Saturday, 25 April 2009

Piccolo Turismo

Well, a few weeks ago I happened to be informed about playing the nameless hero of the vintage movie 'The Driver'. I had to pick up a car, perform my duty and take it to its destination. 'Normally' that would mean to park outside of a bank, wait for the robbers to rush out and get away as quick as possible as in 'The Transporter' or 'The Italian Job'.

To be honest, it wasn't a bank. It was a Jury. And in front of the jury I had... The astonishing Maserati Gran Turismo. A piece of art on four wheels, a liquid dream gliding on the streets. Shining in red, it was THE ultimate car at the moment. Now, in a hard chase I would deifnately feel sorry for the car and stop in the midst of an ambush just to save the machinery, that's why I got the purposeful ride for this mission: to take quick corners, cut through tight exits and move as dynamically as possible. Right, that must be the John Cooper Mini, I guess, can't wait!

But... What is this? There's no Mini parking here, and there is no such ridiculous mission to complete. It is only my unsatisfied ego speaking hungry for some adrenaline. In fact, the mission was to buy the car and take it to another place where it would stay. And the car happened to be...

... a Polski Fiat 126? How? I couldn't even lose an eco-driver Prius in a straight line-street. And I wouldn't be able to hide any score in the so-called 'car' either, nor a bank-robber if I wanted to. Being sad, I signed the contract and tried to cheer myself up convincing myself about its worthiness.

There are millions of these still reigning the roads here and there. The car that was even more successful in its 'afterlife', under the 'Polski Fiat' badge rather than its Italian origin. Well, of course back in the day you could get about 7 kind of cars altogether in the Communist barracks, no wonder it sold well. Also, it was affordable, easily sustainable and mechanically straightforward as a brick.

For all the car-enthusiasts: this one is an air-cooled 2-cylinder rear-mounted four-stroke. The sound resembles pretty much to a boxer engine. Every ingredients are here to claim, we've got a downscale Porsche, but be not that cheerful, its power is somewhere between the airwaves a bee makes while coughing and what an electric razor produces with rundown batteries...

Sitting in the car, you'll notice that there 'are' place for 4 people, or rather 2 people and 2 dwarfs cut in two for more practical variability. Contemporary jokes about the car said that this was the most quiet one ever produced. Because you had the chance to block your ears with your knees while driving...
So much said, let's start the engine and set off. In early versions of this, you'll still find the ignition right at the handbrake. Inserting the key you pull the little arm down below thus getting you started. Almost like a Ferrari!

Speeding up makes you a little nervous. The speedometer feels like it was calibrated to imperial measures rather than metric. You start to get the same excitement from 60 hm/h rather than 100 as in CARS. You'll feel all the details of the ground. Every little hump will be experienced as a jump in a rally car. Steering gets a little bit fuzzy, the enormous wheel gets you no sense about the direction the car actually is heading. A 100 km/h is definately a kamikaze action, mind that, the whole capsule feels more like a bombshell than a driveable 4-wheeler.

But wait until ice covers the roads! There you will find this little bastard's true identity. You will get the best world of all Minis and RWD cars. The 'Scandinawian Flick' would have never invented if Mr. Aaltonen was driving a Fiat 126 instead a Mini. Get a compact car,that's the size of a shopping cart, take it around the slippery corner WITH POWERSLIDE! Amazing! Of course, there's a little exaggaration there, but who cares? This is all what the Mini lacks! Mind that, it is horsepower the 126 lacks, but tell you what: you make an engine swap and you will get one of the most miserable cars ever, and you will drive the ultimate fun car on the other hand...

Get one! Tune it! Go for it! Buy it! Drive it! Feel it! Just add horsepower to it and there will be no further competitors besides WRCs and Quattros for life.

Still not interested?

Then hello, dear Western World, you just missed the ultimate driving chance of your life...

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