Fiat Freely by Savio

Car of the Day #68: 1987 Fiat Freely by Savio

Fiat Freely by Savio
Fiat Freely by Savio • via Savio

If I had to sum up a large portion of what ails us, collectively, I’d have to say that it’s simply not profitable enough to do the right thing.

Stick with me, I’ll zip it up and be singing Italian campfire songs in a few paragraphs.

Why hire local workers when you can dropship a crate of widgets from China in half the time and at a quarter of the cost? Why over-invest in the educational, foundational aspects of healthcare when you can push it all on frontline workers to triage us at our worst? Why pass legislation preventing investors from buying up once-affordable housing, when you can be reelected on the promise of building starter homes?

This is not a discussion about morals, it is a story about limiting our potential by competing amongst ourselves for money and resources. Fact is, there isn’t a salaried auto executive who’s closer in wealth to Elon Musk, billionaire, than to me, broke.

Dear auto executives: even with $100 million in the bank you’d still be closer in wealth to me, a penniless but productive middle-aged man, than to Jeff Bezos, a very wealthy sun-kissed, hand-waxed pear.

Why aspire to be more pear-like?

I can appreciate that at some point, maybe from the very beginning of childhood or subconsciously (operating well within society’s guardrails), individuals make choices to accumulate wealth, to “aspire for more”, trusting that once the wealth is accumulated, one’s family will be set up for life, and that they’ll be able to indulge in life’s finer, stranger things…such as the Fiat Freely by Savio.

(Or some other status-driven fantasy that requires three properties, seven cars, and one nasty divorce lawyer in order to achieve lasting fulfillment.)

All this aspiration gives me the sweats because in this system of ours, competition is eternally linked to profits (both personal and corporate) and the drive for more. There is no spreadsheetable reason for companies in 2024 to increase the happiness of customers or reduce their total cost of ownership in a significant way…because society cannot value those things while those in charge are in pursuit of more things.

Who does get to live their happiness with the help of the coolest toys? The middle-wealthy.

That’s right — the rootin’, tootin’, ranch-owning, jet-setting, yacht-loving cadre of Hashtag Blessed who are able to carve out a space for themselves on this planet while indulging in bespoke vehicles. Why not one that transforms between a Fiat Panda 4x4 and a tent; exactly the kind of big brained solution that benefits those with secluded acreages rather than the chronically homeless.

The Fiat Freely is not for the everyperson hoping to usefully load up passengers, drive down the motorway, and swat mosquitos all weekend at a KOA.

It’s for weekends at the vacation home where the weather is just so, the family is arriving tomorrow, and your vineyard-tending neighbor has brought over a case of wine.

Stargazing, inebriated, on the runway-flat rear deck of a coachbuilt Italian toy car? Bello.

Anyway, by the late ’80s, why would major automakers keep investing in ever-better, more affordable small cars, when each was already selling entire lineups derived from best-selling nameplates like Fiesta, 5, and Civic (Ferio)? Job done.

Besides, the Citroën Méhari, Fiat 600 Savio Jungla and similarly open sardine can cars still saturated back lots, construction sites, and recreational landscapes throughout Europe, with their color-impregnated but UV-vulnerable composite bodywork fading in the sun like a modern plastic ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq, or “man's boat”). 

Incidentally, the practical, plastic Citroën Méhari ended production in 1987 — more than 140,000 sold, thankyouverymuch — a fact the Freely’s highly accomplished designer, Paolo Martin (yes, the Paolo Martin) would likely have known when sketching the Freely. 

Like the Méhari, Freely was envisioned as a practical, multifunctional vehicle for the masses, not necessarily as an haute villa buggy. Freely’s windshield, like some versions of the Méhari, folded down to accommodate carrying longer items.

In contrast to the Méhari, the Freely’s steering column folded in order to provide an unobstructed interior space. Also unlike the Méhari, the Freely’s bodywork wasn’t a wholly unique tub made from plastic; it followed the Panda’s structure and components as closely as possible. 

Perhaps from years of sketching Ferrari models, Martin couldn’t help himself from adding highly quotable apostrophe wheels, fashionable colour-keyed bodywork, and the promise of easily replaceable body panels…but this aspect was never really shown or detailed publicly.

Fiat Freely by Savio • via Savio

As a car by Carrozzeria Savio, a coachbuilder most known for its reinterpretation of Rolls-Royce, Lancia, and Fiat models for the well-heeled, I’m not convinced many auto industry decision-makers looked at it and became inspired enough to ask Savio for a quote. Fiesta Savio? Swift Savio? Corolla Savio…?

A shame, because Savio has revisited the theme more than once. Savio worked on the Fiat Albarella, Fiat Savana, Fiat 600 Jungla, and, after the Freely, the firm created its last open body Fiat, this time called “Panda Savio 4x4” and stylistically more relevant to the ’90s but much less clever in function.

The right thing to do, at least from where I’m sitting, is for automakers to embrace smaller, less expensive vehicles that can more easily be repaired by mechanics, modded by tuners, and lived with by you and I. 

If you ever find yourself among the middle-wealthy, I have an alternate pitch in advocating for more affordable cars: without roofs, they can become stylish, mobile, premium, pool cabanas.

Want to invest in a coachbuilding firm to make the Cabanacar happen? Fuck that: over-invest in your favourite independent creators so that it doesn’t happen.

Speaking of: thanks so much to my paid members of this newsletter. 😊


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