An Italian Motoring Adventure - Part 1

Anything to do with motoring in Italy is a constant source of amusement and adventure. The cars and other vehicles, drivers, roads, traffic and road habits are a holiday in themselves.

After coming unstuck with our originally planned rental car (do not use ever – they will screw you if they ever get the chance) we were lucky enough to hire a Fiat Panda through a local hire car company in Cefalu.

This was a very satisfactory result, as I have a fascination, (bordering on obsession) with the Fiat Panda.

I will try to find the original posts on this topic and post them here, but suffce to say that the humble Panda has a very rich and interesting history.

To illustrate the point, when Alex and Deanne were travelling with us in Sicily, I pointed out a rather old Panda, which proudly announced on the back door, that it had a 1000cc motor.

I mentioned to them that this was, at the time, the new, more powerful 1000cc motor.

Deanne laughed thinking I was joking, but I wasn't. They originally had a 600cc motor, then upgraded up to 750cc, now, 1000cc – say it slowly – motor.

A reason to rejoice!

If you want to see small cars, Italy is the place for small cars and Italians have embraced them with all their renown passion.

This can be seen in a practical sense in many ways.

The sheer number of them is quite obvious, but you only need to scratch the surface a little to reveal a lot more.

If you had car parking space in Australia the size of an Italian car parking space, you would not be able to see any of the lines, once an Australian had parked their car.

The habits of the typical Italian driver serve to maximise (or is that minimise) the dimensions of the vehicles, especially in heavy traffic, where the cars are as closely compacted as is possible, whilst driving at or near the speed limit.

Traffic flow becomes organic with each stream of traffic seamlessly merging with the other with each driver seemingly finding their required route by osmosis.

They appear to leak across a seemingly impregnable line(s) of traffic. When you are in these lines of traffic for the first time, it can be daunting, as a crash or, at the very least, substantial scape, is only millimetres away, and from multiple sources, at any given time.

I am not sure of the heart attack statistics from passengers of vehicles driven by these newbies, but I am sure it would not be insignificant.

But this does introduce a new angle on driving: driving as entertainment, especially if you're not paying for any damage that is going to be caused.

In a more general sense, simply driving down any road for more than, say 90 seconds, will surely throw up instances where the only course of action is to laugh. This is certainly the case for me, as I do not have the ability to be able to pull my hair out.

Multiple cars will be double parked in the most unlikely of locations, drivers of those cars might open their doors just as you are passing by, or perhaps they may simply stop in the middle of the road to let out a passenger. Indeed, sometimes the driver will disembark and rush into a nearby store.

It is standard practice, that if you only going to be away from your car for a short while, say, 15 minutes, you will point the nose of your car into any half size roadside parking space, leaving the remainder of the car sticking out into the traffic. It is optional to have your hazard lights flashing.

I am not certain of the laws behind the speed limits, but I suspect that the signed limits act a some form of base limit.

Each type of truck or car then has an additional number of kilometres per hour they then add on to that limit.

EG our Panda probably had around 30kph added onto the limit, a Piaggio three wheel truck, an additonal 5kph, a Merc, BMW, Audi or other high end Euro model an additional 60kph. High powered motor cycles simply double the speed.

All cars seem to stick to these enhanced limits quite well, whether out on the autostrades or in the villages.

These idiosyncasies of the system only add to the already rich tapestry of Italian life, serving to relieve tension and add enjoyment

Fiat 500s

Believe it or not, both these vehicles are Fiat 500's. It may be possible to park the blue one inside the white one. The blue one is one of the classics from the 60's where as the white one is a current model called the 500L (L for large probably) and is now available in Australia.

A comparison of the two normal sized 500's can be found below.

Piaggio ape 50 panel van

You want a truck that is a tough as you are? A truck that can handle the biggest possible load and is capable of going down a street just over a metre wide? A truck that is available in many configurations?

You want the Piaggio Ape. The eco vehicle of tomorrow (as well as yesterday and today). How does around 3 litres per 100 klms sound?

In this case it is the Piaggio Ape 50 Panel Van. It comes with the added bonus of being able to park sideways in the small Italian car space.

The blurb for the Ape "tipper" (not shown here) advises that it is "available with steering wheel and diesel options."


Oh, you didn't realise that it comes standard with handle bars (as in a bike steering aparatus). I have seen two people squeeze into the front of one of these beaties, but Alex claims to have seen three people inside one. I am not sure I believe him.

By the way, dont think ape as in king kong, but a-pe as in the italian for bee. And just for good measure, you will be interested to know that the Piaggio 3 wheel truck was designed by an aircraft designer, Corradino D'Ascanio, almost 70 years ago and it has kept the same beasic design ever since. Most Apes are now made in India.

And if you were wondering, the 50 in Paiggio Ape 50 referes to a 50cc motor. Try to find a 50cc bottle in your pantry cupboard.

500 vs 500

Even the normal (new) Fiat 500 is a monster compared to the old one.

That upholstery SCREAMS passion.


A very unusualy sight on two counts. No one is parked over the pedestrian crossing and there is enough room in between those two cars to fit either 1) A Piaggio Ape or Smart car or 2) any other car parked for around 15 minutes or so with half the car out in the traffic.

As an aside, this was a very nice Callabrian Ristorante in Cosanza.

Part 2 coming soon...

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