Motormouth’s Mutterings- The Great Escape!
My dad was in hospital last week- bit of a scare with the ticker but thankfully he is fine now. The sequence of events, however meant that a story that my mother dined out on for years came back to me over the weekend.
Mum was a primary schoolteacher and when I was about 2 and a half, she decided to give her own mother a break and leave me into a Crèche for the first time. She dropped me to the wonderfully named “Mrs Hooley” on her way to school and the story goes that Leo roared and screamed all the way in. At half ten on what we used to call the “little break”, Mum made her way to the office at school and rang the aforementioned Crèche. Mrs Hooley answered the phone and when Mum enquired how I was, she replied “Hold on and I will check”. A few minutes later she came back to the phone and said “He’s gone!” Apparently I had stacked up some books and managed to reach the handle to open the side gate… Mum stretched the con rods on her trusty Fiat 500 and got home post haste, where she found me playing cars with my Nana- not a bother. Being a teacher, she subjected me to some questioning as to how I found my way home. “I knew the way” I said- bear in mind this was about half a mile away, in a housing estate. When she asked me if I met anyone on the way I said “Yes, the binmen!” Did they say anything you? Here is where I fell down a little bit – “Yes- they told me if I kept crossing the road like that I would be killed!”
Anyway, fast forward 40 years (and a bit) and I got a similar call from St Vincents. “Is that Leo Nulty?” Indeed it is, says I. “This is St Vincent’s Hospital here- is your father with you?” Ehh, no, I said, is he not with you? I heard the same words my mother heard all those years ago- “He’s gone!”
Turned out that Dad thought that the doctor saying “You will probably be going home today” meant he should rip off all the cardiac connections, get dressed and head off, just like that! By the time I eventually collected him, there had been three such “misunderstandings”. The other three lads in Dad’s ward (one of whom lives next door to David Sheane in Blainroe by the way- small world!) had nicknamed him Steve McQueen- The Cooler King!
Anyway, moving on… back in the late 60’s Dad, always a Fiat fan, bought himself a brand spanky new Fiat 1100 R. White, with red interior, he collected it from the Fiat dealer in Terenure, trading in his trusty 600. I remember he used to tell us he was horrified when a mechanic squealed the tyres while bringing it round to the forecourt for the salesman to hand over. This was in the days of running cars in for the initial period of ownership, remember. Dad was a bit of an amateur photographer at the time and we have plenty of pictures of the “MZL 9” in various places as a result. At the Hook Lighthouse, in the Phoenix Park, in Rosslare and on Bettystown beach.
So, when a white 1100R appeared on Donedeal recently, I had to go and have a look. I rang a mate of mine, Jason, who is a classic car buff through and through and off we headed to Laois to view the car. The ad described the car as needing a little bit of bodywork but basically sound- but it being a Fiat headed for 50 years old, we were more than a little sceptical as we motored down the N7 driving, aptly enough, a modern Fiat 500! Upon arrival, we were directed to a farm beside the house where the seller’s dad met us and opened up a shed- and there she was. I’ll be honest here, were it not a white 1100 R exactly like dad’s I would have probably walked away there and then. The photos had not shown the true condition of the car. On the bad side, the arches were a touch on the crumbly side and the bottoms of the doors needed a bit of attention. On the plus side, the inner wings were perfect, as was the boot floor and the floors were good when we rolled back the rubber mats. The interior was in great shape, with that unmistakeable Fiat smell (!), two keys and the original handbook and jack were in the car too. Jason discovered a garage crawler though and slid underneath. He emerged with “that” face. Turns out the sills were pretty much gone. Not the worst thing in the world but as he said, more of a restoration than a clean up required. At the asking price it was definitely not worth throwing thousands at, so we thanked the vendor’s father and left.
We stopped on the way home for a cuppa and a chat. Both of us are lifetime Fiat fans and even we could not find justification for making an offer on the car so we parted ways and headed homewards. Typically though, we both had a quick surf later and discovered that the sills were available on that wonderful site for petrol heads, Ebay, priced at a mere €20 each. The following Saturday I was at a conference and towards the end, my attention turned, as it often does, to my trusty iPhone. I scanned the ad again, then returned to the Ebay link, with loads of 1100R parts. A few of us, Jason included, have a Whats App group which we use to group text about all things car related. Unsurprisingly, they all urged to me insult the owner with an offer. I texted the seller, explaining that although it was a nice car, I would have to pay someone to do the work but made him an offer anyway. He replied almost immediately, said he understood but needed a little more. Long story short, before I left the conference I was the proud owner of a Fiat 1100 R…..
The plan is to start work on the car in January and as soon as it is ready, to travel with Dad to the various points he took pictures at and re-enact them, almost 50 years later! (if you’re reading this Dad, Happy Christmas!)
Until the next time,