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My Fiat collection

But the 62-year-old Sicilian-born semi-retired school principal says his parents drove an FJ Holden and when he went to buy his first car salesmen tried to sell him something else. He immigrated to Australia at the age of 10 in 1957 and grew up in an Italian environment in the wine growing region of Stanthorpe.

"But Italians never drove Italian cars," he says. "They drove local cars, mainly Valiants because of all the chrome and the big fins. They wanted to be seen; to be noticed."

For Impellizzeri, it was love at first sight when he clapped eyes on a brand-new 1969 Fiat 8590 Coupe. "It was red and sporty. It was different and I fell in love," he says. "Everyone was trying to sell me a Mini or a Torana but this was different." He paid $2350 and kept it three years.

"The baby came along and it got too small, so I traded it in for a second-hand 1969 125 sedan," he says. "At the time I appreciated the engineering in Fiats. They were way ahead of their time. They had four and five-speed gearboxes, four-wheel discs and belt-driven twin overhead cams. You couldn't get these things even as an option on anything else."

He joined the Fiat Car Club of Australia in 1970 and attended several motorkhanas in Dubbo, driving the 850 down on Saturday, competing on Sunday, celebrating Sunday night and driving home on Monday. "We had a heap of fun in it."

He kept the coupe five years and traded up to a 1974 132 GLS for $3000. He still owns it and drives it every day. "It's survived the test of time," he says. "It's so underrated. It's got 700,000km on it and you wouldn't keep a car that long if it broke down all the time."

Around this time, he also bought his first Fiat restoration project, a 1950 Topolino (little mouse) 500C for which he paid just $50. "It was being used as a chook pen but the car was complete," he says. "The tyres were flat and it had grass grown all around it, but we pulled it out, took it home, cleaned and washed it, replaced the plugs, got the water out of one cylinder, put a battery in it and away it went. And it's still going."

He has restored it twice and is considering another, more complete, restoration. "The first restoration was when I was young so it wasn't stripped properly in the first place and it was done on a budget." The car was deregistered in 1978 and got a more thorough restoration in 1984. In 1990, he paid $5500 for a left-hand-drive 1971 124BS Spider Sport which had been imported from the US. "It was pathetic," he says. "The engine was falling out of it because the cross member had come loose. But there wasn't a skerrick of rust on it."

Impellizzeri admits that rust was a problem with most Italian cars. "They say they were treated, but if they were it wasn't worth talking about," he says. "Some say the fault was cheap Russian steel. Either way the cars we got here were all rusted. I always take off the door and interior trim and treat them with my own concoction of Killrust and fisholene. At first it smells but that's short lived. You can always spray a bit of your wife's perfume on it."

Impellizzeri has spent about $15,000 bringing the Spider back to concours standard over about eight years. "You can hop in it and drive it anywhere," he says. "But the Topolino was never made for 100km/h, so I don't drive it on the open road as it struggles to keep up."

His next project is a 1950s Fiat 1400 cabrio which he bought at auction in Adelaide for an undisclosed sum. "They were never sold in Australia. Only seven were imported and only two remain," he says. "When I found out how rare it was, I became interested."

When he begins restoration, most of the parts will probably be found somewhere in his shed which is packed to the rafters with everything a Fiat owner would ever need. There are boxes of engine gaskets, nuts and bolts, locks and latches, horn buttons, alternator brushes, window regulators, even windscreens. "You name it, it's here," he says.

So much so that even garages contact him for help and parts. Around the back of the shed are several 131 and 124 wrecks used for parts. His son, Danny, also owns some Fiats, including a 124 that he races with his father as head mechanic. The pair hope to run it in the Cootha Classic hillclimb at Mt Coot-tha on May 28-29. The event features more than 250 cars and about 50 motorcycles from the 1920s to today in timed sprints around a 1450m track up and down Sir Samuel Griffith Drive with seven corners and chicanes. Racing starts at 8.30am. Entry is $20 a day, $15 for concession, $30 for a two-day pass and $5 for parking in the J.C. Slaughter Falls carpark.

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