Residents of Manthuruthi locality in Kerala's Kottayam district never miss a chance to admire this vintage beauty whenever it passes through the junction. Popularly known as 4610 (registration number) in the locality, the 1956 Fiat Millecento is actually the eldest member of the Cherkot family and even the neighbourhood.
Even today, it is the senior-most member of the family and is in the forefront of all functions of the family since the past five decades. The car owned by Mathew Varghese of Manthuruthi in Kottayam's Pampady South is so popular that it is familiar to all its inhabitants.
It was in 1956 that Mathew Varghese's grandfather C V Mathai and father Adv C M Varghese bought the car from Mumbai. Now, both Mathew and the Fiat have the same age - 63. The car is so precious to them that no one except those in the family and close friends have driven it. C M Varghese, who was the panchayat president of Pambady for 18 long years, used to travel in the Fiat till his death at the age of 86.
Car manufacturing was yet to start in the country then. Components used to be imported from foreign countries and assembled locally. The Millecento is powered by a 1,100 cc, four-cylinder engine that generates 11 hp of peak power. The petrol tank has a capacity of 40 litres. It provides a mileage of 13 km per litre. The engine is mated to a four-gear manual transmission.
It has the steering column-mounted gearstick. Instead of an air conditioner, it has a small fan. The door opens in the reverse direction. It has a bench style seating, with a congested backseat. Even the leg space is on the lower side. However, despite its small proportions, it used to run packed to the brim in the past, remembers Alice, Varghese Mathew's wife.
The oldie has been able to maintain its looks due to its solid build quality. Even its headlights are OEM. Most of the parts are made out of metal, but the steering wheel and some interior areas are made of wood. Need to close the boot? You need to lift the boot lid further up and then push it down. The distance travelled is shown in miles. Until now it has run more than four lakh miles (6,43,737.6 km). The family has only used Fiat parts for the car so far. For several years, a senior mechanic named Chandran from Ettumanoor has been handling the maintenance and repair work of the car.
There is no place that Mathew and his family has not covered in the Millecento. Wherever they have gone, including Bengaluru, Mysuru, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram among others, the car has been with them. The car has not given them any trouble during these trips.
Over the years, several people have approached Mathew to buy the Millecento. But Mathew has upheld the wish of his father till date - even if you let it rust and disintegrate, don't sell it.
The car founds its pride of place during all ceremonies of the family. It was witness to the wedding ceremonies of Mathew and his son Varghese. Now, the fifth generation's Thaniv too considers the "boom, boom" car his favourite.
From the famed Italian brand, the Millecento was assembled for the Indian market. Positioned as a family car, it was in production from 1953 to 1969. Unveiled in the 1953 Geneva Motor Show, it was known as Fiat Nuova 1100 and Fiat 1100/103 in other markets. It used a 1,089 cc, four-cylinder carburetor engine. Later, models like Fiat 1100T and Fiat 1100D introduced. The 1100D was available in India, and enjoyed a long run here. Fiat cars were brought to India through Premier Automobiles.