Why the Panda ‘Penguin special’ is just the tip of the iceberg

What has the Fiat Panda 4×4 Antarctica ever done to you? Whilst opinions on Fiat’s special edition – rolled out to celebrate 30 years and 50,000 sales of the brilliant Panda 4×4 – have been divided, some folk have been pretty scathing.

Indeed, our friends over at Car Throttle have called it “embarrassing”, before putting it forward as “the worst special edition ever”. Then – the final nail in the coffin – it is called “a laughing stock”.

Well, with the greatest of respect, that is simply wrong. A penguin is a curious choice for a go-anywhere spirited 4×4, we grant you. But to call it the worst special edition of all time – well that’s unfair.

PetrolBlog immediately thinks back to the likes of the Renault 19 Be Bop, the Peugeot 306 Meridian, the Opel Speedster Scorpions, the Volkswagen Polo Harlequin and the Lancia Beta Hi-Fi as more deserving candidates. Heck, even PetrolBlog’s own Daewoo Musso ‘Special Edition’ is worthy of inclusion.

So whilst a bird that spends most of its time either slipping and sliding about on ice, hunting for fish or – if the films are to be believed – engaged in happy dancing, might be a strange choice, we applaud the Fiat Panda 4×4 Antarctica. It’s got a sense of humour and that’s precisely what the Fiat Panda has always been about. It’s its unwavering character and personality that gives it the edge over many of its competitors.

Fiat Panda 4x4 Antarctica special edition

So if you were thinking about taking the plunge and buying a Fiat Panda 4×4, consider the Antarctica number 11 in our ten reasons to buy a Fiat Panda 4×4 feature. We’ll resist the temptation to offer up a ‘p-p-p-pick up a Panda’ gag.

But the Fiat Panda 4×4 Antarctica got us thinking. To help the Panda 4×4 celebrate 30 years as being the Tuscan hill farmer’s best friend, why don’t we take a look back at some of the best Fiat Panda special editions of all time. If you thought the ‘Penguin Special’ was bizarre, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Fiat Panda Van (1986)

Fiat Panda Van

Is this a contender for the coolest van in human history? It has it all. An authentic Roma number plate. A set of steel wheels. A ladder on the roof. And it’s a bleeding Fiat Panda.

It was a simple affair. Fiat simply removed the rear seats, fitted blanking plates instead of rear windows, and put side-hinged doors where the tailgate would have been. It’s the real Italian Job.

PetrolBloggyness: 8

Fiat Panda Elettra (1990)

Fiat Panda Elettra

Talk about being ahead its time. The Panda Elettra – which sounds like the perfect name for a Bond girl – dates from 1990, and was an all-electric Panda. Like the aforementioned Panda Van, Fiat removed the rear seats. Only this time they put batteries in its place. Power came from a 19bhp (14kW) DC motor, and the top speed was a lowly 43mph.

The problem was the weight – the Elettra weighed a whopping 1,150kg, some 450kg more the standard Panda. As a result, Fiat had to fit stiffer suspension and uprated brakes. It wasn’t a success, but Fiat’s thinking was a full two decades of its time.

PetrolBloggyness: 5

Fiat Panda Italia ’90 (1990)

Fiat Panda Italia 90

Still one of the most desirable Fiat Pandas ever created, if only for those fantastically kitsch football wheel trims. Check out the Ciao mascot on the C-pillar and the seats. The Panda Italia ’90 was of course rolled out to celebrate the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. Remember it? Gazza’s tears, Nessun Dorma and England losing on penalties.

The Fiat Panda Italia ’90 was one of the first cars to feature on PetrolBlog. Four years on, the desire shows no sign of going away. Just look at those wheel trims…

PetrolBloggyness: 9

Fiat Panda Destriero Prototype (1992)

Fiat Panda Destriero Prototype

What do you get if you cross Barbie’s car with the Mini Moke? Why the Fiat Panda Destriero Prototype of course.

It was a one-off. Which is hardly surprising.

PetrolBloggyness: 4

Fiat Panda Sporting (2005)

Fiat Panda Sporting

The Fiat Panda Sporting is a mere aperitif in comparison with the much-loved Panda 100HP, but for some reason it remains ridiculously cool. It was available in either red or black, both of which featured snazzy twin offset racing stripes. There was also a bodykit, featuring revised front and rear bumpers, 14-inch alloy wheels, a roof spoiler and some interior upgrades. Shame it was only a diesel.

But here’s the really curious thing. Apparently there are only SEVEN in the UK. Seven? Surely there’s been some mistake?

Edit: having spoken to the Fiat UK press office, we can now confirm that around 400 Fiat Panda Sportings were registered between 2005 and 2006. Now that’s more like it.

