- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

From 1957 to 1960, Fiat manufactured 181,078 Nuova 500 cars in several variations. The diminutive Fiats quickly gained popularity. They were the right cars at the right time for Italy, and more than a few of them found their way to other countries.
One of those little Fiats from Italy was on a collision course in a good way with Jean Pierre Sarfati from Washington two years ago in the south of France, near Italy.
Mr. Sarfati, who grew up in Nice, was visiting family and friends while shopping for antiques to stock his Georgetown shop, L'Atelier Maison et Jardin. A friend told him of an elderly Italian who was selling his 1960 Nuova 500, which he had purchased new.
After locating the owner, Mr. Sarfati was shown a remarkably original, well-maintained Fiat. He took it out for a quick test drive around the streets of Nice one day and purchased it.
The next day, he drove it to the Nice airport, where the car was loaded into a 40-foot cargo container along with the antique furnishings he had acquired.
The container was shipped off to the port of Baltimore while Mr. Sarfati flew home to Washington.
About three weeks later, the ship moored and the container was transferred to a truck, which delivered it to his antique shop at 26th and P streets NW.
"I charged the battery and it started," Mr. Sarfati said as he explained that was all that was required to get it running. "I drove it around the block."
Later that memorable summer day in 2000, Mr. Sarfati drove his cute little car on its nimble 72-inch wheelbase to an Italian cafe in Georgetown, where he was quickly mobbed by Italian waiters and kitchen staff, all wanting a glimpse of their past.
He went into the cafe, leaving the key in the ignition so that everybody who wanted could take the car for a drive. "It must have gone around the block a dozen times," Mr. Sarfati said.
The Fiat had led an easy life, having been driven only 42,000 miles. Mr. Sarfati has added a mere 1,000 in the last two years.
He says his Fiat has been repainted in the original rouge bis, with a black vinyl interior remaining mostly original.
Mr. Sarfati's car has a top composed of vinyl that folds down on a single hinge on each side, inviting open-air motoring.
Approaching the car, Mr. Sarfati said, "Put the top down and let's go."
The 479 cubic-centimeter engine (rounded up to 500 for publicity purposes) is air-cooled, mounted at the rear of the car beneath a hood and perforated by 20 horizontal louvers hinged at the bottom.
An additional 30 vertical louvers above the engine hood and below the rear window assist in cooling the engine.
On highway trips to Tysons Corner or Middleburg, Va., Mr. Sarfati proclaims, "I am brave," because he drives his little car at 60 mph, which is just about wide open, and sometimes a little faster.
Access to the interior of his car is through the suicide doors. Once settled behind the two-spoke steering wheel, the driver sees two stalks springing from the left side of the steering column, one to operate the turn signals and the other for the high beams.
The battery is beneath the rear bench seat and the emergency brake handle is between the front bucket seats.
Also between the bucket seats are two levers: The left one controls the choke, while simply lifting the right lever activates the starter.
Mr. Sarfati reports getting about 60 miles per gallon from the 4 -gallon gasoline tank under the front hood, where it is nestled between the driver's-side fire wall and the spare tire.
"The air conditioner," Mr. Sarfati said, "is my two wing vent windows." "The top," he explains, "is my sun machine."
Jack ports protrude forward of the rear wheels so the entire side of the car can be raised at once. Neither bumper is graced with protective guards.
Inside the cozy interior, there is a handy shelf under the dashboard. At the top of the dash are a pair of defrost vents.
"I've got it all," marvels Mr. Sarfati.


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