The glory of the Fiat Panda 100HP | Thank Frankel it's Friday

05th January 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

You drive a lot of cars in this job especially if, as I do, you sit on the jury of a thing called the Car Of The Year award. Basically, it means you have to drive everything, or at least everything with the smallest, slightest, pittance of a possibility of being nominated.


And there was a time when I’d have not only been able to remember all of them but could bore you to tears on the subject of whichever one you so chose. No longer. When I started this job there were few car classes and fewer cars in each class. Now there seem to be millions of both. And frankly a very great deal of them, I’d go so far as to say most, are very, very boring things to drive, and not worthy of occupying any space between my ears at all. So they leave. And the names: in a few weeks I’ll be spending some time in something that calls itself a Honda e:Ny1 and, no, I don’t know why it’s called that either. Imagine having to explain that to a neighbour.

Yet once in a very blue moon I’ll drive something quite fantastic and still forget it. These cars won’t have been discarded in contempt, just fallen down the cracks in the pavement of my mind. One example was another Honda, this time the Integra Type R. A year or two back I was in a pub with an old colleague talking, you’ll not be surprised to know, about cars, when the subject of the Integra came up. And there I was lamenting the fact I’d never driven one, while my chum looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and concern.

‘But you were there!’ he remonstrated, ‘that day at Goodwood. You were there, I remember you.’ And he was right – now I had a place to which a memory could be anchored and it all came back. I had been there, I had driven the Integra and I’d had a ball. What excuse did I have for forgetting it? Only even then it had been more than 20 years and over 2,000 cars ago. Either that or I was losing the plot.


Happily, no further revelations of fabulous but forgotten cars bubbled out of the undiscovered recesses of my mind from that day until, well, about a week ago. We were messing about with some of the family at a relative’s house during the festive break, and after a long and lazy breakfast, someone asked what we should do next. To which the answer was fairly obvious: take the dogs for a walk, work up a thirst and go to the pub. But what car should we take? There were plenty of us there and the choice was embarrassing: everything from a McLaren to a Land Cruiser, an Alpina, a Golf and a… what was this? A Fiat Panda 100HP.

This time I didn’t need prompting. I realised at once that this was a car I’d driven around 15 years ago, departed hooting with laughter and once my story had been written, thought of not one other time until right now.

So that was that decision made, and the one about who’d be driving, at least on the way there…

Sometimes the simplest things are best, most times some might say. So to create the Panda 100HP Fiat simply installed a 1.4-litre engine from a Punto, complete with six-speed gearbox, lowered and stiffened the suspension, fitted fatter tyres, bigger brakes and, so far as the mechanical side of the car was concerned, that was pretty much that. There were new bumpers, the inevitable roof spoiler, some flared arches and so on too, just to help make the car look the part.


This particular example was best described as ‘well used’ with 90,000 miles on the clock, a different tyre at each corner and enough shades of red paint to cover the entire political spectrum of the Labour Party. It had cost my nephew two grand which seemed a bargain before I’d even sat in it.

And then I drove it, four up to the pub, in filthy weather, skipping and splashing through the puddles, trying to control a back end possessing about as much self-discipline as a puppy with a full bladder while various family members giggled and rolled their way around the back. It wasn’t a long journey, nothing of any note happened during it but I know that thanks to it, I’ll never forget the Panda 100HP again.

Sometimes, it’s best to take the worst car at your disposal. Because if the journey is short and the weather crap, I’d rather be in something like that game little Panda with its lightweight, compact dimension, eager chassis and fizzing engine than almost anything else. McLaren included? On that day and in those conditions and as it would otherwise mean leaving half my family behind, you bet.

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