Humble Fiat Panda is the one-off Italian classic you want

Forget a coachbuilt Ferrari — this is the one-off Italian classic you want

Generally speaking, when you hear or read the words ‘coachbuilt Italian classic’ your mind will turn instantly to Ferrari. Maybe Maserati, or if you’re a proper petrolhead, Alfa Romeo, but largely Ferrari. Indeed, the Italian supercar maker has made both a reputation and a fortune in recent years by making tiny handfuls of specially-made cars, sold only to those that Ferrari feels are worthy.

Such a one-off, or at least few-off, Ferrari would cost you many millions of Euro. There is, thankfully, a rather more affordable option. A humble Fiat Panda.

Except the Panda is not so humble, really. After all, it was originally designed by the great Giorgetto Guigiaro, who also styled the Lotus Esprit, the Maserati Bora, and the BMW M1. While it was absolutely designed to be cheap and rugged transport (flat glass, simple cabin, small engine) the Panda, especially the four-wheel drive version, has gone on to be a desirable classic, and is often to be found in the same stable as many rare supercars. Well, you can’t go to the shops for milk in a Ferrari GTO if it’s raining…

This particular Panda — called the Piccolo Lusso — has been given the restomod treatment by Dutch coachbuilder Niels Van Der Roji. Van Der Roji is no stranger to hyper-expensive one-offs, having created a V12-engined tribute to the 1960s Ferrari ‘Breadvan’ GTO racing car, as well as a two-door Range Rover coupe, a car which Land Rover almost — but didn’t quite — manage to build itself.

The one-off Fiat Panda resotred and rebuilt by Dutch coachbuilder Niels Van Der Roji

This Panda is the desirable four-wheel drive version, with its off-roading mechanical bits made by Austrian company Steyr-Puch, who also built Mercedes’ G-Wagen.

On the outside, Van Der Roji, collaborating with classic car dealer Kaeve Cars, has painted the Panda Azzuro Blue, and modernised some of the exterior lighting so that the lenses are white, rather than coloured orange around the indicators.

The wheels are, thankfully, not some 22-inch alloy monstrosities, but simple steel wheels, painted in the same shade as the body with white highlights. The once-grey bumpers have also been finished in the same metallic blue as the rest of the body.

The car’s original interior was judged beyond saving, so Van Der Roji has entirely restored that, and added swathes of soft brown leather upholstery. The seats get leather sides, but the centres have a soft white cloth finish, with square stitching in homage to the Panda’s box-like body shape.

The simple, un-upholstered doors mean that there’s body colour on the inside too, although the centre door-cards have been finished in the same leather-and-cloth as the seats. In the centre of the dash is the Panda 4x4′s classic ‘inclinometer’ which shows you how far the car is leaning over when the terrain gets properly tough… The Sisley logo — the canoe badge of the Italian clothing company — is stitched into the headrests and steering wheel, thanks to Fiat’s original tie-up with the brand which created the special edition Panda Sisley.

In the back, you’ll find the Panda’s most decadent touch — a boot floor lined with teak decking, just like a luxury yacht. It’s polished to a gorgeous shine.

The Panda keeps its original 1.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which develops a tiny 49hp, and which drives all four wheels. The gearing in the manual gearbox has been kept very low in first, so as to aid off-road driving, while the engine is so compact that the car’s spare wheel actually lives under the bonnet.

Normally, any one-off restomod like this would come with, at minimum, a six-figure price tag but this gorgeous little slice of Italian automotive history can be yours for just €30,000. At that price, you can safely expect that Van Der Roji might be commissioned to make a few more of these…

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring