While Disneyland claims to be “The Happiest Place on Earth,” some would argue that once a year, that honor should go to Pacific Grove, California, where the Little Car Show is held.
Held for the 11th time this year, the Little Car Show has become something of a mainstay for Monterey Car Week. But instead of big horsepower or exotic rarity, these cars are the small fries of the collector car world.
“They’re just fun, simple little things, and a lot of them are overlooked,” said Dan Wilson of Carmel Valley, who drove his 1957 Morris Minor 1000 sedan to display at the show.
The British stalwart that once was ubiquitous on the streets of the UK, the Minor is powered by a diminutive 4-cylinder measuring less than 1 liter. Even so, Wilson says, the car gets you where you’re going.
“It made it up Carmel Hill at 35 mph in third gear, no problem,” he said.
The rules of the Little Car Show are as simple as the vehicles it attracts. Basically, an entry must be a motor vehicle – preferably vintage – with an engine displacement of less than 1,601cc. This includes a wide array of little cars mostly from Italy, England and Germany, ranging from little sports cars such as MGs, of which there were many at the show, to minuscule cars that were once cheap to buy and operate by common people.
As British car fans know, the Minor was replaced by the innovative Mini, which was well-represented in Pacific Grove. Other little car sightings included Fiats of Italy, VWs and Porsches from Germany, and the odd but appealing Citroen 2CV from France.
A special treat was the sighting of a trim Autobianchi Bianchina convertible from Italy, as well as a few tasty pre-war examples of little cars from such makers as American Bantam.
The Fiat 500 was to Italy what the Volkswagen Beetle was to Germany, a people’s car of shrunken proportions yet very stylish, in the Italian fashion. While Beetles, Minis and Fiat 500s have been reborn in modern form, the originals were quite a bit simpler and smaller.
Paul Aliotti, the owner of a popular Italian restaurant in Pacific Grove, brought along his pride and joy, a 1971 Fiat 500 that looks every bit like a cheery orange on wheels. More than 20 years ago, he brought this car back from Italy when he and his wife were visiting her relatives in Palermo, Sicily.
“She was born in Palermo,” said Aliotti, who’s also an Italian native. “While we were there, someone mentioned that they had this in a garage and next thing you know, I bought it.”
The Fiat was in decent condition, he said, although “I redid the paint job and chrome.” The red-orange paint is the car’s factory color, he added. One luxury feature on the little car is a rollback fabric sunroof, which he also had redone.
The 500’s engine makes it easily under the Little Car Show’s displacement rule. The 2-cylinder powerplant is a just 479cc, rounded up to 500 to provide the Fiat’s name. In US terms, that’s 29.2 cubic inches.
Aliotti said he drives it often, although “only in summertime when it’s not raining.”
There a few other collector cars in Aliotti’s possession, including a 1964½ Ford Mustang and a 1968 Fiat Siata, which he also brought back from Italy. But the Fiat 500 is his special car.
“I love it,” he said with a smile.
The Coveted Big Award, the Little Car Show’s version of Best of Show, was won by a bright-blue 1970 Fiat 850 Familiare, a 3-row family van owned by Mark Mitchell of Carpenteria, California.