As Bev has already mentioned we decided to do a run directly to Hamburg to
have all the necessary work completed on the car before TourEuropa from
Kiel to Garlenda commences on the 27th June. Quite a number of people
suggested Torsten Hanenkamp and he quickly replied to my email that he
could fit the Bambino into his schedule.
We arrived at Torsten's new workshop about 0830 and were met by a display
of about 40 FIAT 500 engines neatly arranged on pallets. Strangely,
although Torsten is a FIAT enthusiast and carries tons of spares
(particularly for 500 and 600 models) this is not his main business. He is
a specialist automotive engineer and I was surprised to see engines that I
recognized from Australia. Torsten is world renowned for his crankshaft
and camshaft expertise and there on the bench were crankshafts from
Australian Holden (GM) Commodore V8 Racing teams.
Torsten, assisted by his Italian mechanic, Francesco, and I set to work to
undo all the Russian road damage to the little car. The engine and gearbox
were pulled out (a 10 minute job on a Fiat 500). Francesco removed the welded axle then, after
thoroughly checking and adjusting the combined differential/gearbox unit,
fitted new axles to both sides. The left side was badly worn and would
soon have followed the right side in failure.
Everything we looked at seemed to be added to the list as bent, misaligned
and damaged items were discovered. The front end was particularly bad with
all the new rubber bushes fitted in Australia almost flogged out. The
right front axle unit with the Russian replacement kingpin fitted was
found to be bent and had to be replaced in total. I had become so used to
the car as it was I did not realize it drove like a badly set up
supermarket shopping trolley. It now steers as well as a Formula One
Ferrari – well almost!
I patched the hole in the floor under the driver's seat. It was big enough
to put your fist through and was the result of coming down hard on a large
rock hidden at the bottom of a mud hole on the Vladivostok "Highway".
As you can imagine, Torsten does not accept second best and everything was
measured, checked and tested. No nuts were used a second time and every
bolt removed had new locking nuts fitted. Work continued almost non-stop
from 0830 to 1100 that night. There was a short break while the workshop
was tidied up for the arrival of a classic car magazine journalist then,
after photos and interviews, back to work. Torsten's wife, Natasha, in
between running kids to school and working full-time at her job at the
local Porsche dealer kept up the coffee supply.
Early the next day we began again and had just about finished when a
second group of car magazine journalists and photographers arrived. The 90
minute shoot turned into 5 hours much of it with me in the Bambino and
Natasha in her Gardineira (Bambino station wagon) driving wildly side by
side down narrow tree-lined roadways behind the cameraman standing in the
sun-roof of a Mini taking "action shots".
We finally got away in pouring rain about 6.00pm. I nearly fell over when
I asked Torsten for the bill, expecting that 30 man-hours in a
world-renowned engineering shop would involve many zeros. He said "It is a
great project and I am happy to be involved, consider it my contribution!"
All I can say is that if you want top quality work on ANYTHING from
Bambinos to first-class racing machines by someone who will listen to what
you want and work quickly and accurately you can not go past Torsten
Hanenkamp at IL MOTORE in Hamburg.
There was no wasteful work carried out on the car and as we went over
every nut and bolt Torsten and I discussed its condition and made a
decision based on "Will it get the car another 20,000km on good roads or
not?" There was no thought of doing any sort of restoration or
just-in-case replacement. If it is working and not making strange noises
it stays. Most of the FIAT is still as it originally left Australia and
this tough little car should carry us through OK.
The front tyres are getting worn from the misaligned front end but it was
decided to press on with them all the way to Italy to finish them off and
new tyres would be fitted with new wheels. The wheels are bent beyond
repair by rocks and potholes and although they are a little 'lumpy' on
really smooth road they are safe enough for another 1,500km.
In conclusion, although the car has minor body problems from excessive
abuse it is now probably in better mechanical condition than it was at the
start. We have a few weeks of driving in FIAT country to confirm all the
work that has been done before launching off into the "FIAT Desert" of
North America where Bambino experts and parts are hard to find.
I still think the Bambino is an amazing little car and the FIAT AUSTRALIA
writing across the front and map of the world on the bonnet (hood) creates
constant inquiry about a tiny machine doing something fairly unusual.