Turning up to your wedding in the right car is one of the few decisions this event demands – from the groom.
As a member of the Classic Car Club in London, the logic was to choose something old, something borrowed and something blue. I had fabulous options to choose from. Only the colour might prove a problem. Should it be a Bentley, a Jaguar or a soft-top Mustang? Or perhaps an elegant Mercedes?
Well I did borrow a Mercedes, but not to deliver my beloved. Instead, I chose a Mercedes estate car for the weekend before the wedding – for the rather more prosaic job of carrying furniture to London.
It did a great job of course. But I have never been a fan of Mercedes – an admirer yes, but not a fan. There is no doubt that that they are built to last. The interior is a mix of thick black leather and shiny wood. Unlike the Alfas I used to love, it has no seductiveness of line, even if it will still be perfect long after the Alfa interior has discoloured, sagged and split. Luisa is amazed by the seat shaped switches for moving her seat any which way. After 5 minutes of fiddling, she can barely see over the windowsills and the rear passenger would have been decidedly short of legroom.
The engine is strong but not exactly musical. Like the whole car, it just works. When I took my Mother shopping, she really liked it – which is not the ultimate endorsement. It felt like the perfect bus – but not right for a wedding.
In the back of the Mercedes, the loading area is huge. It could have accommodated the car I actually chose for the wedding. Clearly this was not a big car… It could not be the current reproduction travesty either which would be far too large. No it was an original Fiat 500, dating from 1972. The pet Italian name is Topolino – little mouse.
This tiny little red toy car is as warm and lovable as the Mercedes is cold and distant. But my goodness me, it needs the charm to make up for the many compromises you have to make in a car so tiny.
We had taken the 199 bus to Lewisham Registry office for the formal ceremony on the Friday. All dressed up, I had
wondered about asking the driver if we could put some ribbon across the front – but thought better of it. The wedding party sat at the front of the top deck and the sun shone. The day went very well and the bus brought all our immediate family back to The Colonnade for lunch in the garden.
On party day, Saturday, morning I set off to the Classic Car Club on my Brompton bike. But even that seemed big compared to the Fiat Cinquecento. Before now, I have put my bike in the boot of the borrowed car. This time, I would have been better advised trying to get the car into my handlebar bag. The windows are small and the car very narrow. The pedals are so tiny I wondered whether to take my shoes off and operate the accelerator with my big toe.
The 500cc twin cylinder engine is not dissimilar to that of an old Citroen 2CV I used to own – except it is frenetic in the proper Italian way. The starter is very quaint – you just pull a lever behind the handbrake. Sat next to it is the choke, which is a vital lever to keep hold of. Without a dab of choke, it stalls at every traffic light. I drove in fear of it flooding.
The ride is bouncy but not appalling, the brakes fair and it runs out of puff by 50. But it doesn’t need to go far this weekend. On the way back I tooted as I saw Luisa carrying back some groceries from the local Tesco. Failing to stop to give her a lift was an error of chivalry that did not go unremarked in Luisa’s wedding speech. The shame of it.
The proper wedding party was on the Saturday afternoon at the Ship & Whale – an old docklands pub in Surrey Quays – just yards from the Thames. Luisa’s godmother Sheila had decorated the car with yellow ribbons.
My daughter Kat had flown in from San Francisco and as she’s now fully engaged in a car culture, I thought I had better drive her round – in the Fiat. We arrived to find my old friend Murrie’s daughter’s string quartet set up and playing. They had transformed the environment from London pub to Bath assembly room.
Luisa had already walked around to the pub to help with the flowers. So she now clambered into the car and we went round the block for a formal arrival of the bride & groom. Her door flew open as we whizzed around the corner – Italian quality at its best.
We returned with a toot on the horn to find our guests lined up out the front. The 500 is so small I was able to reverse it through the iron bollards onto the pavement in front of the pub. This went well enough – although I nearly mowed my Mother down in the process. Thankfully, best man Mick whisked her out the way at the last moment.
The idea was to have the car in the centre of the group photo – but as you can see it was so small it simply disappeared into the crowd.
We poked ourselves out through the sunroof for more photos. Getting out of the car then proved a challenge to decorum in Luisa’s blue silk wedding dress. So we did have something blue.
The Fiat proved quite an attraction outside the pub and battled for attention with the wedding cake made by Luisa’s friend Beryl. I drove it (the car not the cake) home before the prosecco took its toll.
The Fiat went back to the club at 6am on Monday morning. While the car had drawn positive reactions from pedestrians and civilian drivers, I found that white van man saw it as a joke – to be ignored or bullied. But when you think that this tiny car would genuinely seat four, you really have to wonder what progress has been made in comparison with current so-called small cars.
My best man bought me a T-shirt featuring images of the 500 with ‘since 1957’ on the number plates. A great coincidence as that is the year of my birth. This little car is still going strong decades later and I’m hoping that bodes well for my new marriage.