One Man and His Fiat 128

The journey of João and his 128 – A lifetime together

Few of us keep our cars a lifetime, for one reason or another – often to have the latest model – we change them up for something else, so we were delighted to hear of João Carlos Carvalho, a Portuguese colleague who has been a passionate member of the FCA workforce since 2016 and Mopar® After Sales manager for Portugal since 2018. A passion undoubtedly sparked and kindled by his yellow FIAT 128, the car that has accompanied him throughout his life.

It all began when I decided to make my way into the world earlier than expected. Given the urgency of the situation, my mother was bundled into an ambulance, but there wasn’t enough room for my father. Unfazed, he hopped on board his Fiat 128 and began following the ambulance from Vila Real, my city, to Porto, where I was born. Driving almost 100 km through the mountains, to give you the whole picture. His car was a FIAT 128 that one of his uncles had bought in 1972. And it was also the very first car I rode in, when I was just a few days old.

In my family we have always and only ever had Italian cars. Starting with my grandfather’s Fiat 600D, followed by the 850, the 127, the 128, the 131 Mirafiori, the Regata, the Tipo, the Uno, the Panda, the Punto, the Lancia Dedra, not forgetting the K and the Delta. All fantastic cars, but for me, none of them even came close to the Fiat 128.

I have often wondered why, out of all the cars we had, I felt so close to her in particular, and two years ago I think I might just have found the answer: I read in a book on marketing that children’s senses are much more powerful and honed that those of adults. The Fiat 128 was the car that my family used to take us on picnics in when we were kids, and she played a starring role in my happiest childhood memories. I think that what struck me most was her unforgettable yellow livery, the strong scent of her interior, the raucous sound of her exhaust and the magical, rough rumble of her 1100 cc engine, designed by the great engineer Aurelio Lampredi.

When I was three years old, my family bought a Fiat Uno 45 and the 128 was gradually left behind in the garage more often. All the better, I thought, because that meant I could play with her. I would sneak into the garage, cunningly slip inside and, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the gear stick, I would imagine I was driving her. Let’s just say that we spent many hours, making countless long trips together!

The Fiat 128 stayed with us until I was 7 years old. The family had grown and now we needed a bigger car.

So, my father sold her to a mechanic who lived nearby. But from that moment on I set myself an objective: I had to bring her back home. I began turning up at the mechanic’s workshop and chatting to him about anything and everything, and I soon became his friend. He would even let me wash her every so often.

But my 128 was only used for heavy jobs, in the fields. “This car is stronger than a truck”, her new owner would say. But she was beginning to find it tough. Then one day, he parked her in the street and never drove her again. Hot summers, cold icy winters… it was torture for me to see her reduced to such a terrible condition. When I turned 18, I returned to the workshop and made her owner an offer, with no idea what to expect. “Go ahead and take her, João – he told me – I don’t need her anymore.” He wouldn’t take a single escudo, but he gladly accepted a demijohn of Port.

The car had been a stationary in the road for two years: she was dirty, rusty and faded. She was full of rubbish and covered in dirt and dust. We changed the battery and poured some petrol straight into the carb to “revive” her, but the engine wouldn’t start. There was nothing for it but to resort to a good old push. Halfway down a hill, my beloved 128 suddenly seemed to come to her senses. It was as if she could hardly believe it herself: the sound of her engine was croakier than usual, but it still worked.

When I got her home, I bumped into my father. At first he was annoyed that I’d brought her back. But then he saw her, or maybe he saw the way I was looking at her. Two minutes later he was helping me to sand down the rust.

It took the workshop quite a few attempts to tackle such an advanced level of corrosion on the bodywork and restore the various parts. And then we moved on to the engine, which had compression leaks. She was cleaned up and serviced, and we tried to retain her original parts as much as possible: this was an essential prerequisite of her restoration.

I still remember the day I went to pick up my yellow 128 from the workshop with my father as if it were yesterday. She was shiner than she had ever been before and, despite all the restoration work, her interiors still had that same scent of yesteryear. My childhood dream had come true.

After just two weeks I “asked” my 128 if she still knew how to run: we set off on a 700 km trip, returning 3 days later. Since then, I have kept a diary, which I update after every trip. In it I’ve noted, for example, that her engine has recovered its sound and power, but also that my yellow 128 is met by smiles, waves and admiring glances wherever we go. The weekend is our special time and the road through the Douro Valley is our favourite route. We try to spend as much time together as possible: some of our most memorable moments have been at classic car parades and meets, but also at the regularity rallies, like the one I took part in with my brother last year.

All the sacrifices, difficulties and time – especially the time – that I’ve dedicated to this adventure, have been an excellent investment. My Fiat 128 is the best travelling companion anyone could wish for and she’s been here, by my side, my whole life long.

Have you had one car you’re whole life? If you have, get in touch we would love to hear about it!

Thanks to Juan and FCA Heritage

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