It cost me money straightaway because the Fiat had a manual transmission and I had learnt to drive in an automatic. At that time, though, all you had to do was pay for another five lessons and you could switch to a stick shift. So when I started to drive the little Fiat full-time, the fun really started.
The clutch went within days. The heater was a strange device, which either did not work or jammed on permanently so that after a few minutes' driving you would have to open all the windows. Some crucial mechanical parts were less than perfect, which included vague steering and even more vague brakes. Most of the time I had to pull up the hand-brake to bring the Fiat to a halt. Never mind brake fade, there was paint fade too as the red body got duller by the day. I vividly remember gaskets leaking, oil being everywhere and having to replace them constantly.
It came to a head when I was driving through Sydney one night in torrential rain and the Fiat just stopped dead. This was in the days before mobile phones. The choice was either to trudge through water looking for a phone box, or staying with the car. That was a simple choice: I slept in the Fiat.
Otherwise, it was a very groovy car. Parked outside my house it looked great and made a lovely sporty noise from the exhaust, a very distinctive gargle that all the best Italian cars make.
Basically, the Fiat did what is was intended to do and that was attract girls. Maybe that is why I originally bought it from a girl and later sold it to another. She came and cheerfully collected it from Canberra, but that wasn't the last I heard from her. A few days later she was on the phone complaining that the clutch had gone. Now I'd just had a reconditioned one fitted and the mechanics told me there was six months' life left in it. Maybe they meant to say six weeks.
I only hope that she's not reading this; I can imagine the 124 still being parked outside her house on bricks and her being bitter and twisted about the fact that I lumbered her with the old dear.
Jonathan Coleman presents 'Mixing It' on Channel 5, at 6.30pm on Sundays. He co-presented Russ'n'Jono's 'Breakfast Experience' on Virgin Radio. He was talking to James Ruppert.Reuse content