Praveen sent his Premier Padmini to the scrap yard to free up space in his garage. Today, he regrets that hasty decision. Many can relate to this. Premier Padminis and other Fiat 1100s have become a rare sight; and those gripped by nostalgia for these cars can't easily get hold of one. The situation is not unique to Chennai. Every other metro has been registering a sharp fall in Fiat 1100 numbers. To protect and cherish this Fiat, a synonym for car travel to generations of Indians, exclusive 1100 clubs have been formed in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Lucknow and Hyderabad.

Among their objectives is preventing these cars from going to the scrap yard. After saving the Fiats from this familiar fate, these clubs face the challenge of providing support to owners in restoring these cars.

“Sourcing Fiat 1100 parts is becoming an uphill task. The body and rubber trims are impossible to get,” says C.S. Ananth, who has a 1989 Premier Padmini. “Morris Minor, which is found in plentiful numbers around the world and has humungous owners' clubs, is helped by companies prepared to make their parts. Because they are considerably fewer, Fiat 1100 don't evoke a similar response from auto parts manufacturers. Even in Mumbai, where a small number of Padminis still ply as taxis, such help has not come for the 1100.”

“A few parts that are being specifically made for the Fiat 1100 are not of a quality that matches the original. A North-India based company has made 1,000 Millecento taillight lenses available. A pair of this lens sells for Rs. 400 to Rs. 1,500 around the country. While such products may not meet high standards, the underlying attempt to provide parts for the 1100 is heartening,” says Jaikumar, owner of a 1956 Millicento.

Only if the 1100 goes up considerably in the estimation of classic car collectors, production of parts specific to them can be expected. At present, except for the Elegants, the Millecentos and other 1100s from the 1950s and early 1960s, a Fiat in running condition fetches a price somewhere between Rs.20,000 and Rs.30,000. Ananth says a well-restored Fiat 1100 will fetch an attractive price. “People are slowly waking up to the ‘classic' value of the 1100.”

Jaikumar strikes a less optimistic note. “Only the earlier 1100 models evoke considerable interest. It will take some more time before all models appear equally interesting.”

Among positive signs is the fancy for the S1, Premier Padmini's swansong. This car, which was manufactured in the second half of the 1990s, is desired due to some of its unique features. “It came with the 118NE's gearbox. It had the stock 1098 cc engine, but got a new head that was made in collaboration with an Austrian company,” says Jaikumar. “The coming generations will find it more interesting than we do. But the Fiat's future lies in our hands.”

A rush of memories

For many, the Fiat 1100 is imbued with nostalgia. This is especially true of those who were into car rallies a few decades ago; and also car racers at Sholavaram. C.S. Ananth used to rally and race in a 1971 Fiat, which he gave up when Maruti 800 came on the scene in the Eighties. Ananth preserved the past by keeping all the special equipment, indispensable during rallies and races. Three years ago, Ananth picked up a 1989 Fiat and modified it into a rally car. The preserved parts, including a Halda special pilot, roll cage, a circuit breaker, and a sump guard, went into the new Fiat.

Ranjit Pratap, who has some of the choicest classic cars, is specially attached to his 1957 Fiat Elegant for the torrent of childhood memories it brings. Ranjit took a lot of trouble restoring it. When he went to inspect the car in Salem, there was nothing in it that he could write home about. After setting it on its four wheels, he faced the headache of sourcing parts unique to Fiat Elegant. It is customary for owners of Fiat 1100s to make do with parts from other Fiats within the 1100 family. Instead of taking the path of least resistance, he made arrangements for sourcing Elegant parts from various places in the country. For a few others, he made contact with Fiat associates in Italy. The restoration took two long years. For a car that now takes him decades back, says Ranjit, this was not too big a task.

Keywords: vintage car