Journey of a Grand Old Lady
My restoration journey of what could be described as an “Elegant Old Lady” began on 21 March 1998 when from my remote location in Brisbane I bought, over the phone, one Fiat 1400 Cabriolet in as-is condition via an auction in Adelaide.
Following my successful bid the car was shipped to my address at Albany Creek where it remained parked and under protective covers for 14 years. In January 2012 the car was again uncovered, and so began a ten-year journey of dismantling, repairing, replacing, restoring and reassembling.
The car had been built in 1950 and according to some reports was one of seven cars imported into Australia with the aim of evaluating its viability in the local market, where its sibling, the Fiat 1400 sedan, was already on sale. It is said that the cabriolet first appeared at the 1951 Adelaide Motor Show. It appears that my car was sold at the motor show to Geoffrey Dutton, a South Australian farmer on a property known as “Kardjna”. The car appears to have changed hands two or three times, and it was last sold to Alan “Butt” Whibley. The car apparently spent its entire life in South Australia until its move to Queensland in 1998. The original SA number plates and its last 1961 registration label seem to confirm this. The car is said to have travelled to Alice Springs and possibly even to Darwin. Its speedometer registered 72,188 miles. The condition of the car, with the bush repairs carried out on it, point to a hard life for a car never designed for the Australian outback, where the only highways were corrugated dirt roads.
Mr Whibley seems to have bought the car before 1961, and on 30 November that year deregistered it and stored it in a farm shed pending an eventual restoration which sadly never eventuated. His grandson, Bradley Paton, later inherited the property and its contents but was not interested in the huge array of items which had been collected. Consequently everything was offered for sale by auction on 21 March 1998 in Adelaide, one of 1,362 lots.
The car was relatively rust-free, quite complete and still covered in the original lead paint. From a restoration point of view, the project was as ideal as one could wish for.