Restored Fiat 500 Giardiniera Is A Perfect Fit For Monaco
Photography by Romuald Clariond
Toni is a character, the kind of person who’s always smiling and making everyone around him feel the same way. He’s just recently retired, and as a gift to mark the occasion the Princess of Hanover—Caroline, the eldest daughter of Grace Kelly—thought it would be fitting to send the lifelong petrolhead on an unforgettable drive: the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique. Not a bad gift from your old boss, eh? Such as it was, Toni was set to get behind the wheel of a Golf GTI for the vintage regularity race, and he remarked on how simple it all was, saying all he had to do was “show up,” with everything else taken care of, including sharing the support services with another GTI, this one piloted by Sébastien Loeb’s co-driver Daniel Elena.
Though it may be quite obvious, Toni loved every moment the rallye, though he reckons he was “completely unable to maintain the average speed target,” adding a simple and concise explanation as to why: “I just wanted to go full throttle!” He’s had plenty of experience in such areas, and he is always happy to recount these stories from his younger years to “us kids.”
There are some people who know all sorts of things about all sorts of cars but still can’t convey any true passion. Toni, as you can guess I’m sure, is not like these people. He has a wealth of knowledge to draw from, gleaned from study and anecdotes alike, and when he shares moments from his life with cars one immediately comes to recognize the depth of his emotions for machines. For instance, he told me about tuning a Cinquecento with Pierre Casiraghi—who’s a Fiat and Abarth nut himself—and it felt like he was telling me stories of his own children rather than pieces of metal.
Like anyone who’s been a car enthusiast for this long, many of his stories easily segue into the next. So in keeping with that, I’ll get to the topic at hand, which is a different Fiat 500 than the one mentioned a few lines ago.
A few months earlier, Toni took delivery of his masterpiece. Back in the 1970s, his mamma would wheel about in a Fiat 500 Giardiniera—think of it as the stylish Italian alternative to the Mini Traveler that also released in 1960. He looks back on the family Fiat with a nostalgic smile, and he tells me about his mother loading up the olives from their trees to take to the market in two huge baskets—one socked away in the back, and the other perched on the roof racks suspended above the retractable fabric top. Toni’s aunt did the same thing, only she employed a Fiat 600 Multipla for the job instead. He was always drawn to the practicality displayed by the little cars on these trips, and after growing up and owning a handful of standard 500s over the years, he decided it was time to find a Giardiniera of his own. They aren’t nearly as easy to find as the standard 500 though, and it takes some time to track down nice examples today of the extended 500.
After persevering in his search, Toni came across a candidate a few years ago. He described it as a wreck when he purchased it, but it had the right documentation proving its originality and so he parted ways with €500 (an apt price don’t you think?) and became the proud new owner of everyone’s favorite project: an old Italian car in need of work! Three years and many thousands of euros later, the car was completed in December of 2017; the phoenix had risen, so to speak.
Now fully restored and able to be enjoyed for all the charms it has to offer, his Giardiniera also connects him and his wife to their home of Monaco. The colors may have given it away already, but if not, they are the colors of the principality. For a place that’s just about two square kilometers in area, it seemed appropriate to choose a similarly small machine to build in honor of their home. The roof is the most obvious example of this, what with its repeating diamond pattern of red in white in an echo of the coat of arms of the House of Grimaldi. It’s been made of two layers of canvas that the upholsterer had to tailor-make with precise cuts as you’d imagine.
For the front badge the theme is continued, again, it’s a very “local” car: the badge of Automobile Club de Monaco has been used to replace the standard Fiat piece, a nice and subtle touch. All the mechanics have been rebuilt or replaced of course, and when I had a chance to catch up with Toni the odometer had clocked less than a thousand kilometers since the restoration.
Down the stairs of Musée Océanographique de Monaco, tourists stop to take photos as if Toni’s little 500 was part of the tour! Easy mistake to make, I will give them that. It might look like a mascot for Monaco, but it’s for Toni and his wife to enjoy in his retirement. He’ll certainly be running it at full throttle from time to time.