One of the unique car shows I've attended was in Malcesine, Italy, on the shore of Lake Garda.
A vehicle that really stood out among all the European cars was a red and white 1958 Corvette. However, when I inquired about its history, the owner wanted no part of chatting with an inquisitive American tourist.
The other memory from that day is of the numerous Fiat Cinquecentos on display, survivors from the almost 4 million built between 1957 and 1975.
Fiat models imported to the United States in that era made Fiat an acronym for "Fix It Again, Tony" or "First In All Troubles." Fiat's reputation for too little reliability and too much rust caused a cessation of its US operations by 1985.
Well, they're back. Fiat formally introduced the US version of the current 500 last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show. That was a day after Chrysler released the list of 130 applicants who have been approved for Fiat dealerships, all of whom also are current Chrysler dealers.
In Massachusetts, that list includes four franchises: Fiat of Norwood (Peter Catanese), Fiat of Peabody (Brian Kelly), Fiat of Worcester (Herb Chambers), and Fiat of Cape Cod (Joe Laham).
"Our whole company is excited," said Kelly, who is making room for both Fiat and Volkswagen (the former North Shore VW) on a site he owns on Route 114 in Danvers, a stretch of road that's been the North Shore's version of The Auto Mile for the past 25 years.
Kelly credits his son, Brian Jr., general manager of Kelly Chrysler Jeep in Lynnfield, the largest volume Jeep dealer in New England for 11 years, for putting the application/proposal together. "We had six people pretty much dedicated to that project for three weeks," said Brian Sr. "We described our plans for the facility, how we'd staff it, our sales philosophy and company history, and we even did some Fiat radio commercials in our 'That's the Kelly Way' style."
One of the reasons Kelly is enthused about the Fiat addition "is because they're only choosing the best of the best dealers. It means we're doing things the right way. The last time I felt this way was when Nissan made us the first Infiniti dealership in the United States in November of 1989. We feel that we're part of something big."
Like most entrepreneurs, Kelly already is looking ahead.
"In 2012, if we're in good standing, we'll have a chance for an Alfa-Romeo franchise. I think that's going to be a good brand, too. You can forget the old jokes. Fiat owns Ferrari and Maserati. Their quality is top shelf."
Chambers is constructing a new showroom adjacent to his Chrysler Jeep Dodge facility on Route 20 in Millbury. Like Kelly, he's hoping it evolves into a future Alfa-Romeo franchise.
Consumers already can visit fiatusa.com and configure a Fiat 500.
There will be three initial versions-the Pop (who thinks of these names?), Sport, and Lounge.
All will be powered by a 1.4-liter "Multiair" inline four-cylinder engine. Even for those of us who are metrically challenged, that's 1400cc as opposed to the 500cc (actually 479cc) in the original Cinquecento.
The Pop comes with six-speed manual transmission, seven standard air bags, air conditioning, comprehensive sound system, power windows, locks, and mirrors, plus cruise control and a trip computer.
The Sport adds a sportier suspension and exhaust, bigger (16-inch) wheels, Bose audio system, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity plus unique front and rear fascias with fog lights and a spoiler.
The Lounge offers a new six-speed automatic transmission, fixed-glass roof, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and a Bose sound system. Pricing will start at $15,500 (plus destination) with (we think) a top limit just over $20,000.
Down the road Kelly expects a convertible, electric version, and a performance 500. Fiat's vision is for boutique-type dealerships.
"They're looking to have an Apple-type concept. You buy the basic product, and then buy all the accessories you want to personalize it, right down to the key fob. Fiat's studies and focus groups say this is what the consumer wants."
Kelly expects to have his first 500 in-house early in December for use as a demo vehicle to be followed by a full shipment in late January or early February, just in time for the Washington's Birthday open houses.
"It may be starting out as a boutique-type approach, but we'll grow the brand," he said, adding, "especially if gas prices go up."
Kelly has one minor concern.
"They're taking the European model and modifying it for American tastes. That means an automatic transmission, special tires and wheels, cup holders and the like. I hope they don't lose the Italian flair."
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee