It is a privilege to be invited to take over as President of the Club, and I should take a moment or so to pretend that I’ve got some credentials to justify the appointment.
I have a bit of a connection with motoring and motor sport, and the recent events, which I have been involved with, are the hosting of the FIA Awards in Vienna where the new Formula One Champion was crowned. Also I presided over the Historic Motoring Awards at the Guildhall and (for the 28th year) The Autosport Awards at The Grosvenor House. Amazingly, at all these functions, no one has ever spotted the fact that I know very little about cars.
Autosport Awards 2016 (73 minutes, but well worth it…)
But I know what I like, and the wonderful Fiat 500 has figured on my motoring landscape, many times over the last fifty years.
When I was growing up my family didn’t own a car and my elder brother, once he’d passed his test, was the first to get mobile. He bought a grey Fiat 500 for £110, which he was due to take delivery of in Sidcup at six o’clock on the evening of July 30 1966. Amid great excitement I would go with him, once we had finished watching a football match on television. Unfortunately when Weber equalised, the World Cup Final went to extra time and it was only when Kenneth Wolstenholme assured us that ‘it was all over…’ that we were able to rush out of the door and take possession of this life-changing vehicle.
The first impression was that it was a tin-box with two deck chairs inside, it was hot noisy and uncomfortable but it had oodles of character, and it meant a new freedom.
And as I learnt over the next few years, that character could change. When I was eighteen, I went to work for the local newspaper, and the chief photographer was the proud owner of a yellow 500 with a Hillman Imp engine, trick suspension and racing seats; tyres squealing, we were comfortably first at every story that broke in South East London.
Fast-forward thirty-five years, to when I had ingratiated myself into the motor-sport world and was invited by Ron Dennis to host the launch of the first McLaren F1 road car at the Sporting Club in Monaco. It was, and possibly, still is, the most glorious Supercar ever built and at the end of the launch in front of Prince Albert and all the A-list celebs, I was talking to the cars’ designer Gordon Murray. He told me he wouldn’t be driving back to the UK. He then took me around the back of the Sporting Club and showed me the pristine left hand drive Fiat 500 that was his chosen transport.
‘This,’ he said, ‘is the most perfect motor-car ever designed.
Further endorsements followed from many of those I visited while filming the F1 Legends series for SKY; Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Jo Ramirez the ex-McLaren F1 manager all have Fiat 500s in various guises in their private car collections.
So I had to have one and in 2001 in response to my wife’s’ request for any kind of open top Italian car for her birthday, I bought a Tuscan Orange 1971 500L from a colleague at the BBC.
We had a lot of fun with it, but then came the need to give it a bit of an overhaul. On the internet we tracked down a self-proclaimed ‘specialist’ who took delivery, and then became a nightmare to make contact with.
The car was passed through a number of hands until we lost track entirely. It was about five years later that we eventually followed the trail to the back of a garage in Peterborough.
The car was reclaimed and passed on to the far better qualified attentions of Amelia and Manj at Weenie Fiats in Swindon, The car came back to us a year ago in top-class condition and they also helped me make contact with the Club.
So, hopefully a few trips and adventures lie ahead with the Club and, at the very least
I am looking forward to meeting members at whatever gathering and functions are on the calendar in 2017.