As was customary, within my circle of peers, at eighteen, a boy is
driven to a business associate of the father, who owns an automobile
dealership and allowed to choose his first car. Being that we just
stepped-off of the seventies, muscle cars were still in vogue, most
notably Pontiacs and Camaros, more specifically Trans-Ams and Z-28s.
Having just seen the movie 'American Gigolo', I wanted a European
convertible, not some hunk of steel, so I put the word out among
Late one summer evening I get a call from an enthusiast, who had
a connection with the sole auto dealer in Montreal who dealt in
Italian models Luciani Motors.
That same night, like some cloak and dagger mission, we arrived at
the showroom. After introductions we are lead to an underground storage
facility. As I adjusted my focus, in the back of this large backdrop
of concrete and steel, I see the most beautiful, exotic jewel, a black
Fiat Spider with a tan interior and ragtop. The same color like the
title character in 'American Gigolo'.
FIAT 'Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino' was founded in Turin, Northern
Italy, in the year 1899, at the dawn of the Italian industrialization. Now
the FIAT group is a financial and industrial conglomerate that initially,
also manufactured aircrafts. In the year 1979, the FIAT 124 Spider came
to be known as the Spyder 2000. The 1980 Spyder 2000 came equipped with
a bigger and more powerful engine that provided good acceleration. It had
a wide rectangular mesh grille and a badge on the bonnet. It was a classic,
in the sense of Austin Healeys, and MGB Roadsters of the late sixties. It
had these incredible power bulges over each wheel rim. The aerodynamic body
of the vehicle was designed to minimize drag.
I was in Heaven, an instant bond between man and machine. I turned to
Mr. Luciani and said, "That's the one!"
My dad wasn't happy and so he let it be known it was my responsibility financially, of course. I had to come up with the funds, but I didn't care,
she was worth it.
"I like you Frank so I'll arrange for the car loan to be approved. Just
don't let me down, young man?"
Imagine what that felt like to an eighteen year old? Like, in 1492 when Christopher Columbus first saw land in the horizon.
Two days go by and I get a call from Mr. Luciani's secretary, who says, "Mr.Borsellino, Mr. Luciani wanted to let you know your car is ready."
I must have jumped 3 feet in the air, all the while trying to maintain
civil dialogue with the lady on the other end. "Come in to sign some papers
and you can drive her home."
I got a ride to the lot and went up to the office. Signed some documents,
and got my first set of keys. It was like getting your license for freedom.
You were now allowed to go anywhere, anytime and with anyone, day or night.
I don't think I had ever or since felt such an invigorating feeling of
'The world is your oyster'.
I crossed the lot and I saw her, she had been washed and was a shiny black
beacon amidst a sea of colour. Luciani had many cars in that lot but only
my little black diamond shone. The smile on my face was so pronounced it
was going to slice my cheek - through and through. I stopped and took a
moment to let this exciting event in the life of any young man or woman
to completely envelop me, because I couldn't believe this was my car.
Mr. Luciani says, "Now, son, be very careful. A convertible is not like
a hardtop, if you roll over, you'll get crushed."
As he began to show me the temperature cage, the lever that opens the
bonnet, the hidden key slot for the trunk, etc. I interrupt him and say,
"I don't care, I'll eventually read the manual and figure those things out."
"I understand, son."
"How do I put down the top?"
He went through the motions of reciting the instructions and pointing to
the lever to unhook the ragtop, while I’m settling in comfortably. I turn
the key and . . . voila. The engine came to life and it was like music to
my ears. The purring sound of that little Italian 'macchina' was like Angels
The first stop was a friend who lived across the river. Crossing the
bridge, with the wind in your hair, was very exhilarating. Being on an
open road was a profound liberation of the spirit.
My friend's dad is an avid car collector, mostly antiques though, but
one look at that little gem, and he loved me for the next 25 years. Every
time I went to pick her up, he'd take it for a spin, like he was reliving
his adolescence, while my friend and I sat around the house waiting. She
was half French-Canadian but had the soul of an Italian and so christened
her 'Genevieve', and the name stuck for the next several years.