Every one of us has a moment in our lives when we “Grow up”. Maybe it was the time you saw a television program you enjoyed very much as a little kid and thought “What the hell am I watching?” or maybe it was just an incremental process, moving from one demographic to the next without much fuzz. Me? I know exactly when I started to realize it was not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. And it certainly wasn’t last week when a cab driver destroyed the passenger side of the Tercel.
As with all stories regarding cars and my childhood, it begins with my parents. Long before my parents met and aeons before I was born, my mother bought a Fiat 124 sedan 1.2, an early series I model with single headlights and the small grille. I’ve absolutely no idea just how she came to buy it, Fiat is not a big player around this parts the way it is in Brazil; only now they’re getting new buyers thanks to the 500’s cutenesss. Oh there were plenty of Ladas running around but to my knowledge it was the only Fiat 124 in Tegucigalpa, nay, In Honduras. This would become a problem as you will soon see, but at the moment she was far too busy doing what most of us do with our cars. She was bonding with it.
It’s easy to see why, there are a lot of things to fall in love with on the 124. Italy, then as now, was known for making very fun cars to drive spiritedly. It was also very advanced for the times with fancy coil springs all around and disc brakes. Let’s not forget that the Eldorado at the time was still having to make due with drums. The result was, according to her, a very fun car to drive that was also very frugal. “It’s so economical it’ll just drive with the smell of gas” she used to say. High praise from a woman that once took an offensive driving course to chauffer high-risk dignitaries around. Sometime after her purchase she decided to make it even more special. Apparently being the only one of its kind was not quite good enough for her, so she decided to splurge on a fancy new coat of paint.
I don’t know much about types of paint and I’m sure someone on the commentariat will explain me how they did it. But the color was some sort of witchcraft that was RAL 6029 Mint Green when exposed to the sun and 5002 Navy Blue when in the shade. There was a lot of paperwork with our equivalent of the DMV trying to explain why they needed to write ‘Azul Verde Menta’ on the registration document, or so I’ve been told. I do know that it was already that color when it caused my parents to meet up and eventually drove mum to her wedding. By this point the Fiat was already synonymous with her and she enjoyed every minute of it. She would never sell it and the only way she would have it taken out of her possession was if she could no longer drive and her next of kin would take it. She continued to drive it even after getting her second (and to date, last) car. This is where things started to go wrong.
First causes of trouble were my cousins, who would just love to take the keys to the Fiat, open it, take the handbrake off and roll with it downhill. Bear in mind they were not much older than eight years old at the time. Lots of yelling and a few beatings put a stop to that, but there were quite some dents by then. Nothing that moving to a new house and some serious TLC from her part wouldn’t fix. That was enough for it to last until the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when timing hit us, hard. You see, my mother had owned that Fiat since she was old enough to own and drive a car and hadn’t changed anything on it other than wear items. It was only a matter of time until something would break down, and it did. The brake system to be precise. The very very old hoses decided to finally give up the ghost and there was absolutely no spares for it anywhere in the country. Being unique did have its small disadvantages in the days before the internet became commonplace. Without any brakes, the car had to be parked. In the street. With vent windows.
The Dean of Medicine of Sacred Heart Hospital will tell you that humans are bastard coated bastards with bastard filling. I’m inclined to agree but I have to admit there was some fault on our end. You see, innocent young car fan me wanted to climb aboard the Fiat and play make-believe driving it. I went on many imaginary rides on it. Unfortunately someone noticed how I opened the car through the vent window and took notice. Garbage bags started to fill the interior, some clever kids decided to lock a pig inside it and leave it to its own devices, it was pushed to a river bank and drowned and no matter how much we fixed it people seemed hell-bent on killing the little Fiat. There was no accountability for them, as they were minors and when fingers were pointed parents just went “Ah those crazy kids.” I should point out that something happened to them they’d come up with new and clever ways to bleed you dry. But in the interest of protecting the bastards, their names will not be mentioned. I almost feel dirty validating their existence by mentioning them. My mother was naturally devastated, and she did blame me for “Teaching” people how to open it.
There are no happy endings here. The idiots got their fun, we got screwed out of a Fiat 124. In the end a man bought the remains of the once glorious car for chicken feed, maybe it’s now a Lada 2101, or three. Maybe it’s scrap. In any case everytime I see one of the Few 124 derivatives around here I always check whether it may be the little Fiat. A useless effort considering all I have from it are a few fuzzy memories. My mother will not help as talking about the 124 in her presence just opens the wound. The real car-killers still are around and the most I can give them is a sneer as I drive past. They have no idea how much pain they have caused, considering what they drive, they don’t care.
Now that we are all older and wiser around here, there’s a few lessons we can learn about the whole 124 ordeal, personally I’ve made them into rules for my own personal set.
- Never leave a non-functioning car dirty, it’s a sign of weakness. Start it, rev it, preferably while lots of people are watching.
- Buy a garage first, and a house hopefully.
- If you truly love something, rest assured someone will take great pleasure in burning it up.
Epilogue: I was looking at European classifieds, which is what you do when you’re bored, and noticed there are still some Series I 124’s for sale, very cheap too. Maybe I should call the DMV and my painter. But we still live on a place that doesn’t have a garage. Could I make love strike twice and atone for the destruction or the Fiat? Or am I just asking for trouble?