May 26, 2008

Road test: 1974 Fiat Campagnola

While Fiat was trying to market its small 850s, 126s and 500s, it was also trying to sell this thing: the Campagnola. The original Campagnola was smaller and was sold from 1951 to 1973. Meant to compete against Land Rovers and to a lesser extent Land Cruisers and Jeep CJs, it never really caught on outside of Italy. It was never exported to the U.S. In its home country, however, it gained a loyal (though not very big) clientele, particularly amongst the Carabinieri and Polizia forces. The redesigned and bigger "Nuova" Campagnola was built from 1974 to 1987. One of its most loyal customers was the Pope who used one as his Popemobile. Unfortunately this was never used to transport the Pope but it's interesting nonetheless.

When I was offered to drive this 1974 model, I had just gotten out of my 1997 Fiat. I climbed into the Campagnola and transcended into a completely different world. Vinyl seats, a steering wheel big enough to put a W123 Mercedes’ steering wheel to shame, and a surprising amount of room, both front and back. One doesn’t get just how big this car is by simply looking at it. A huge gearshift pokes out from under the dash and the 4WD shifter is between the vinyl-upholstered front seats which are split 2/3.

An interesting aspect of this particular one is that it’s equipped with a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine (hence the Bz nameplate, "benzina") that puts out 80hp. These were also available with more powerful diesel engines which I imagine are a much better fit. It goes without saying that a vehicle this heavy powered by a mere 80hp is far from fast and mated with a 4-speed manual transmission, top speed is around 110km/h. That's a good thing since early Campagnolas didn't come with seatbelts, although I suppose they would be useless since they don't seem to be commonly worn in this part of Sicily. I didn't try and measure 0-100km/h times but the car felt as fast as my old 1971 850 Spider. You'll see later on that it's not the only parallel between the Campagnola and the 850..

As with most cars like this, basic comfort wasn't the number one priority in the design stage. The independent suspension is firm and the ride is overall bouncy. The windows slide open a la Renault 4, door panels don’t appear on the equipment list. I don’t believe any Fiat in the early 70s came with power steering and this is no exception. The rear seats are two benches on either side of the car, fashioned after the back of a Land Rover. One could easily cram ten people back there.

It’s downright scary to drive on narrow Sicilian streets. This is a huge car and if you’re not used to it you never quite know where the front of it is. To add to that, the steering is not only hard but rather wavy.

After a couple of minutes and a couple of interesting encounters with oncoming cars it becomes easier to drive and very enjoyable. Even finding the gears with that flagpole of a gearshift becomes a breeze. It’s a predictable car, it responds solely and directly to the input you give it, it’s all in figuring out how much throttle/clutch/etc to use.

Fiat wasn’t joking around when they built this: it’s a serious off roader. Once you put it in 4WD mode it becomes more capable than most new SUVs on the market today. It’ll go up or down just about anything you can throw at it.

I have to be honest here: while it's a a brute of a car that's made for off roading, it's still a 34 year old Fiat and the drivetrain didn't feel as solid as I'd like it to. Truth be told, while the motor was cold it reminded me of my old 850. Maybe it was the "shift fast before the rpms drop and the car dies" syndrome that both cars experienced, even when using the choke.

So, a combination of its age and its increasing rarity means it just doesn’t feel right to beat it up off road. Buy this for the collector’s value (and occasional trip) and a beat up Mercedes G for your off road duties and you’ll be unstoppable.

May 20, 2008


During the four years I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, I can only recall seeing six Alfa Romeos that I didn't own:
- An overpriced pearl-white Spider Series 3.
- A white Giulia Spider rusting away in a field (I'll have to dig up the pictures)
- A red '50s 2000 Spider.
- Two Spider Series 3s that I chased down but never caught up to.
- A very nice red Giulia Spider.

Suffice to say, not many cars. So it was with great surprise that I discovered a beige 1988 Spider Veloce mere minutes after my most recent visit (and first in two years) to the lovely town of Bloomington.

