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July 4th 2007

Fiat 500 L Restoration

Story by Lorenzo Marchesini,
Photos by Mario Marchesini.

Scroll down for photo gallery

Copyright Mario Marchesini.

There are still tens of thousands of 500s running in Italy. In Rome the 500 has been the alternative to the scooter, and most of my collegues when I lived and worked in Italy had one.

To find a good one
To find a good one, that is without rust and without bumps in the bodywork is nearly impossible in the large towns of Italy. However there are some, but prices for unrestored, mildly good ones can easily cost up to Euro 4000-5000. The really good ones command higher prices, are usually owned by the family that originally purchased the car (1 owner) and even then not really pristine/concourse!

So what does one do when one wants to have a really nice 500 in one's garage? The easy route is to contact one of the "official" FIAT 500 restorers (Italy and the Netherlands are best bets) or find one in Italy from a first owner or from a serious collector elsewhere in the world.

In our case we went back to Italy and asked around. We found a 500 that had been owned by the same owner from new, a Mr. Sabattini (Budrio, province of Bologna), who once had a shoe shop and who benefited from local fame as he made custom shoes for a selected clientele. Mr. Sabattini had passed away and the yellow 500 Lusso was found with our old friend and car-spotter Mr. Remo Magri, the Lancia dealer in Budrio (Emmeauto, via Martiri Antifascisti 48, 40054 Budrio (BO; tel. +Italy-051-803-171). We had know this gentleman for years, actually from the days of early childhood during which he impeccably maintained our family of Lancias (Ardea, Aurelia, Appia, Flavia and Betas). We briefly inspected the 500 and found out that it needed some body repair work. No problem, as Mr.Magri knew a bodyshop in nearby Miravalle, about three miles up on the road, that could do all the necessary work.

Then find a shop
After having agreed on the price of the yellow 500 and having paid for it, we headed for the bodyshop of Claudio Gurioli (Autocarrozzeria Gurioli & Bonazzi s.n.c, Via Provinciale Superiore 107, 40060, Miravalle Molinella (Bo)). Mr. Gurioli is a middle aged man who proudly showed us during our reconnaissance visit a Lancia Flaminia Berlina that had just been completely overhauled as well as FIAT Abarth 595 Essesse that was under restoration. Impressed by the work that we saw we decided that this was indeed the place where we wanted the tired 500 to be overhauled. Mr. Gurioli assured us that overhauling (actually completely rebuilding) a FIAT 500 was an easy job for him as he had done many (too many to remember) 500s. He agreed even without seeing our car that he would do the job. We left thereafter with a firm handshake and agreed that the 500 would be brought to the bodyshop without engine by Emmeauto later in the week, as we had decided to completely overhaul the engine too. No price was agreed upon for the bodywork that had to be performed. We felt comfortable that Mr. Claudio was the right person.

In the next year we returned twice to the shops of Messrs. Claudio Gurioli and Remo Magri. On our first return first visit we came to know that the engine overhaul was completed and that the body had shown quite some rust when dismantled. Problem areas were the rockers (under the doors), both front fenders and the trunk. We agreed with Mr. Gurioli that money should not be the issue as we desired a "factory new" 500 Lusso by the end of the process.

Let the restoration continue
So Mr. Claudio continued his work based on a minimal commitment fee until at the second visit when the car was completed. We noted at delivery that every single piece of light equipment (front and rear as well as indicators), bumpers (and bolts) and badges were replaced by new ones, as were the cloth sunroof and frame, the floor carpets, and all aluminum parts around the windows, the door handles, and all rubber seals (doors, windows, hood and engine cover). Mr. Claudio also agreed to respray the gas tank and luggage compartment as well as all engine covers, air filter housing etc. The car would be really flawlessly resprayed in its original color with Sikkens paint.