PetrolBloggyness: 8

Fiat Panda Terramare (2006)

Fiat Panda Terramare

Ah, so now we know where the Top Gear boys took their inspiration from. This is the Fiat Panda Terramare, the work of an Italian engineer named Maurizio Zanisi. In what was probably a better job than a ‘Top Gear Special’, Zanisi fitted a floatation belt and a water jet propulsion kit.

The water Panda then travelled from Folkestone to Cap Griz Nez in just six hours. Top effort. Apparently the Panda Terramare underwent sea trials in London’s Battersea Park Lake. Which offers exactly the same conditions as the world’s busiest stretch of water.

Fiat Panda Monster (2006)

Fiat Panda Monster

Wait, what’s this? Pretty young women on PetrolBlog. Whatever next, a celebrity corner and a guest appearance from Rachel Riley?

What have they got to smile about? Well they’re clearly part of the chosen few who were ‘approved’ by Fiat as potential owners for the Panda Monster. It was developed in conjunction with Ducati, with the Monster name derived Monster 695. Truth be told, it wasn’t a looker. So you’re much better off looking at the ladies…

PetrolBloggyness: 4

Fiat Panda Alessi (2004)

Fiat Panda Alessi

The Fiat Panda Alessi was the official car of the Ideal Home Exhibition and is no stranger to us here at PetrolBlog, featuring it, as we did, last year.

We still adore its two-tone paintwork and hubcaps. The coolest Fiat Panda special edition ever made? It’s right up there.

PetrolBloggyness: 9

Fiat Panda 100HP (2006-2010)

Fiat Panda 100HP

Technically this wasn’t a special edition at all, but so blinking awesome is the Panda 100HP, we had to give it a mention here.

It’s amazing just how special these things look. If PetrolBlog were to disband the fleet and opt for one single car, the Fiat Panda 100HP would be very close to the top of the list. Awesome little car.

PetrolBloggyness: 9

Fiat Panda Special Series 360 (2007)

Fiat Panda Special Series 360

The Fiat Panda Special Series 360 was a special edition. No really, it was. It’s just that it was one of those lukewarm, must-try-harder, marketing-led specials.

But you did get a sticker.

PetrolBloggyness: 2

Fiat Panda Aria Concept Car (2007)

Fiat Panda Aria Concept Car

Well wasn’t this quite the pioneer. It may have been a 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show concept special, but its two-cylinder engine with start-stop technology was a glimpse into Fiat’s future.

Almost everything about the Fiat Panda Aria was designed to be as ec0-friendly as possible, with all parts made from either recycled or recyclable materials. The seats were upholstered in a combination of cotton and linen, and then stuffed with coconut fibre. The body panels – whilst looking stock – were made from eco-resin and treated with opaque paint.

The 800cc, 80bhp engine could run on either standard petrol or methane-hydrogren. Clever little thing.

PetrolBloggyness: 6

Fiat Panda Mamy (2008)

Fiat Panda Mamy

Oh God help us. It won’t surprise you to learn that the Fiat Panda Mamy was targeted exclusively at women. Get this for a list of women-friendly accessories. And no we’re not making this up…

A second rearview mirror for keeping an eye on the kids, bag hooks in the boot, front seat covers with pockets, washable upholstery, a high-grip mat in the boot and ISOFIX points. Available in feminine aubergine, orange, black or grey, the Mamy cost £8,200. We’d like to think the ads begun with the strapline, ‘women know your place’.

PetrolBloggyness: 1

Fiat Panda 4×4 Cross (2008)

Fiat Panda Cross

If the standard MK2 Fiat Panda 4×4 wasn’t rugged enough for you, Fiat would offer you the Cross version. With an increased ride height, 15-inch alloys, heavily revised front and rear lighting arrangements and a two-tone paint job, the Panda Cross looked every inch the Panda for the apocalypse. Or one set up for life as a ‘lucha libra’ wrestler.

PetrolBloggyness: 6

Fiat Panda 4×4 Rossignol (2008)

Fiat Panda 4x4 Rossignol

MK2 Fiat Panda 4x4s don’t come more appealing than the Rossignol from 2008. Only 200 units were built in conjunction with French ski equipment company, Rossignol.

Each car came with a set of Bandit B78 skis, Axium 120 bindings and a magnetic carry rack. Which might mean something to some of our readers. Just one thing – if the Panda Rossignol came with some Bandits, why didn’t Fiat call it the ‘Pandit’?

PetrolBloggyness: 8

Fiat Panda 4×4 Antarctica (2013)

Fiat Panda 4x4 Antarctica rear

And so we come to the present day, and end with the all-new Fiat Panda 4×4 Antarctica. A fitting tribute to a 4×4 icon and a piece of Italian heritage? Perhaps not, but it is a bit of fun.

The Antarctica is only available in white with a black roof, giving it that authentic penguin look. Only 300 will be built and each one is priced at £14,895. They like to be fed with fish and will occasionally poo on your garage floor. The audio equipment is also pre-loaded with Pingu’s greatest hits, including Eskimo Disco and Pingu Boogaloo.

The worst special edition ever made? Not a bit of it. But we can’t help but think a more fitting 30th anniversary edition would have been the Fiat Panda 4×4 Tuscan Farmer edition. In Tuscan Green, of course.

All images © Fiat.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

9 comments

  1. February 3, 2014
    Ant

    Glad to see the 100HP made the list 😉

    The Aria appeals too though. Pity Fiat got in there too late to drop the twin-cylinder in that generation of Panda – I still haven’t really come around to the looks of the current model.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      The 100HP had to be included!

      It’s an itch that still needs to be scratched…

      Do you miss yours?

      Reply
      • February 3, 2014
        Ant

        I’m not sure. There will come a day some time in the future where I’ll probably yearn for another, but there are far too many cars I want to own to be too hung up on one I’ve already owned.

        There have been times over the past few years where I’ve regretted selling it though. In the right frame of mind it’s fantastic fun but taking off the rose-tinted specs the ride quality did drive me barmy and the interior was a bit gloomy.

        Reply
  2. February 3, 2014
    Aaron Short

    Ah, I had a 306 meridan.
    Terrible name for a model, terrible looking badges too (one took some of the paint with it when I removed them!) cracking car though.
    Car Throttles writing quality seems to vary heavily, but I see their point on the Fiat, I personally think its brilliantly quirky and adds character to the now bloated panda.
    But consumers these days don’t like ‘quirky’ anymore. They all want white cars with a premium badge and ‘m’, ‘r’, ‘amg’, ‘limited edition’ or ‘s-line’ dotted all over it to show how rich they are (making the the finance company…)to hell with character, driving experience or even actual aesthetics.

    A sad casualty of our generations increasing reliance on self-image.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Nowt wrong with the Peugeot 306. But like Renault of the time, Peugeot did offer some decidedly dodgy special editions! Wasn’t the Meridian logo essentially this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/c/c2/Meridian_Broadcasting_logo.png/150px-Meridian_Broadcasting_logo.png

      Your comment regarding ‘quirky’ is spot on. Character seems to be a lost art.

      The Panda has never taken itself too seriously. And I’m guessing most owners are the same.

      Reply
      • February 3, 2014
        Aaron Short

        I hope to have another 306 in May, bit quicker than a 1.4 this time though!

        The badge looked like this [img]http://i.ebayimg.com/t/Genuine-Peugeot-306-Meridian-Badge-Decal-A5377-/00/s/MTIwMFgxNjAw/$T2eC16VHJH8E9qSEWJTVBP8cCFIRt!~~60_35.JPG[img] Looks awful but still better than the older one you posted!

        Always thought panda owners were similar people to its most famous owner, James May. And while my dad (who doesn’t care about his image) likes them, my mum whos very self concious (and bit of a snob!) says its awful and would pay the premium for a 500!

        Reply
  3. February 3, 2014
    BenD

    What a fantastic line up. That’s why I love Fiat. A Sporting for me and a Mamy for my better half for a ‘his and hers’ line up??

    Reply
  4. February 3, 2014
    rotation

    I love the Italia ’90 one. Second best wheeltrims ever, after this:
    http://tinyurl.com/pmtfeyq

    Reply
  5. February 24, 2014
    Kenny Carwash

    I’d be interested to learn a little more about the history of the Destriero Prototype. Presumably it was some kind of publicity collaboration with the Aga Khan’s assualt on the Blue Riband in 1992.

    The boat in the background is his ‘super yacht’, the Destriero, which smashed the record for a transatlantic crossing without refuelling. Sadly for old Aga, the Blue Riband is only awarded to commercial passenger vessels and the awarding committee took issue with Destriero being little more than a giant floating fuel tank for its three monstrously powerful gas turbines.

    Still, its astonishing average speed of 53 knots for the entire crossing still stands today and may not be beaten for a long time. It’s hard to imagine anyone being both sufficiently wealthy and mad to fritter away so much money on a boat with literally no other practical use. Poor Destriero spent the next 17 years rotting away in Portsmouth shipyard, I don’t even know if she sailed again.

    Presumably Fiat’s involvement was part of the publicity drive for the whole thing and they knocked up the Destriero Prototype for the crew to zip around in while they were preparing for the challenge.

    Reply

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