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Comments & Curiosities: It's 'not your grandfather's Cinquecento'

March 19, 2011|By Peter Buffa

They're back.

No, not poltergeists. It's hard enough to know when they're here, let alone when they're back.

We're talking about the Fiat 500, or as it's called in my family, the Cinquecento — the tiny little Italian car that changed the world. Well, Europe, anyway.

There hasn't been a Fiat dealer in this corner of the universe for many years, but now there is, which is a good thing. Orange Coast Fiat on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa, formerly Orange Coast Jeep, is up and running and reintroducing the sassy little Italian import to a new generation of car lovers.

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If you're looking for a small, safe and totally cool car, Orange Coast Fiat is where you go. It's part of the Orange Coast Auto Group, with Jon Gray at the helm.

Moment please, full disclosure notice: Jon Gray and my daughter, Lisa, were classmates and childhood pals. That's one reason I'm hoping Orange Coast Fiat takes off like a Roman candle. Get it? An Italian car? A Roman candle? It's like a joke. Another reason is that I have a soft spot in my heart for Fiats.

It has to do in part with my grandson, Vince, who aside from being a 2-year-old superstar, is crazy, bonkers, gaga over Pixar's animated film "Cars." One of Vince's faves is the 1959 Cinquecento named Luigi who owns the town's tire store, Casa Della Tires.

My other connection to the Cinquecento was long ago and far away, on my first jaunt to Italy to visit family in 1964, as a fully obnoxious teenager. My uncle had a Cinquecento, which was just about the smallest, coolest thing I had ever seen.

One of my cousins took me for a spin, and when she asked me if I wanted to try it, I said, "Assolutamente!" which is Italian for "Booyah!" There were a number of pertinent details I probably, possibly — OK, definitely — should have told her, but did not.

First, the extent of my driving experience up to that point was talking my brother into letting me drive about 14 feet in an empty parking lot. Second, and somewhat more important, I had no idea how to drive a stick. It did not go well.

My cousin was shouting lots of Italian words I didn't know, but I was totally pumped. Even though she was hitting me, really hard, I fell in love with the Cinquecento then and there. Of course, that was no small club.

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