Fiat Palio, 10 years old, 92,000 km on the odo, bright 'chattak' orange colour, 1.2-litre thirsty lil’ fire-engine; fuel gauge doesn’t work, brakes are kinda spongy, broken side-view mirrors, no stereo, AC leaks water onto the mats, tyres have virtually no tread on 'em, engine a bit rusty now, clock resets itself automatically and is currently running 12 hours behind schedule (precisely 12... Perfect!), but even today, 10 years from when I bought the car, it’s still a joy to drive. Or rather WAS a joy to drive.
There’s something about driving an old car which makes you feel so much like a Ninja. You know you could run out of fuel at anytime, you know the tyres aren’t very grippy, you know the car’s not very reliable and can stop anywhere, you know the engine’s lost some of its original punch and you need to rev the nuts off the thing to extract any performance from it. But when you step into the car, drive it around and reach your destination without it stopping on you, there’s just an immense amount of satisfaction along with a hint of relief. Towards the end of its life, each drive in the Palio seemed to get more and more exciting.
We got the car when I was thirteen, and mind you this was the top of the line ELX version, complete with unimaginable 'luxuries' like power steering, central locking and electric power windows. The ELX badge has since fallen off and thus its so called 'premium' image has faded away. Obviously, this has got nothing to do with the fact that the paint is now chipping off in places, the wipers have rusted, the Fiat Badges on the bonnet and boot stolen, but that ELX BADGE! That made a world of a difference! This was also the very first car I drove after I turned 18. The steering was a joy, the gearbox meaty, the engine rev happy and personally, I believe that Palio design has aged pretty well. Not the Nuova one they brought out later, but the original one which Sachin vouched for.
Sad then, that just the other day, when I was on my way to 'work', it started coughing and then came to a halt while I was still 10km from fun land. Three hours, several calls to the towing guy and a bottle of Coke later I found myself at a Fiat Service Centre. The technician sent a quote amounting to around forty grand and so we decided it was time for this car to go.
We’ve been through a few ups and downs with the Palio. Driving around was fun, but trips to the service station were a nightmare. And there were quite a few trips, considering we had four burnt clutches in 10 years. I remember this one time we sent the car out for servicing and the guys at Fiat tried returning it to us with a huge crack running down the centre of the windscreen, which they claimed was there when we sent the car to them. They did replace it finally, after a few blows were exchanged, but why make your customers go through the grind in the first place?
That pretty much sums up my experience with the Palio. It was a great drive, just not a very good experience as a whole. Which I guess, sums up Fiat’s position in the Indian market. I've always dreamt of driving and owning a supercar. And this blog here is, I believe, a fitting send off to a car that's super in a totally different way. I know it's no Pagani Zonda, but on a personal level, recounting all the times I've had with this car, how much joy it's given me, the smile it brought to my face every time I sat in it and that orange colour (which I'm convinced Pagani stole from Fiat), it's just so much more....