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The Road Less Travelled

The story of a car that epitomises everything we stand for.

When I did the page explaining what we at 427 Motorsports strive for, I neglected to mention a fourth honorary member.

Well, here he is. His car history is rather odd, but he does exactly what we like to see – using cars for their true intention. Exploring, seeing the world, and making memories. We start this story roughly 4 years ago, when he passed his driving test, and we (yes, we.) found our first bout of independence. We all start from somewhere, and you don’t run before you can walk. Take it away, Conor…

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A lot of memories in this car – so much so that it’ll be getting it’s own article in the future.

“My first car was a turquoise 2001 Suzuki Wagon R+ – it had alloys and everything! Maybe that’s what the ‘plus’ means…

The car was originally my grandmothers and I was adamant that i wouldn’t drive it for years, but when it came down to it I was a beggar, not a chooser, and very grateful to be on the road. I drove the Suzuki for two years and put about 40k trouble free miles onto it, before I went to university and left the car behind.

By my third term I was sorely missing vehicular independence and I was going to bring the Suzuki with me, but it had been laid up for six or seven months and they day before I was going to drive it to Cornwall (600 miles) I found it pissing break fluid, not ideal. Straight onto done deal (our local car website) – a five door 2001 Fiat Punto for 700 euros? (Conor’s from the south of Ireland, hence the Euros.) Yeah, why not.

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Despite a shabby exterior, the Punto had been well looked after and really was a pleasure to drive, the only issue I had was when driving at night, the indicator stalk would turn the headlights off and on if wobbled.

I found that out on the M6 in the wee hours of the morning with the lorries after coming off the boat at Holyhead; indicating soon became for special occasions after dark, I’m sure some people thought that I thought I was driving a BMW or something!

By the end of that Summer mum had bought an absolute hen-house of a Shogun. 2001 (again), short wheelbase, 3.2 litre DI-D, we used to say it meant diesel injected diesel, and that was the first and foremost issue with that machine.

A common and expensive (read – uneconomical to fix) fault. But that wasn’t all, we also got chronic chassis rust, a clutch on the way out, a radiator rotting from the inside out, and 1/3 back seats actually bolted in. I loved it.

It sounded like a lorry, rear wheel drive (I doubt it would even have gone into 4×4 but I never bothered), torque for days, you had to pump the accelerator to start it. I attempted to take it on a round Ireland road trip, got most of the way to Cork before it overheated, pulled into a service station, opened the bonnet and watched all the water – yes, water, not coolant – boil away.

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Sometimes you have to experience the rain before you get the rainbow.

I inspected the radiator to find a large piece of cardboard in front of it (God knows), threw a load of water back into it because the damage was long done there anyway, decided the rest of the road trip probably wasn’t a good idea, spent about 20 minutes starting it (diesel pump, or lack thereof), and tramped it the six hour drive back up the road with no problems.

When it started raining I discovered that the five wiper settings each had their own sub setting – that is Japanese luxury! Honestly the most comfortable vehicle I’ve driven, apart from a Discovery 3 I borrowed for a few months.

Anyway, I took the Shogun to Bishop’s Court to watch the AirCooled Drag Day and it died outside Downpatrick (good old fuel pump). It did restart again, but I had a weekend trip to the lake district a few days later and didn’t really fancy having to push a ton of rust through Gretna Green, so back to the Punto it was.

Not that I was too unhappy, it was nice to be low to the ground again, which can’t really be said of the driving position of the car I began looking at before I left for the lakes…”

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The reliability of the Punto must’ve had an effect, because he stuck with Fiat.

“So one day I was driving back from Portadown cinema in my Punto and decided I’d make use of an overtaking lane to get past a lorry. Some of us reading will know the one, after the roundabout. The one place that every single person tries to overtake everyone on the road.

The little 1.2 did it, but it was an altogether sluggish experience. Now, at this point the word Abarth popped into my head – someone had mentioned it a few days before and it had me thinking, might it be nice to go quick for once? It might, I decided.

Coincidentally at this point too my mum was in the process of buying a Fiat 500X, and as such I spent a bit of time milling around the Fiat dealership, in Dungannon. I hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of buying a new car until I got an insurance quote for a base spec 140 horsepower Abarth 595 and found it to be a lot more agreeable than I had imagined.

Not so much as a test drive later I was signing the finance agreement. In fact, the first Abarth I was ever within touching distance of was my own when it was delivered about a week later.”

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“The first shock to the system was the ready availability of speed. Yes, I can hear you all mumbling “warm hatch” and comparing it to the Fiesta ST, which, people seem to forget, is a size class up from the 500. Try comparing it to a Ka Grand Prix – they share a chassis and everything – or would that not be fair?

Anyway, you have to consider my car history; the quickest thing I’d driven before this was a V6 diesel discovery, and the majority of my time on the road had been spent in a 1.3 box which required about 4k revs to keep it at motorway speeds. A 1.4 petrol turbo that does 0-60 in under 8 seconds felt plenty quick – still does more than a year later.

Oh and the sound… a major selling point for me, and lots of Americans whose model doesn’t come with exhaust mufflers. Also, two intercoolers. Two. Seems excessive, but who am I to question the wisdom of our Turin friends?

The European model of course has mufflers and doesn’t sound quite as loud as you see in videos from the US. Of course it still sounds good, especially in the cold. The exclusivity of the Abarth too was an overwhelming feeling when I first got it; it was rare that I’d see another one on the road, it still is really but I feel like they’re becoming more and more common, and why shouldn’t they?