There's not much to say about this Spider. I know it's an '88 because it has the rare (and less-than-desirable) automatic seatbelts. I don't know just when they became standard equipment, but I know it was for only part of the 1988 model year. I can't even guess how Alfa Romeo got around the regulation for 1989! It is a fairly rare beige - whether the color suits your fancy or not is purely subjective. Obviously it's seen some repaints in its life.

May 18, 2008

It just makes you sick...

For the last 10 years, my father and I have been gradually and lovingly restoring and improving our 1974 Porsche 914 2.0. A road test is posted on this blog. All of our hard work came literally crashing to a halt on May 18th. As my father was driving home from Presque Isle this evening, an SUV rear-ended the left side while he was waiting to make a left hand turn. It then quickly reversed and sped away. My father was very fortunately unhurt, and after following the perpetrator to a dead end street, the SUV then backed over the front fender of the Porsche and took out the left side and the driver fled again.
This literally happened about three hours ago from this post - police are searching for the vehicle, but no positive license number was identified. We can only hope that justice will be served for this thoughtless crime.
Events like this are a reminder of the fragility of these machines that we care about so much, (and to many observers - far too much) and show how quickly the effort, expense, and plans we have involving them can be erased.
Let's face it - the numbers of this are a bit scary in black and white:

You spend $3500 on an old car in need of restoration.
You put in 10 years and who even knows how many more thousands of dollars into it.
You the put this 2500 lb. vehicle, now worth almost 7 times as much as when you bought it, on a road surrounded by many vehicles weighing twice as much at speeds from 0-100+ miles per hour.
In less than one second, it's all nearly destroyed. 

So why bother?
Well, this 914 for example... It's been a great bonding experience with my father since I was a young kid. He himself has known this exact car from the day his high school friend purchased it brand new in 1974 and would go out driving with him in it. I have countless fond memories of road trips to Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. Driving on brisk spring mornings surrounded by blossoming trees, cruising with friends on warm summer nights with the top off and looking up at clear skies and out over the two fenders and popped up headlights. Cool fall days with the heater on high and filling the cabin with a hint of burning oil from the humming and ticking air cooled engine behind. Cold winter afternoons with the whole car up on jack-stands and the engine apart and sitting before me in pieces, and all to make the car better so that we can go back to experiencing the same things mentioned before again in the spring. No matter what has happened to the car now, whether it be written off as a total loss, or it be laboriously repaired again, the memories and history attached to it will always have been worth the effort to me. 
Happy motoring - and be safe.

May 15, 2008

Assorted Diesels

It's summer time and that means it's back work for me at Wolfgang's in Erie. The shop will likely yield a variety of posts in the coming months, but for now, we have these four diesel Benzes. 
The olive green car is a 1976 300 D with no reverse. It was aquired by Wolfgang from a customer who decided to finally stop spending money on the car. It ran when parked. The silver one is a 300 Turbo Diesel with 300,000 miles on the clock - also aquired from a customer who moved out of town and didn't want to take the car with him. It's rough around the edges but is a true testament to the build quality of these cars. The mint green one is also a 300 Turbo Diesel which actually still belongs to a customer, and finally, the beige car is the only 240 D of the bunch.

May 10, 2008


Vulcano is one of the Eolian Islands off of the northern coast of Sicily. One wouldn't think so many old cars would be on such a remote island but here they are..

A Mehari.. these are everywhere and in all conditions, from junkers like this one to perfect ones:

Renault 4.. several of these around as well:

Fiat 500 with a Lambretta scooter:

Fiat 500 that caught fire:

Another Mehari that looks like it's growing out of the ground:

It's engine.. shame all I had was the Peugeot scooter pictured with the burnt 500, had I gone in the Fiat, I probably would have come home with it:

May 7, 2008

Dyane 6.

This three wheeled Dyane 6 is sitting in a parking lot near Milazzo, Sicily. It appears to serve as a parts storage unit. Too bad, old Citroens are rare here and this one isn't as far gone as it seems.

Moto Guzzi.

Want a three wheeled vehicle that can haul around more stuff than an Ape? Here you go, the Moto Guzzi Motocarro. Built in the 60s, it is basically a standard Moto Guzzi motorcycle with a pickup like back and a cab. It came with doors which have been removed on this one. They're rather rare because few were produced.

Due cavale.

I'll let the "owner" tell the story: (translated from Italian)

"When this car came in it was in bad shape. Interestingly enough it's from San Marino. We did a lot of work to it and got it looking good and running even better. When we gave the owner the bill, he said he had no money. Well, why the hell are you bringing me a car to fix if you don't have the money? So we kept it in the shop. Eventually we realized he wasn't going to pay us.. we had the car but no title, he had the title but no car. We needed the space so we parked it here. It's been, ohh.. about 15 years now, we never heard from the guy again. You can take some parts from it if you want."

May 6, 2008

Fiat 600.

This was Fiat's first attempt to counter the VW Kombi. It was based on the 600 so it used its water cooled 4-cylinder engine. Like in the sedan, it was rear mounted. This example is sitting at a shop near Messina, Sicily and is still running despite being a good example of what Ian refers to as "water soluable". Oh and those wheels were pulled off of a Fiat Uno, they're not original.

May 4, 2008

Sleeping Cat

Near Bellefonte, PA this Jaguar XJS HE seems to be in a state of hibernation, parked between a road and a cliff-face near a few other retired vehicles. It's certainly out of place, like finding a fine English tea set on a table that's nothing more than a door laying on cinder blocks. It would appear that it's more or less road worthy and has current registration, though it's unlikely place of residence would indicate that it may have fallen victim to any number of British-Leyland or Lucas Electric related issues somewhat unexpectedly. It hasn't moved recently anyway... Perhaps just another vehicle that will one day be described in an advertisement as having "ran when parked".

The Elusive Italian

Look closely, it's back there behind the Nissan...

For the last couple of months, I've been seeing a 1985 Alfa Romeo GTV6 2.5 running about the State College area and I've been trying like hell to get a good look at it. (I know it's an 85 thanks to the license plate "85 GTV6" ) It's a bit like trying to capture a picture of a Borneo rhinocerous. Every time I see it, I'm always driving and so is it, and either can't get to my camera in time or don't have my camera with me. So, you'll excuse me if this shot from my rear view mirror taken on Atherton St. is the best I can do at the moment. 
This car gets used. It's not a baby for sure. I've seen it in rain, light snow, and sunshine alike and it would appear it could use a good coat of polish on it. As I've said before in other posts, I'm glad these cars gets driven, but I hate to see a notoriously water soluable 1980s Italian car being subjected to central Pennsylvania weather. 

May 1, 2008


If you live in America, chances are you see one of these every day. It probably has 400,000 miles, blown out rear suspension, faded clearcoat, and is followed by a thick cloud of smoke. (If by chance it also has a for sale sign on it, contact me)

So what makes this one special? The diesel W126 was a U.S. market thing only so they were all U.S. spec (headlights/bumpers/etc). I took this photo in Barcelona, Spain. Somebody had it imported from the North American continent. Odd, European cars usually get imported TO America, not from.


This car is a bit of an enigma.. yes, it's as nice as it looks in the photos, possibly even nicer. It has 193,000 kilometers which is barely broken in for one of these, the body is as straight as an arrow, the paint shiny, not a spec of rust to be found, overall it's a great looking car. However, it has it been sitting in the same spot on a Toulon street for about a month and the insurance/registration both expired in 2006.

Note the headlights, the bumpers and the wheels, all of which are different from a U.S. spec model. The first two are due to EPA regulations and the latter is because U.S. consumers would gawk at buying a Mercedes S-Class with steel wheels and hubcaps.