25.08.2011 UNIQUE CASTAGNA BODIED FIAT 500 "LIBERATED" FROM GADDAFI'S BATTLE-SCARRED TRIPOLI COMPOUND

FIAT 500C CASTAGNA CAPRI

Amongst chaotic scenes of jubilant fighters clambering on the famous statue of a clenched fist grasping an aircraft, built to symbolise Gaddafi's narrow escape from U.S. bombing raids in 1986, and rebels trampling on the shining golden face of the dictator torn from a statue in the grounds, the lavishly coachbuilt 500C stood out. Photo: Quattroruote/AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev.

FIAT 500C CASTAGNA CAPRI
FIAT 500C CASTAGNA CAPRI
FIAT 500C CASTAGNA CAPRI

Quattroruote notes in its story that this week's dramatic pictures of the car abandoned in the gunfire rocked Tripoli compound isn't the first time this project has been seen. In February 2009 Marco Pascali of TopGear Italia was surprised to see it in front of the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan. Then the 500C Castagna Capri was shrouded in mystery and the Jamahiriya logos at the front and rear were crudely covered with masking tape.

As Libyan rebels fought their way into Colonel Gaddafi's heavily fortified compound in the heart of the capital city Tripoli this week, one of the many captivating images to emerge has been of the unique electric-powered Fiat 500C coachbuilt by Carrozzeria Castagna.

Amongst chaotic scenes of jubilant fighters clambering on the famous statue of a clenched fist grasping an aircraft, built to symbolise Gaddafi's narrow escape from U.S. bombing raids in 1986, and rebels trampling on the shining golden face of the dictator torn from a statue in the grounds, the lavishly coachbuilt 500C stood out.

The story of this car's short history comes from Quattroruote magazine which says that the project was actually commissioned by Gaddafi's seventh son Khamis, who has become a household name in recent weeks as the commander of the so-called "Khamis Brigade", reputedly the most feared of all the Libyan government forces.

According to Quattroruote the unusual project was rushed through in just a month at a cost of 100,000 euros to satisfy Gaddafi's demands and it's 34 kW electric power unit from Ansaldo can haul it to a top speed of 160 km/h and up 30 degree inclines. Range, thanks to the Lithium-Ion battery pack, is an impressive 260 km. The 500C Castagna Capri weighs in at 1,600 kg, around 500 kg heavier than the standard Fiat 500. The suspension was modified and ground clearance lowered by 50 mm, this apparently was to ensure it was easier for passengers wearing traditional Arab dress to gain access.

The design is unique (but builds on the innovations of Castagna's Fiat 500 "Tender Two") with the doors, and three quarters window removed, the body redone by the Milanese firm's craftsmen with new higher sill sections with wood-finished steps and surrounds as well as a new aluminium B-pillar. The car's new two tone colour scheme reflects the values of the Libyan regime. The green base colour was designed to be the same as the hue of the Colonel's infamous "Green Book", a work containing many of his diatribes and unique views on the world. That exterior green colour is replicated on the dashboard, while the ivory-trimmed leather interior finish was designed to reflect the sun and be resistant to ultra-violet damage. The electric roll-top is canvas-covered in a colour that reflects the "sand of the desert". Finally, the Fiat badges at the front and rear were replaced with the emblem of the Jamahiriya ("a state of the masses") the concept by which Gaddafi perceived he ruled Libya.

Quattroruote also notes in its story that this week's dramatic pictures of the car abandoned in the gunfire rocked Tripoli compound isn't the first time this project has been seen. In February 2009 Marco Pascali of TopGear Italia was surprised to see it in front of the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan. Then the 500C Castagna Capri was shrouded in mystery and the Jamahiriya logos at the front and rear were crudely covered with masking tape.

The Fiat 500C Castagna Capri is actually a very small symbol of a much bigger historical picture, Gaddafi in fact injected $410 million into Fiat in the mid 1970s via the state investment company, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO), at the invitation of the Agnelli family when the Italian carmaker was on its knees, LAFICO also taking two seats on the board. It was an investment that proved a shrewd decision. By 1986, Libya's involvement in Fiat, with a stake which then stood at 14 percent, was becoming more trouble that it was worth as U.S. sanctions against the Arab nation were preventing Fiat from pitching for U.S. defence contracts. So the Agnelli family, together with a group of European banks, paid $3.1 billion to buy back Gaddafi's shares. In the early 2000s Libya reportedly picked up a fresh 2 percent stake in Fiat, and in a Reuters article from last March, the newswire quotes leaked U.S. embassy cables that say that the 2 percent stake was possibly held as late as 2006.

Support Italiaspeed

 

2011 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed