An Italian first car? Just the job, says Ton Dumans

What’s this? Another guest blogger on PetrolBlog? This time we’ve gone all continental and are delighted to welcome Mr Ton Dumans from Holland. Ton has discovered a couple of things recently. First of all, Ton stumbled across PetrolBlog itself and secondly, Ton tasted PetrolBlog’s official food of choice, the Hobnob. Having successfully passed the gruelling PetrolBlog initiation test, Ton has signed up as a member of the team.

In his first post, Ton takes a look at two cars he helped some non-petrolhead friends source and purchase. Based on the images, we’d say that Ton would make an ideal personal shopper for those looking to buy a first car in Holland. Sadly, the cost of insurance may put these cars out of reach of new drivers in the UK…

Over to you, Ton.

Do you remember buying your first car? Even if it’s decades ago, if you are a petrolhead, chances are you do. Maybe you were very nervous about the purchase, but managed to pick up a decent enough vehicle for your first miles without an instructor by your side. Another possibility would be that you were overly confident and bought a polished wreck. Either way, buying your first car is quite a significant event for a petrolhead.

Now, I’m going to say something that might be hard to swallow. Despite what you and I tend to think, not everyone is a petrolhead. There, I said it. Reputation as car blogger ruined and I haven’t even properly started yet.

Imagine, if you will, a non-petrolhead (NPH) wanting to buy a first car. Before you think dreadful thoughts, luckily not all NPHs go to the nearest Kia dealer to pick up a used Picanto. Some NPHs do want something a bit more stylish than that. And by that, I don’t mean a Picanto with leather and alloys.

Unlike the average petrolhead, the NPH usually doesn’t buy his or her first car shortly after legally being allowed to drive, but rather several years later. As a consequence, they usually have been working for a few years and have a little money in their savings account. Of course, not being a petrolhead, that money cannot be spent entirely on the first car. That leaves the NPH with a budget of around €3,500, (plus or minus €1,000).

Now that we have a budget to work with, we must look at what NPH is looking for in a car. Stylish was already mentioned, but what if the person in question has a weak spot for Italian design and perhaps prefers something that is, even if ever so slightly, exclusive?

This nicely narrows down the hundreds of models to just two. Yes, NPH only has to pick his favourite out of two models. Ferrari is obviously out of reach and Lancia is probably not even on the radar. Alfa Romeo is ruled out because the NPH has heard too many horror stories about oil and rust. That basically leaves one choice. Fiat.

But Fiat has made a lot of different models, I hear you cry. True, but let’s be honest, NPH does not want to be seen in a Panda, Marea Weekend, Seicento or Brava. No, he or she wants something stylish. Time to unveil the options.

In the left corner in blue, the small and very open, Fiat Barchetta. In the right corner wearing yellow, it’s the spiritual sucessor to the Dino, the Fiat Coupé.

Fiat Coupé and Barchetta in Holland on PetrolBlogWhy should the NPH choose the Barchetta? First and foremost, there is the electric aerial, which still works. Which is nice and certainly something close to the heart of PetrolBlog. Something both of these cars share in common is that the exterior paintwork is also used for parts of the interior, making you constantly aware of the brilliant choice of colour you picked. Nice.

When a car is called ‘little boat’ one automatically gets a bit, or perhaps more than a bit, nervous about its handling abilities. However, I was pleasantly surprised by its pretty tight steering, being moderately assisted with more communication with the road than most modern cars. Power is probably enough for a first car, unless your name is Michael Schumacher and you grew up driving formula cars at the age of 12. The 1800cc engine delivers a healthy 130bhp, and revs nicely up to 7000 rpm; not bad for a car weighing in at slightly over a metric ton.

The Barchetta is a true roadster and therefore a strict 2-seater. This particular car was bought with a new soft top and optional hardtop, but despite all these roof options, it isn’t exactly rain proof!

Yellow Fiat Coupé and blue Barchetta in Holland on PetrolBlogWhat pleasantly surprised me about the Barchetta during the Indian Summer last weekend was the fact that it adds a new dimension to motoring – smell. Whether it’s good, (food cooking), or bad, (fresh manure on a farmer’s field), it’s actually quite nice to drive with the top down and smell the world around you. And the world around you is really close in this small boat.

Being a slightly more common sight than the Coupé, the Barchetta is still a relatively uncommon sighting. I have to say that the driving characteristics probably aren’t as good as the mid-engined rear wheel driven MG F. But the F is slightly more expensive, and not Italian. As a final note, it’s worth pointing out that the Barchetta is more reliable than a Mazda MX-5 and a BMW Z3. A point highlighted in Top Gear’s ‘Three Wise Men’ Christmas special.

Leather interior on Fiat CoupéWith the Barchetta being as nice as it is, what’s there to say for the Coupé? First of all, comparing these particular cars, one of the most noticeable differences is the nice leather interior in the Coupé. Whereas the Barchetta has €30-a-piece IKEA dining room chairs as seats, the Coupé’s more closely resemble a comfortable yet supportive leather sofa. The fact that it’s penned by Pininfarina does help its appearance. And then there’s the colour. The paint on this example can brighten up the most depressing winter day. Speaking of which, this particular car is equipped with winter tyres, which isn’t that strange on the 1st of October. What is extremely strange, is a 25˚C temperature on the 1st of October! So no serious driving with massively inappropriate tyres.

The interior is more spacious, and unlike the Barchetta, it comes with a radio that can be heard over road and engine noise. Being waterproof, it’s the more useable car all year around. A nice unmolested Fiat Coupé is pretty rare these days, but still can be found for a decent price.

Fiat Coupé and Fiat Barchetta - a post by Ton DumansThe 2000cc engine produces 140bhp, but as the car is heavier than the Barchetta, performance is pretty similar. All in all, the Coupé is the more sporty car of the two. And there are versions that allow you to enter the Turbo Zone. In fact, the engine in the Coupé is derived from the power plant found in the Lancia Delta Integrale.

Considering the above, I personally think that the Coupé is the more desirable car for the NPH who is looking to use it as his only car throughout the year. That being said, the Barchetta is an excellent choice if, for instance, you have a Toyota Starlet in the household and don’t feel guilt towards the Barchetta if 250 days a year, weather isn’t nice enough to take it out for a spin. Making choices is always tough, even if there are just two options…

See both of these cars and some of Holland’s finest scenery in the short above:

Excellent first post Ton and it’s already got me searching eBay! You can check out Ton’s profile here and follow him on twitter @Tonsty.

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Ton Dumans
Being a huge fan of waffle and HobNobs, Ton felt right at home at PetrolBlog after reading his first post here. The first post he saw was ‘Purple Days: Porsche 968 Sport’, brought to his attention by a fellow Dutch 968 owner. Being a Porsche enthusiast since the early age of 7, Ton then needed another 21 years to realise other car manufacturers weren’t necessarily rubbish. Most are, though. While his job unfortunately isn’t in any way, shape or form related to cars, his spare time and money is mostly being eaten up by anything related to cars, photography or video. Ideally, a combination of all. Since the before mentioned 7 and 21 years add up to Ton’s current age, he is now in the middle of discovering new car brands every day. Who would’ve known the British made cars? Or, perhaps more shockingly, the Italians? Blimey!


  1. October 10, 2011
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Excellent post Ton, really enjoyed it. Unfortunately for NPHs in the UK, or even plain old petrolheads, cars like the Coupe and Barchetta are well out of the reach of new drivers thanks to ludicrous insurance rates!

    Have to agree about the “smell” aspect of driving a convertible – it’s something I never realised until I bought my old MX5. Not just the smell either, but all the extra sounds you hear – not just the engine, but things like conversations of pedestrians, or birdsong. There’s nothing quite like it.

    Might disagree about the Barchetta being more reliable than the MX5 though 😉 I’ve not heard any particular Barchetta horror stories but when they start getting to 200k miles with no issues like old MX5s do then I might reconsider…

    • October 11, 2011

      Hi Antony, thank you for your very kind words, much appreciated.

      Yes, you are right, picking up much more of your surroundings in all possible senses is very nice. Perhaps nicer than just the fact that the occasional sun ray (something UK and Dutch readers share in common) might actually bring some Vitamin E to your body.

      To be honest I have no first hand experience with the MX5. A friend had one, but had to leave it behind in two pieces after a holiday in the UK. Not the car’s fault though. Something with a roundabout and anti-clockwise etc… The Barchetta I drove had ‘just’ 130k kilometers on it, and I doubt the current owner will ever take it up to 200k miles.

  2. October 11, 2011
    David Milloy

    Nice blog, Ton. Liked the video, too. Were you using a GoPro?

    • October 11, 2011

      Hi Duncan. Thanks much, being approved of by Mr. HobNob himself is a big honor to me. And yes, I do use a GoPro HD Hero Motorsport pack for these recordings. If you happen to have any questions or tips, do feel free to ask or share.

      • October 11, 2011
        David Milloy

        The GoPro is a great camera and you’ve used it well – I may well be asking you for some tips. Your still photos are also very good.

  3. June 29, 2015

    Interesting reading Ton. But while I share your enthousiasm on both cars (great value nowadays), I think the comparison between a Barchetta and a MX5 is not really substantiated. I owned both: the barchetta was newer with less miles but needed an new gearbox (a typical weak part) en various other repairs. It looked absolutely lovely but was a bit toylike to drive. It steered nice but too light. The engine was peppy but the sound was nothing special.
    The 1992 MX5 was the thighter car with better handling and a great gearbox. The MX5 is very durable and doesnt need much attention. Rusty sills can easily be replaced. Not a great looker though.
    I am a fan of italian cars so it pained me to admit the MX5 is the (far) better car.

    • June 29, 2015
      Ton Dumans

      Hi Tom. Thanks for taking the time to respond. What can I say? It’s been a while since I wrote the piece and to be honest, at the time I hadn’t driven an MX5 yet. In the mean time I have, driven, not owned, one. Regarding the handling you are absolutely spot on. I just like the looks of the Barchetta better. All the rest seems to be much more composed and in a different league when it comes to the MX5.

      My friend’s Barchetta is still going strong, even though he has had to deal with some rust as well. No gearbox issues though, but it’s still a fairly low mileage car.

      I guess when I wrote the above, I was more thinking about style/looks over performance and durability. In this regard I stick to my words and much prefer the little Barchetta. The MX5 never did much for me in terms of visual appeal. Cracking little cars to drive though!


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