A motoring writer’s life: Fiat 131 Mirafiori launch

Tony Bosworth writes about the launch of the Fiat 131 Mirafiori and how two journos mistook a … ah, no, better not spoil it.

I KNEW THESE two blokes back when I was a motoring journalist. They were both called Gerry and they were so old and infirm the press corp not unnaturally nick-named them The Geriatrics. 

Some car companies didn’t invite them on press trips any longer because they were in the advanced stages of dementia and it wasn’t only that sometimes they became a touch forgetful, it was more serious than that. Sometimes they’d forget where they were, sometimes they’d forget who they were and sometimes they’d even forget they were actually driving a car, which of course can be a tad dangerous…

On one infamous occasion we went to Italy to drive a new Fiat. The Geriatrics were invited and as usual they teamed up. If my memory serves me correctly – and it should as I’m not yet ready to join The Geriatrics’ Club – this was the new Fiat Mirafiori, one of the first mass-produced medium-priced cars to have a five-speed manual gearbox as standard.

The Geriatrics, both of whom needed the aid of walking sticks to get about, clambered into the Fiat and eventually found where the ignition key went and eventually fired the engine. Then there was a prolonged period of nothing much happening other than the engine revving hard and then falling again. Eventually one of the PR guys went over and poked his head in the window and asked pleasantly, “Got a problem chaps?”

“I’d say,” huffed Gerry, “can’t seem to get it in gear at all. Seems as if it’s already broken. Can’t say I’m surprised,” he grunted as he once again tried to slip it in gear, “after all, it is Italian.”

“Hmm,” said the PR man, trying his hardest not to laugh, “I think you’ll find you’re trying to change gear with your walking stick. The gearlever’s that one there, the one with Fiat written on the top.”

“Oh yes”, said Gerry, getting all confused, “I see which one you mean now. None too obvious though, is it?” And off they lurched.

Later in the day the news came in. While driving the wrong way up a one-way street (“back in ’44”, said Gerry later that evening, “I took my tank right up that street and nobody said a single bloody word…”) the Gerry who was driving decided it was time to change up from fourth to fifth gear. Taking the Mirafiori to its limit in fourth, he snatched the gearlever (at least it wasn’t his walking stick this time) and with great gusto put it into…first gear.

Apparently, according to an Italian priest who happened to be walking along at the time and saw it all, the car stood on its nose, there was an horrendous noise as the transmission system was stripped out from underneath, cogs and all, and the whole collection of previously happily performing mechanicals was sent skittering up the street. The two Gerrys both smacked their foreheads on the windscreen – of course they weren’t wearing seatbelts – and were admitted to hospital suffering from severe concussion. Not too surprisingly that was the last press trip I ever saw them on.

Who is Tony Bosworth? Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, Tony was a young UK motoring journalist, editor of Which Car? magazine, ex-deputy-editor of What Car? and a regular on TV and radio – he had his own weekly motoring show on London’s LBC for six years. These days Tony’s a best-selling writer of fiction (see his work at TONYBOSWORTH.COM) but he’s agreed to share his experiences of the motoring high-life with Practical Motoring…

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