'61 Fiat runs errands for the restaurant in Danville and does promoting

Italian Fiat automobiles have an extended history, dating back to the primary Fiat 4 HP in 1899.

Giovanni Agnelli was one among the founding members of the Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, which became known by the acronym FIAT (later stylized as “Fiat”), and which Agnelli headed until his death in 1945. Fiat is Italy's largest automobile manufacturer, and for twenty years until the late Nineteen Eighties it was also Europe's largest automobile manufacturer and the third largest on the earth after General Motors and Ford.

During World War I, Fiat manufactured airplanes, engines, machine guns, trucks and ambulances for the Allies. During World War II, until Mussolini's fall in 1943, Fiat manufactured similar equipment for the Axis powers. In the Nineteen Fifties, Fiat returned to the U.S. market, offering cars like the unique Fiat 500, which were subcompacts by American standards, but in addition very cute and sporty models just like the Fiat 124 Sport Spider.

  • A 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David ...

    A 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David Krumboltz for Bay Area News Group)

  • A 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David ...

    A 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David Krumboltz for Bay Area News Group)

  • The interior of a 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo ...

    The interior of a 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David Krumboltz for Bay Area News Group)

  • A 395 cc two-cylinder engine in a 1961 Fiat 500...

    A 395cc twin-cylinder engine in a 1961 Fiat 500F owned by Angelo Dalo. (David Krumboltz for Bay Area News Group)

Sales were good, accounting for nearly 60% of total production, but Fiat's quality has a slightly dubious repute on this country because of rust and reliability. American automobile enthusiasts used to joke that Fiat stood for “Fix It Again, Tony,” so I used to be surprised to learn that Fiat won many international awards for its vehicles, including nine European Car of the Year awards, greater than some other manufacturer, and that it was rated as having the bottom CO2 emissions of any vehicle sold in Europe.

The featured vehicle on this issue is a 1961 Fiat 500 F owned by Angelo Dalo, a real Italian. You wouldn't imagine it if you see the automobile, but Dalo said the model was sold in Italy as a five-seater (the back seat would must be for 3 fairly young children). He owns two Italian restaurants, Agrodolce in Berkeley (agrodolceberkeley.com) and the newly opened Isola Osteria (isolaosteria.com) in downtown Danville.

Dalo says he paid $10,000 for this little Fiat a few 12 months ago to advertise his business, but in addition to make use of it as a trolley for the restaurants in Danville. Dalo, who was born and raised in Sicily, said this was the form of automobile he learned to drive in, and while we don't see many Fiats like this one here, they're all over the place in Italy. After all, Fiat has sold more cars in Italy than anyone else, in some years greater than 80% of the market.

“It's a 395cc (cubic centimeter) two-cylinder engine with a four-speed manual transmission, and it's all original,” Dalo said. “It was repainted about eight years ago, and the red vinyl interior is brand new.”

His only remaining project is replacing the leaking head gasket – otherwise the automobile is ideal. Dalo is a automobile collector and dealer who has owned about 30 classic cars over his lifetime, but says he definitely prefers Fiats.

“I have five or six of them. One is always being sold and one is always being bought,” he said. “They are tiny, so they are easy to store. They are not worth much, so if they break it is not a big problem.”

There is a big US military base in Sicily and a few US soldiers buy Fiats there and send them home on military ships after their service. Interestingly, the historical lack of success Fiats have had on this country makes them a more priceless collector's automobile today.

The automobile in front of Dalo's restaurant in Berkeley was brought back from Sicily. It was the primary automobile his 80-year-old mother got when she was 14. There are still a whole lot of Fiats in Italy and Sicily, but Dalo says you may now buy these cars more cheaply within the United States.

Have a vehicle of interest? Email Dave at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. For more of his columns or photos of this and other vehicles, visit mercurynews.com/creator/david-krumboltz.

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