Fiatus Fiatus Copyright 2014 JImmy Reina
The Fiat automobile occupies a significant spot in my memory bank.
For most of my life, my Father worked in automobile sales. Like other businesses at the time, auto dealerships were not the big box megastores that we see today, they had a scale that fit the neighborhoods that they were in. If you wanted a television, you went to an appliance store, and you bought your lawnmower at the hardware store.
In the mid 1950s, the European small car trend started, with Volkswagen being the most visible. In St. Louis Mo., there was a midtown dealer that sold a few brands-they also sold the original Vespa scooter.
My Father, ever restless, and usually impetuous, decided to open a Fiat dealership. I am certain there was a backstory, there always was. (Somehow Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was in the picture-look it up), but my grandparents were Italian immigrants, and he tended to gravitate towards things “Eyetalian” (his word, not mine) anyway. If he needed a plumber, he would open the Yellow Pages, scroll down until he found a name that ended in a vowel, and that was how he made his choice.
That cute little Fiat “Cinquecento” that is so trendy right now was our family car, our daily driver. I believe it is the car my mother learned to drive in and used to take her driving test.
“Foreign Cars” seeped into our culture very, very slowly, especially in the conservative Midwest, and it was not yet the right time for a standalone, single product dealership. There weren’t big advertising budgets and splashy product announcements like there are now. Each year, you just saw a few more Renaults, Vauxhalls, and Saabs (we thought they were Finnish, but secretly made in Russia) on the road.
Obviously, the U.S. auto market was going in the opposite direction. Bigger was better, and the 1957, 58, and 59 American cars began a trend that said “Bigger and Better” than just about anybody else.
The Fiat dealership was a financial disaster, it took its toll on our whole family. For years afterward, my Grandfather would spit on any Fiat he saw-his expression of contempt for the symbol my father’s financial problem.
My father was dramatic, had a huge, varied vocabulary, and he loved wordplay and verbal gymnastics. Aside from speaking two languages, he made up quite a few words of his own. He often Latinized words, adding the “-us” suffix, so he referred to this brand as “Fiatus”, and one of his conversational dramatics was to repeat what he just said. I often heard him say “Fiatus Fiatus”, and with this phrase in mind, there could be no other title for this photo.
This one is for you, Pop.