Several months later, at completion he gave us a bill that surprised us by the low figure (a rare event in the car restoration business !!). This bill was fully documented and supported evidence from where he had sourced all the new parts, including prices charged. We definitely felt that the Autocarrozzeria Gurioli & Bonazzi had done a job at a price that could not be matched in terms of money spent per unit of enjoyment by any other shop that we had ever used on any of our other cars (Ferraris, Lancias and Alfa Romeos alike). We concluded that this shop is the most highly recommendable of any shop for body work that we had ever used thus far. That our experience is not unique was confirmed when we talked to other car "aficionados" in the area, and saw the latest project on which Gurioli & Bonazzi is working: a Formula 2 Modus of the early Seventies! We are therefore utmost confident in recommending this bodyshop to any and all of our readers, not only for relatively simple cars such as the FIAT 500 but also for more complex cars!

Final steps
Once the bodywork was completed the car was shipped back to Mr. Magri's Emmeauto where the mechanical overhaul was completed. The completely overhauled engine was installed and it was noted that the overhaul included glassbeading of the carbs and motor mounts and installing of a new exhaust system, replacement of the starter and servicing (where needed replacement) of the suspension parts and brakes. We paid Emmeauto and were for the second time in this restoration process very favorably surprised!

The restoration of the yellow 500 Lusso has shown us that honest artisans and therefore people that work with a passion to preserve even the least expensive classic cars still exist. But what is more, we really appreciated that the whole process took place without previously agreed cost estimates and that the total cost of the restoration was nevertheless a fraction of what we had anticipated. We agreed that we would pick up the car in September/October and drive it from Northern Italy to the Netherlands over secondary roads. In Amsterdam we once again intend to use the services of HUAL to ship the car to Baltimore, and do look forward to drive the 60 miles per gallon 500 in our neighborhood in Virginia, when shopping or running small errands.

Odds and ends
The 500 L was produced from 1968 to 1972, alongside the less costly 500F. The difference between the two models was trim and tires. Both were retired as the company tried to phase out the 500 for the 126. From 1972, alongside the new 126, the 500 was given its last shot; the 500R used the new 126 engine and wheels, making it easy to identify.

Interesting FIAT 500 parts suppliers:
Ricambauto di Fratelli Chiola
Corso Giolitti 1/bis
12057 Neive (CN)
tel/fax: 0173-67311

Via dei Fabbri 1
48011 Alfonsine (RA)
tel 0544-83311
fax 0544-84606

FIAT 500 La Mitica
Autocarrozzeria Marconi A.
Via Colle Arenario 117
64017 Bellante (Teramo)
tel/fax 0861-619-026

Euroitalia di Pignataro Elio
Starda castello di Mirafiori 27
10135 Torino
tel/fax 011-348-9873

Sassuolo (MO)
tel 0536-803-435
fax 0536-806-041

Highly recommended suppliers by means of Internet:

And our favorite..

VeloceToday Fiat 500 stuff

A very good book, "500,600 & Seicento" was reviewed in VeloceToday, and available from Veloce Publishing.

The history of Fiat was also presented in VeloceToday:
Fiat Part I
Fiat Part II
Fiat Part III

Finally, our series of articles on the Fiat 500:
Fortune 500
Art of the 500
Fiat 500 Variations

The 500L featured front bumper overriders and radial tires. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Restorations meant replacing many rust areas, such as the front luggage compartment. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

New signal lights were in order, an exact match with the originals. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Sunroof, and all surrounding trim were replaced. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

A cowl like instument panel with a fuel gauge was new on the 500L. Interior is still a bit shop dusty, but looks brand new. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Ready for installation of completely overhauled 500 engine. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

At Gurioli and Bonazzi, the Lusso was in good hands. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Note the chrome strip along the rain channels, the Fait 124 door handle, door map pockets and improved leatherette seats, all part of the L package. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

The 2 cylinder engine now reunited with the chassis. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Gas tank, spare tire, tool kit installed into the 500. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

The bumper overriders were part of the 500 L luxury package. Copyright Mario Marchesini.

Past Issues


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