Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

Fiat is Back

Having agreed to buy a chunk of Chrysler, Italian automaker Fiat now has the opportunity, via Chrysler's dealerships, to reintroduce its cars to the U.S. market. Fiat said arrivederci to America some 25 years ago — and the thought of that nameplate returning is creating some bad flashbacks for people of a certain age. They recall being stranded on the roadside with their dead Fiats, wishing they could curse in Italian. The joke then was that Fiat stood for Fix It Again, Tony.

To be fair, let's just say that Fiats were a little temperamental. They were not without their advantages. The Fiat 128, gearheads insist, was a smartly-designed car that was ahead of its time: a small yet roomy front wheel drive gas sipper with a lots of oomph, thanks to a transverse mounted engine. And Alpha Romeo Spyders were just plain cool, even when they broke down.

Fiat, like Europe, has been through a lot since then. The Italians had their own manufacturing meltdown and restructuring, and the company that finally emerged is producing much better metal. Here are a couple of Fiats you might be driving if the deal actually closes.

With reporting from Joseph R. Szczesny

See pictures of the remains of Detroit.