28 October 2008
The car that changed Italy
The Fiat Panda was introduced to Italy in 1980 and I think it made a profound impact on many of the smaller towns of this country. This vehicle is small, narrow, mechanically simple but has good power; characteristics that are important in medieval hill towns that dot so much of the Italian landscape. The hill towns of Italy are made of stone and were built hundreds of years ago before there was such a thing as a car. This means many streets were only wide enough for horses, mules or pedestrians.
After World War II when Italy began to industrialize and reap the benefits of their labor financially they started to buy cars. Now if these cars could not fit in the towns where they live what use would they be to them. The Panda was small enough that Italians learned how to squeeze them down these narrow medieval streets.
The importance of this became evident to me recently on visiting some southern hill towns. In one of these towns we saw a Panda drive into the historic center and in our rental car figured if they could do it why not us…well our car was too wide and would not fit into the same street the Panda drove up.
In another hill town friends discussed how they can remember less than 50 years ago that the police rode horses, everything was brought into town on the back of mules and there were no cars. Now in this town the police drive a Panda and those who want to drive to their house own a Panda. All other cars are too big and have to be parked on the edges of town.
This model of Panda was replaced with a “new” model in 2004 called by many Nuova Panda but this is bigger and wider, it does not fit down the same streets as the original Panda. Many historic centers of Italian towns are seeing their residents move to the newer, larger and easier to access with a car housing developments on the town outskirts, spreading like an ugly plague.
As the original Pandas begin to disappear from the Italian roadways will these historic hill towns accelerate their decline?