Curbside Capsule: A Panda is Free in The City! Fiat Panda 4×4 in the Urban Jungle

Walking through the Portero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco sometime last year, I came across an escapee, if not from the Zoo, then definitely from across the pond.  A Fiat Panda, a special edition 4×4 nonetheless.

It appears this Panda is more of a mascot than an actual escapee – no license plates are in evidence.  If allowed to roam free, the Zookeepers of the Urban Jungle (the SFPD) are likely to put a quick end to any galloping about.  I would think this Panda stays pretty close to home base, even if there is no bamboo in sight – or maybe it only comes out at night.

This Panda was hugging the back wall pretty close, so hard to get even the whole rear logo in on one shot.

Here’s the Steyr and the Puch, what about the Daimler?

This is really a pretty special Panda.  It’s a 4×4, from Fiat by way of Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria.  They really knew how to make 4×4‘s, in various different kinds of trucks, and most significantly the tiny but capable Haflinger, along with the slightly larger Pinzgauer. They also had their own long-lasting range of small cars, along with a long relationship with Fiat, all detailed in this fine Curbside Classic article.  And of course they built the Jeep Grand Cherokee along with various other Chrysler vehicles as part of a larger contract-manufacturing operation.

But of course, this is FIAT, first and foremost.  It’s a first-generation Panda, which was first produced in 1980.  The Panda 4×4 was introduced in 1983, with Steyr-Daimler-Puch providing the drivetrain, and powered by a nearly 1 L engine (pre-1986 OHV from the Autobianchi A112, also here, post-1986 the OHC “FIRE” engine) with almost 50 hp, mounted transversely, which was a first for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.  Truthfully, from what I can read the “first facelift” in 1986 was characterized primarily by a change to the grille area, which made standard Pandas look much like the 4×4’s grille pre-facelift, so I cannot tell what year this is from.  I tend to think this is from 1986 or later, maybe the Panda-spotters out there can narrow it down a bit better.  There is a nice CC article detailing the history of the Panda 4×4 here, where the dizzying array of special-edition Pandas of all sorts is laid out.  This one is a special-edition of some sort – but which one?

I wish I had been able to get a better shot of the interior, but it was dark and I couldn’t get the flash from just creating glare.

One feature that I don’t quite understand are these interesting rubber strips along the roof, perhaps a kind of minimal roof-frack?

It’s a simple car, from what I understand incredibly rugged, and still a favorite in its native Alpine habitat.  These Pandas are highly adaptable, of course – there being no bamboo in the Alps.  Perhaps that’s why this Panda has chosen San Francisco – I wonder if some late-night runs to Chinatown are on its schedule? – staying clear of the Zookeepers, of course.