We've all seen it somewhere at a car show or event in the UK. Tom's 500 is a staple of Cars & Coffee Cheshire and has been a dedicated supporter of our events for years. As you might expect, there's a big story behind that zippy little Italian and a proud owner more than willing to tell us all about it. He's a man of many tales!
The story began back in the 60s when Tom's job was to take standard Fiat 500s, remove the engine and convert to 652cc pocket rockets. Fast-forward to 2012 and after being invited to the 25th birthday of Middle Barton Garage, the seeds of his relationship with the car we all know were sewn. With retirement looming, Tom was in need of a project car to build a replica Abarth 695. A 1972 500L just happened to be sitting in the corner but it wasn't to become Tom's pride and joy, yet! Luckily though, it didn't end up in Switzerland where the then owner was headed.
Even though I found the car in Oxfordshire, it turned out the original owner only lived 25 miles from me in Suffolk.
Tom and his "wee beastie" were clearly destined for a future together!
While the car had some of the essential mechanical bits already fitted for the conversion, little did anybody know about the work to come. This was once he had raced a yacht across The Atlantic of course. We did say Tom has stories to tell. A very nice set of wheels from a Radbourne, lowering springs and adjustable dampers ended up being the first bits fitted. After a dash of frustration with some of it not quite aligning, that Fiat was on its way to being the car we all like to watch and hear. Engine work followed with skimming, porting, upgraded ignition, an upgraded exhaust and his bargain find - a Dellorto FZD carb. Over the next few years, focus switched to rust and other bodywork issues along with the interior. A lot of filler was found! We can't all be good at welding.
Some of the replacement panels are actually from a 126 and adapted to fit.
In 2015, Tom moved up to Chester but the car still had a few problems. What was originally thought to be mis-alignment of the suspension became a complete front-end rebuild. The car had previously been through MOTs but it shows what can be hidden behind a few body panels! Tom began bringing the car to meet us shortly after but continued to tinker at weekends during winter months. He has applied various upgrades over the years including front disc brakes and new gauges. Just as you finish one job, there's often another one around the corner. Tom can take the engine out of that thing with as much ease as Halfords swapping a windscreen wiper so when we heard about a snapped crankshaft, we were not concerned. The car is of course back on the road now but...
I am running the new engine in VERY carefully at the moment (although the weather isn't helping).
With other upgrades such as a gearbox upgrade in the pipeline, we look forward to seeing that little red 'Abarth' again soon, along with our good friend Tom, of course!