The original Fiat Panda enjoyed a remarkably long production run: 23 years. At first glance, it may seem the Panda hardly changed over all those years, but appearances can be deceiving.
1986 was a landmark year in the Panda's run, as the original model was superseded by a substantially redesigned model known as "141A" or "Supernova," although that name was never used commercially.
The rear section of the floorpan was redesigned, as the cart springs of the original gave way to the so-called "Omega axle" for improved comfort and stability: The front suspension and steering components maintained the original layout but were mainly shared with the Autobianchi Y10, presented in 1985. At this point, though, it's worth mentioning that only the front-wheel-drive Pandas received the new rear end, while the 4x4 carried on with its live axle and cart springs until the end of production.
featuring such decadent luxuries as a clock, larger door trims, and even an ashtray for the rear passengers
The body sides were retooled, as the lower section was now completely smooth, without the undulations of the original model, and the rear wheel arches get a gentle flare similar to the front ones. Also new was the hatch door, which no longer hosted the number plate and the plastic bumpers. The doors lost the vent windows, and the front end received Fiat's period "corporate" grille, similar to the one already seen on the previous Panda Supers yet not actually the same component.
The new grille had different air passages, and it was ever so slightly slanted towards the back, with the headlights and indicator lenses modified to match.
Most of the Pandas manufactured after 1986, bar the very earliest and cheapest of the "Supernovas," have these "normal" seats instead of the originals, whose tubular design cleverly allowed for different configurations but, admittedly, had never been very comfortable. The instrument pod on the dash got redesigned with softer lines and a new graphic for the dials.
This 1991 Panda Super was pretty much the top-of-the-range model, featuring such decadent luxuries as a clock, larger door trims, and even an ashtray for the rear passengers. By this point, the most observant of you will have noticed this Panda's steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, given we're filming in Italy.
Well, I think it's fair to say this is no ordinary Panda.
It belongs to my friend Jim Magill, who's become quite famous on the internet as a lover of small Fiats and adventure. Combine the two things and what you get is a very well-traveled Panda, one that's been in places most people wouldn't go even with a Land Cruiser.
Of course, all those miles took their toll, especially on the bodyshell, which is the Panda's real weak point: rust protection or lack thereof.
However, having too many memories with this Panda to let it rust into oblivion, Jim has lovingly restored it, and it certainly is the best 1991 Panda I've seen in a while! And no, it's not for sale, and probably never will be!
everything is unassisted, giving you a degree of involvement that's been engineered out of current small cars
The engine is Fiat's long-lived "FIRE" four-cylinder, but a far newer unit than the carbureted 999cc this car came with, as it's a 1242cc from a 2006 Panda, rated at 60 HP, 15 more than the original and plenty of poke for the classic Giugiaro box. It certainly feels lively from the drivers' seat, more than I expected. I had never driven a classic Panda before, and it's good fun: after all, it's very light, and everything is unassisted, giving you a degree of involvement that's been engineered out of current small cars, for better or worse.
Fiat refreshed the Panda again in 1991, and those later models, so-called "Supernova II," still roam the Italian road network by the thousands... But that's a story for another time!