groeten

Leo Dijkstra aka 'The Dutch Shark'


 


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Michael
09/30/2014 17:28

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pablo
09/30/2014 20:10

Thanks Michael, we're glad you dig it!

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