Chrysler and Fiat: I’m excited; I’m afraid

The Detroit bailout: it ain't over, don't be surprised
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I am a single man. For me, the women I date usually fall into two categories: approach now and approach later. There is just something about the girls in the latter category that have a striking beauty that makes me hesitate until I get enough confidence (or drink enough) to ask them out. The problem is that I have found at the end of date I’m just as likely to describe her using the term “box-o-rocks” as I am likely to actually enjoy my time with the pretty woman.

This is my fault. While I was admiring the girl from a far, my brain had time to imagine how perfect she COULD be. I have a high expectation only from what I’ve seen, before I’ve even met her face to face. So if the girl is not who my mind has made her out to be, I’m disappointed. I can only hope this does not hold true with the Chrysler-Fiat merger...

This may be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Fiat left the U.S. in 1983, and the last Fiat subsidiary, Alfa Romeo, left in 1995. Since then, automotive journalists in the U.S. only could admire the Italian carmakers’ beautiful designs and drive them on short trips. We never had to live with them for the last few decades.

I have been lusting after products from the Fiat Group for years now because all I really had to go on was pictures, specs and reviews from other professionals. So before I get too excited, I should probably take a step back. If Fiat makes a comeback at my local Dodge dealer after 27 years of look-but-don’t-touch syndrome, have I let my mind runaway to supermodel status when really Fiat is just making the girl next door?

I know the quality all the cars in the Fiat Group have improved, but what does that really mean? The Italians didn’t stop importing because there was a huge demand in the home market; it was that Americans could not tolerate the quality issues. In the 80s it was easier to buy a chicken sandwich then an Italian car because at least the sandwich would get you through lunch. If the new Fiats begin to rust after the second week of ownership (instead of the first week) and the interior is only as fragile as stale bread (as opposed as graham crackers) then the car is already an improvement.

I had a chance to speak with Jim Glickenhaus, the first recipient of the Alfa Romeo 8C in the U.S., about his car. When I asked him about the build quality, he did not hesitate to tell me how good it was. But then there’s Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC pointing out plenty of inconsistent parts on the same car. Who am I to believe, the collector (and driver) of many great Italian exotics, or the patron saint of excess in cars?

So improved quality is relative. Drivers in England don’t seem to be complaining about the quality of their Italian cars, but part of that may be due to something I asked back in September.

I know I’m going to an exaggerated end in some of my examples, but my fear is real. I love Italian cars because the only ones I can currently get my hand are so exotic that I feel privileged for just being in the same room as one. In the same way that I must remember that beauty does not always equal brains, I must also realize that there might be some tradeoff for budget-friendly sexy sheet metal. So in a few years, when I go to the Chrysler dealer to pick up my mind’s perfect woman, I hope I’m ready to know that while she my look as advertised, she belches as well.

What do you think?
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