They have an abundance of character and above all they are fun – that is the overarching feeling with this car. That’s what it is for. That’s what it is. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and you can always find someone who thinks it’s a normal Fiat 500 to surprise.”

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Night Moves.

“The very first place I took it was to the Pattison’s where we got the obligatory photograph – thankfully his GTI didn’t give us any trouble to spoil the drive back! (Despite the fact it did on the way to get there car, good ol’ alternator belt for the millionth time).

Then I imagine it was straight up to the ‘Tuke for a proper set of photos, so that I can [and I do] look back and see how clean it was. The first big road trip wasn’t long after; back to university in Cornwall via the Scottish highlands. Limited mileage finance agreement? What’s that?

So the first thousand or so miles included stunning Scottish scenery. We had planned to tour the Isles but we severely overestimated the service frequency of CalMac ferries, not to mention the price. It was all fun and games in the Land Cruiser aged 11 or so with dad paying, not so much when you’re presented with, “next ferry’s Wednesday and that’ll be a hundred quid, please.”

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Expect to see a lot of photos from the ‘Tuke on here.

“Maybe if I wasn’t financing an Abarth I could afford to visit the Isles. In any case, we made it as far north as Oban, a B&B outside of which had served as our island hopping base all those years ago. Now at that point we were the last guests before the lovely old couple running it retired, so that was a no-no as far as accommodation was concerned, not to mention the fact that we arrived in Oban after one in the morning.

Unsurprisingly, we were told where to go by almost every hotel, bar one; agreeable room at agreeable price with agreeable breakfast included – Isn’t that what a road trip is all about? After our (by the time we actually found a hotel) decidedly short nights sleep and aforementioned breakfast, we had a bit of an explore round Oban, which was every bit as charming as I remembered.

Deciding the Isles were a lost cause at this point, we set off south. In an ideal world we’d have zig zagged the North and English Midlands which was something I did in my first motoring year in the Suzuki, but two students on a budget of about nothing? We should be so lucky.

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We pretty much went straight to Northamptonshire where my mum was at the time, spent a couple of days exploring the Midlands there – civil war battlefields and the IWM at Duxford don’t sound like much but that’s what we’re into.

From there it was south again and my first taste of the M25 where we were spat at on a roundabout by a charming fellow in a BMW who’d been holding his horn down for the previous two minutes; There wasn’t enough space on the roundabout when I came through the traffic lights, I ended up blocking his lane a little bit and he was apparently inconsolably angry at the prospect of being a minute or so late while the traffic lights changed. Whatever, London.”

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Similar to a standard Fiat, except nicer in almost every conceivable way.

“What do I like most about the car? Well, the Italian charm probably. I think Fiat did a much better job modernising the original 500 than BMW did with the Mini; the 500 is a much better looking car in my opinion.

It’s nice too, to have a car that looks good after my Wagon R which isn’t winning any awards for aesthetics despite Leo DiCaprio’s best efforts, and my Punto which I believe Vicki Butler Henderson or someone on old Top Gear called ‘attractive’ in the 90s when that shape came out. Personally I really can’t see it, and would have to conclude that the design is quite confused looking, but each to their own. It probably didn’t help that my Punto was so shabby on the outside, either.”

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“I do lots of driving for a broke student. As I mentioned earlier, the first thousand or so miles were spent travelling through Scotland and England. Exploring Cornwall and Devon in the Abarth was and still is an almost daily pursuit.

Early on in the ownership I was the driver for for three other students and their luggage to go to just outside Nottingham for a weekend of apple pressing, sorry to say I helped not. My weekend was spent exploring the area, including the Sherwood forest and I even made the hour journey south to see mum again in Northamptonshire – and I wonder where all the miles go…

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This probably sounds quite mundane to you if you’re from Nottingham, and maybe it is. The car is my companion and goes where I go, but I think that’s the beauty of the British Isles, everywhere you go there is so much history that places can’t help but be interesting.

I really believe one of the best things you could do somewhere new is to grab your camera and an OS explorer map, jump in the car and go. In Britain you never know what you’ll find. I recently drove 5000 miles around the Western US, and, while the people were lovely, I found everywhere to be quite samey, and there isn’t really much history in the area other than Native American.

While we’re on the topic of America, why haven’t they realised chrome wheels aren’t nice yet? I digress.”

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“My most fun trip is probably the initial trip in Scotland when I was really discovering what the car can do, and in such beautiful settings. That being said there is rarely a day when the car doesn’t make me smile. Except of course when it’s guzzling petrol, which it will do if you drive it the way it wants you to.

The small tank makes it seem worse than it is, and it does average about 40 to the gallon which really isn’t too bad all things considered. I really enjoy things like convoying around Ireland with 427 Motorsports or trips to the beach in Cornwall, if you squint sometimes you can imagine it’s Italy in the 50s, until you get into the Sea and freeze your bollocks off…”

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“As for plans for the future with the car, nothing really exciting. I’d like to get stripes made in the original fashion, that say ‘Fiat Abarth’ rather than just abarth. I’d also quite like bigger wheels as the 16’s don’t quite fit the arches but I really like the style of the gunmetal ones that came with it, and they don’t make those in 17. ”

“The Abarth is my daily, ever faithful companion. You’d think then that I’d treat it better and wash it more often…”

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So there you have it, that is how a car should be treated. Whether brand new, or an old classic, cars are made to be driven. You wouldn’t like it if you were left at home and forgotten about while your family goes off and has fun without you, would you?

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