“… I live back in the woods you see
My woman and the kids and the dogs and me
I got a shotgun, a rifle and a four-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive…”
Hank Williams Jr.
If there’s something life can teach you, it is that sometimes things can change and take an unexpected twist. Can a mule be cherished as much as the King’s horse? Maybe you’ll laugh at an affirmative answer, but just take a look at how the Fiat Panda 4×4 went from being the most utilitarian vehicle to the fancy and chic statement of today’s young collectors.
Perhaps this new-found glory may be a momentary fashion or a whim of today’s Instagram generation, yet the Panda 4×4 is one of those hero-cars that brought Mr.Average anywhere he wanted for a dime or two. Funny how this humble but genius automobile has found a completely different life, 20 years after it was discontinued. As the story goes, the Panda was designed by Giorgietto Giugiaro in just 15 days while on vacation in Sardinia. The goal that was given to him by Fiat’s CEO Carlo De Benedetti was to create a car which was more spacious than the 126, that had to be powered by both the two and four cylinder engines of the Fiat 126 and 127 and could be practical like no other car ever done by Fiat. With seats that could be fully folded, an ample space for both people and cargo and reliable engines, the Panda became an instant hit on the market.
The Panda 4×4 is one of the best utilitarian vehicles ever to be created by Fiat and possibly one of the best there is for its segment. Let’s put things into perspective: it was the first of its kind and eventually it might still be. Introduced in 1983, the 4×4 benefited from the Steyr Puch selectable four-wheel drive system, which is the secret to its go-anywhere status. It was light, practical and went everywhere: people living in rural areas used Panda 4×4’s for years and they still do. Used by anyone from the Army to any family man, it was truly the most utilitarian vehicle available to the general public.
Normally the Maniva pass sees EoW with other kind of exotica, but this time… we went unnoticed. A rare Piste Noire, a special edition for the French market and a 1st generation reststyling example went quietly rumbling past the industrious villages on the way on top of the Pass. No drama, no sporty driving, no apex-hunting… just driving two true 4×4 in the mountains: they still do an impeccable job in being efficient all-terrain cars and you can see why they’re still in use after so much time.
They’re fun to drive as they’re lightweight and the 4×4 system, once engaged, gives you the confidence to go anywhere without trouble. They’re dependable, economical and iconic with their boxy shape which has been part of the landscape of remote areas for years.
In 2022, that stubborn country boy is now a welcome addition in all cocktail bars of fancy city centres. Larus Miani, Automobili Amos, Garage Italia have their own Panda 4×4, making this car a fashion statement, just as the classic Timberland Chukka boot, the Espadrillas or Barbour wax jackets. Things that were born as tools are now perceived as cool and are used for the complete opposite for what they were originally designed for. The Panda sings the “Inno di Mameli ” with its own voice, from the remotest areas of Italy to the world. The Panda 4×4 is the proof that a country boy can survive in this modern world and still be happy: it fits right in without drama, unlike Renato Pozzetto in the iconic 1984 film “Il Ragazzo di Campagna ”.
So, is it right to celebrate this car? Yes and for many reasons: for having been that mule of the working-class-hero that always was unnoticed, beaten, abused but always ready to make a hard day’s work happen, the Panda 4×4 should be cherished. And this car is worth so much more than a stupid instagram post.