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Homepage. This page: Brushes with the authorities & wildlife, in a compact Fiat Coupe.

Fiat 850 Sport Coupe.

Numerous stories that relate to the ownership of (now) classic or vintage cars, feature in this corner of the site. Here, Dermot - who was living in Australia at the time - relates his encounters with kangaroos, and the authorities, while at the wheel of his pint-sized Fiat 850 Sport Coupe.
Press photo. Press photo of the 850 Sport Coupe from Fiat

Close encounters of the kangaroo kind.

"A lot of miles were eaten up by Fiat 850 Sport Coupe as I was living in Australia at the time, back in the mid seventies. Just popping down the road is a term hardly ever used in that country. On some stretches of highway the tedium of the journey on a flat straight road is punctuated only by the sudden appearance of a six foot high, male, kangaroo jumping over your car, which is what happened to me in Cooma in the Snowy Mountains area. This is obviously more preferable to the same kangaroo colliding with your car, because if you're travelling at 70mph, say, due south, and the animal is maintaining a velocity of about half that in a north west direction, then the laws of physics states the front bumper, headlights and most of the radiator grille will combine with a large chunk of kangaroo, causing the resulting chemical compound to change direction slightly, right through your windscreen.
"Although the speed of the animal and your car are drastically reduced, the overall effect is not conducive to your continuing contentment of your long Australian journey. If it hadn't been for the diminutive height of the Fiat coupe, in a country full of massive utes (pick-up trucks to us Brits), passion wagons (large-engined vans used for surfing and parking backwards at drive-in movies), Chevrolet Ram truck wannabies, and other huge in-your-face four by fours, then I probably would not have survived the encounter. One minute he was there in front of me, and the next minute, or however long it took me to grind the steering wheel to powder with my bare hands and shut my eyes at the same time, he'd gone.

I say, old fruit.

"On a long twelve day trip from Sydney to Cairns and back, I'd no idea that the state border between New South Wales and Queensland would be an issue. Unknown to me, the transport of fruit from south to north was forbidden, and probably going the opposite way also. There were little huts on the side of the highway occupied by a uniformed officer, whose job it was to check for fruit in your car. A barrier was placed across the road to ensure your obedience.
"I slowly drove up to the barrier. The man came out of his office and immediately raised the barrier and waved me through. I wasn't arguing, maybe small Fiat Coupes were exempt today. Maybe small Fiat Coupe owners just didn't eat fruit, so no risk. Queensland has a huge industry in citrus growing, they certainly didn't want Southerners bringing in their horrible pest-infested fruit to spread around the state and wrecking the economy. They were having a tough time enough bending all those bananas for export.
"A few miles further on there was another checkpoint, with the usual notice warning of compliance with current (currant?) fruit export laws, and the dire consequences of anyone attempting to break this law (what are you going to do to me officer? Transport me to South Wales?). However, the barrier this time was up, and there didn't appear to be anyone in the hut, so I drove through slowly, despite the notice of warning. This behaviour was purely based on my previous experience with the fruit department.
"As I went through, there was a sudden shout from an Australian chap who not only appeared out of thin air but had a ruddy complexion caused by his close proximity to a seizure. He was standing next to the barrier and asked me rather impolitely - with a loud voice - to reverse my vehicle to his location, by this time about a dozen yards away. As I stopped and got out, he asked me whether I'd seen the sign. I explained that I had but the last officer waved me through etc etc. When he calmed down ever so slightly, he ordered me to open the boot of the car because he had to check for fruit. I went something like 'But...but...', however he wasn't listening. He stood behind the Fiat, arms folded, body language not good. I decided to comply, thinking to myself that surely the Australians must know what's going on in the Italian motor industry. Great car designers the Italians, always coming up with new ways to package things. I opened the boot to reveal ..... an engine. Yes, the Italians decided many years ago that is where the engine belongs, in the boot. There it was, staring up at the fruit official, who was staring down wondering why an engine would be kept in the boot. Maybe it was a spare engine.
"He looked at me, I looked at him, I set my face in passive mode. I remembered years before being pulled over by a policeman who was really cross with me for driving over a pedestrian crossing whilst a lady was making her way across it. If I hadn't acted in a certain contrite way, full of humility and acting meek, I would have been booked. It worked, I was let off with a warning. I put that same demeanor to work now. He wasn't impressed. "I suppose you think this is funny? Shall we now go to the front of the car and check your 'boot' for fruit?" So we did, no fruit, only eight tins of Castlemaine 4X and my luggage. I doubted very much whether the beer would be forbidden in Queensland. "That wasn't too bad was it? You're clear, off you go, and next time, stop at the barrier".
"I scarpered, but I couldn't help noticing, there was a hint of a smile on his face as he went back to the hut. I'd like to think, to this day, that he did see the funny side of it. For a small engine of 903cc (my car was the Series 2 with front spotlights) the Fiat 850 Sport was quick, I do remember hitting 95mph at least once on a new stretch of highway near Goulburn. I figured because it was a new road the traffic cops hadn't quite got around to patrolling it yet, so it was full throttle time!"
Brochure image. 850 Sport Coupe brochure image
Thanks for sending the write-up over Dermot, all good fun. More stories similar to this can be found in the Your Classic Cars section at oldclassiccar.

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