The Case of the Flaming Fiat

When I write another Jake Samson book, I think I’ll give him a 1976 Fiat Spider Roadster.

I’m hoping it won’t be in memoriam.

I don’t know what I’ll do about his ’64 Ford Falcon. When I got tired of his ’53 Bel Air I had some fool steal it and wreck it. Jake is probably tired of his Falcon by now. Not much power or style.

Maybe I’ll have him find his Fiat like I found mine, on Craigslist. For sale very cheap by a group of Fiat enthusiasts operating out of a barn in Petaluma. A beautiful little convertible.  With a new top and tires and two new used front seats. And spare used door panel upholstery.  I’d been on my usual quest for a ’53 Studebaker Starlight Coupe. I had one in college and loved it. It once started after two winters in an unheated garage in Minnesota and carried me safely through a 400-mile blizzard all the way to Chicago. But reality kept getting in the way of that quest. I can no longer afford the wonderful car I paid $200 for in the Sixties.

And there was the Fiat. $1700. Of course it would need work. Thousands  of dollars later, it ran perfectly and was gorgeous on the inside. The outside, not so much. Badly in need of paint. I reupholstered the door panels myself, doing probably permanent damage to my too-damned-old-for-this right shoulder. I ignored the taunts of the fools who said Fiat stood for Fix It Again Tony.  I named her Fifi.

During the months in Bodega Bay I hardly drove it. Too cold out there most of the time for a convertible. And something went awry with its carburetor or possibly its accelerator. So I was eager to get it back to Petaluma. Get it fixed, get it painted, and drive around like I lived in Santa Barbara.

Then there was the move. Which despite the admittedly amateur mover’s estimate, took two days. Pure hell. And on the second day, he delivered the Fiat from Bodega Bay. I saw it coming down the street. Something looked odd.

He screeched to a stop in front of the house and leaped out screaming, “It’s on fire!”

Of course the garden hose hadn’t been unloaded yet. The movers threw open the trunk and  ran back and forth with pans of water until a neighbor showed up with a fire extinguisher. They filled the trunk with foam, and in their panic, dropped the keys in the trunk and closed it. I couldn’t find my spares. But that’s what locksmiths are for, right?

The problem was the muffler, breathing fire up poor Fifi’s back end.  With any luck, a new muffler and a scouring will take care of it. I’m proud of her for not exploding.

I think it she would be a perfect car for Jake.


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