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Fiat 128

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      28.11.2003 23:57
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      Please take a seat in the time machine, let´s go back to the early 1980s. We bought our first car then, a brand new light mint Fiat 128 with a black stripe along the lower part of the body and dark grey all vinyl seats (sticky in hot Italian summers!). The Fiat 128 was introduced in March 1969 and awarded ´Car of the Year´ in the same year. It marked the start of an era of front-wheel-drive which has been adopted by almost every other successful design since. In 1971 the 128 Rally came on the market with a more powerful engine (1290cc and 67bhp), this was what we got. It was only available with two doors, my mother wasn't any too pleased about that, she had contributed a considerable amount of money and expected to be driven around in comfort. We hadn?t thought properly, having the shortest legs of the family she had to sit at the back, wriggling and squeezing in was not enjoyable for an elderly lady. Of course, we could move the front seats forward, but often forgot about it, poor woman. (All our later cars have had four doors) We had driven for about 50 000 km (30 000 miles) when one summer on our way to Sardinia the car became slower and slower near the town of Seeberg in Tyrol/Austria. We moved to the side of the road and then stood still. Seeberg is 1215 m above sea level so the view is nice, but we hadn´t come to admire it. We called a mechanic from a nearby hotel (this was before the mobile phone), he came, opened the hood, scratched his head and seeing that my husband was Italian pronounced in pidgin German, ´Maschine kaputt´(engine broken). Of course he could have spoken normally, my husband understands and speaks German fluently, but you know how some people behave with foreigners. He towed us to his garage, but said that he would fix the car only so far that we could reach the first Fiat garage in Italy where the mechanics could perhaps, but only very perhaps, help us more, he doubted that we would ever reach Sardinia
      with this wreck. This meant one night in a hotel in Seeberg, one of the most expensive resorts of the region! The Fiat mechanics in the first town south of the border found all this very funny, they made some derogatory remarks about Austrian mechanics, did something mysterious to the engine, patted the hood and told us to drive on without worrying any further. ´Maschine kaputt´ has become a household word with us! Fast forward, some 100 000 km (60 000 miles) later . . . My mother visited our relatives in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) frequently always going by train. Because she couldn´t carry much she used to send lots of parcels full of presents by post before her departure. She was always working on me that I should go, too, but I didn´t want to for a long time, I just wasn´t interested in my relatives. Well, constant dripping wears away the stone, one year we gave in and my husband and I decided to go by car. When my mother heard that her first thought was that then we could take many presents with us and we could take also things one couldn´t send by post. Among others we bought two bottles of Chianti wine, each about 1m (more than a yard) high with twisted necks looking like corkscrews, I don´t know if you know them, they were the craze then, after drinking the wine people used to make lamp stands out of the bottles. And off we went. After driving for about three hours on the motorway we noticed other drivers honking and gesticulating at us, eventually we noticed that our cute little car had transmogrified into a dragon beast spewing blue-black smoke. The same procedure as 100 000 km before: tow-vehicle, garage. This time the mechanic talked to us in complete sentences and we understood that our car´s time had come. We were right in the middle between our town in West Germany and our destination in the GDR, it was clear that we would have to return home. The following day was Easter Sunday, not even in West
      Ger many it would have been easy to arrange a ´funeral´ in case our car decided to give up the ghost for good on a holiday, in the GDR it would have been impossible. They wouldn´t have allowed us to leave the car there, we would have had to call a tow-vehicle from West Germany and towing a car on the motorway for 500 km (300 miles) would have been obscenely expensive. Besides that the police in the GDR would have found many ways to extract (to use a euphemism) money from us, they always found ways to extract money - read ´Deutsche Mark´ - from the Wessis (people from the West). Strangely only cars with number plates from Western European countries were filmed by radar cameras and flagged down, the reason was not that they were faster than cars from Eastern Europe (which they were, of course), no, they did this because the fine had to be paid in hard currency and on the spot! The transit motorway to Berlin through the GDR was infamous, behind every third bush there was a radar camera calibrated to find speeding cars from the West. The mechanic repaired the engine as best he could and we crept back at 50 km/h (30 m/h) (the top speed of the Fiat 128 was 150 km/h [93 m/h]), this alone was enough to enrage the other drivers (German motorways are full of aggressive pushers), but the car was still spewing blue-black smoke. We knew that by then, however, all drivers overtaking us felt the urge to signal this fact to us. We arrived home late at night, that we arrived at all was a miracle. We parked the car in front of the house, unpacked and then took the train the following day. As we had bought and wrapped all the presents, we wanted to take them to the expectant family, the taxi driver who helped carry our luggage to the platform thought we wanted to emigrate! When we returned, the car made neither move or sound, a friend towed it to the car cemetery, we had to pay 50 DM/~ 17.50 GBP for the wreck to be accepted and that was it. Sigh.
      Production ceased in 1985, some Fiat 128 still exist, though, and the proud owners are in contact with each other exchanging spare parts and wallowing in nostalgic memories. ____________________________________________ If you want to take part, please include CARS OF MEMORY in the title and include the following paragraph: "This review is part of the CARS/MOTOR BIKES OF MEMORY challenge where members are asked to write about cars/motor bikes which bring back memories. ** Katie says she will hurry through any item requests. If they are flagged "Motors"she will see they go through as quickly as possible. She also asks that they not be "In General". Any which have consumer information will be eligible for crowns. **"

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