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    Customer Stories pt. 13: The transformation of a classic Fiat 500

    Customer Stories

    Name: Thomas Montagu

    The classic: Replica Abarth 695

    ‘I wanted something to occupy me as a retirement project. I always say that as long as you keep the brain cells rattling and you keep your fingers working hard, you’ll stay younger! It’s been a labour of love, and it’s quite popular at car shows too.

    ‘It makes people share memories of their own classics; kids like to sit inside, and people even take photos of it. It ain’t big, it ain’t fast – but it makes people smile!’

    Thomas is the proud owner of a replica Abarth 695, a speedy classic which used to be a 1972 Fiat 500. ‘I bought it in 2012 at Middle Barton Garage for their 25th Anniversary,’ Thomas tells us. ‘I’d met Tony Castle-Miller, the owner, in 2004 and we’d briefly kept in contact over the years.

    ‘I asked him at the anniversary event whether there were any Fiat 500s or 600s for sale, and he showed me a sad little burgundy Fiat 500 under a shelter. It was perfect for me and the project I had in mind, so later that year it became mine.’

    Before buying it, Thomas had decided that he wanted to ‘retire from retirement,’ as he laughingly put it. ‘I was working a couple of days per week, but I needed another project to focus on, so this seemed like the solution for me,’ he explained.

    ‘I always say that as long as you keep the brain cells rattling around in between your ears and you keep your fingers working hard, you’ll stay younger.’

    Front view of the red replica Abarth 695
    Thomas Montagu’s replica Abarth has been a true labour of love

    With many years of experience as a Fiat mechanic behind him, some at Radbourne Racing (the Abarth importers at the time), Thomas was well-equipped for the transformation of his Fiat into a replica Abarth 695. ‘It was a fully running car when I bought it,’ he says.

    ‘The bodywork was rectified by Sefton Classics, a great little body shop in North Liverpool, but all the subsequent engine and mechanical work of lowering it, putting the disc brakes on, doing the engine up and whatnot has all been done by me.

    ‘I was quite lucky, as it came with a bigger Fiat 126 650cc engine in it already, which I’ve tuned up quite a lot. One of the locations I work at is a Lamborghini and Ferrari specialist garage, so I was able to ask the upholsterer there to re-pad the seats of the Abarth for me.

    ‘My son also helped out a lot; he did all the wiring when I fitted an Abarth-style instrument cluster for me, complete with a tachometer and various other gauges. My friend the upholsterer came to my rescue again and covered the instrument cluster in matching burgundy vinyl, so that looks very good.

    ‘It’s certainly a car that puts a big grin on my face and a smile on everyone else’s!’

    Are you part of any car clubs or communities?

    Thomas is a valued member of a global Fiat 500 online forum, where he shares his wealth of mechanical experience and a passion for Fiat and Abarths.

    ‘I regularly speak with people all over the world, and I’m happy to give mechanical advice to those who need it,’ he tells us. ‘I’ve met so many like-minded people; I’ve now got friends who live in Australia, Argentina, America, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark – all over the place!

    ‘I’ve actually met up with many of them in person as well, and have even travelled to Italy to meet my American friend living there.

    ‘There was a certain situation where he needed my advice on something mechanical, and it struck me how my American friend in Italy was contacting an Englishman in England to give advice on an Italian car; it’s amazing how connected we can be simply by sharing a common interest.’


    Rear view of red replica Abarth 695
    The rear view of the replica Abarth

    Do you have a favourite trip in the car?

    Thomas also likes to take part in the Felixstowe Classic Vehicle Rally: an 11-mile run from Ipswich to Felixstowe which ends with each classic lined up on the seafront promenade. ‘There are normally around 500 classics taking part,’ Thomas tells us.

    ‘It’s a lovely way to spend your Sunday. There’s a real sense of community when you’re driving along with so many other classics. I think that’s probably my favourite trip that I’ve taken in the car so far.

    ‘People bring picnic tables onto their front drives, and you’re going past all these people who are waving and cheering the cars on – it’s quite a run. Even if some of the older cars have problems, everyone is there to help one another out.

    ‘It’s a magical event to be a part of, and is a really memorable day each time. I’m hoping to take part in 2022!’

    Thomas is also a fan of the Oulton Park Gold Cup: a classic car event not far from his home in Chester. ‘It’s always interesting going to those types of events,’ he laughs. ‘There are a few Lamborghinis and Ferraris there, but my car always seems to have a crowd around it regardless.

    ‘On one occasion, there was a group of people admiring my car, when the supercars started competing to make the most noise. The crowd headed over to the supercars, but as soon as they stopped revving, everyone crowded around my car again! I think it’s because far more people have memories of their family members driving a Fiat 500, so it’s more special and personal to see one of those.

    ‘People have memories of it, people like talking about it, and kids have even wanted to sit in it and take photos! It’s a lovely thing to experience. It ain’t big, it ain’t fast – but it makes people smile!’

    Ian Cook's drawing of Thomas Montagu's red replica Abarth 695
    Ian Cook’s drawing of Thomas Montagu’s red replica Abarth 695

    Would you like the chance to be part of our Customer Stories project?

    If you’re a Heritage Car Insurance customer and you’d like your classic drawn on one of our live drawing sessions, please send a maximum of 150 words about what your classic means to you and at least 2 images to We’ll send the original drawing to you for free, as well as a printed T-shirt and mug. It’s a wonderful project to be a part of, so if you’re interested simply get in touch!


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