The club began very hectically, with a young, enthusiastic and boisterous membership somewhat different to the established club we enjoy today.
It was back in August 1981 that two enthusiastic Fiat owners felt it was time to establish a club for the Fiat marque in WA. While there had previously been a strong Fiat Club in WA in the 1920s it only lasted a few years.
A small column advertisement was placed in the Sunday Times and people were invited to attend an informal meeting to decide on whether there was enough interest to start a club. The meeting was held at John Forrest National Park, and more than twenty Fiats, plus a couple of people in other cars turned up. It became clear that there was enthusiasm for a club to be started.
There was one group of 128SL owners, who’d befriended each other already and mildly modified their cars, who seemed happy to be a part of a new group.
There were two particular individuals behind the idea of the club – Graeme Smith and David Letts, both owners of 124 Sports. In those days people in Perth didn’t use the AC, BC or CC names for the models and they were referred to as 1400, 1600 and 1800 models. Graeme had a metallic blue 124 1800 and David a white 1400, both of which were heavily accessorised. These owners of sporty models (as opposed to the boxy Fiat sedans), devised the original name of the club the Fiat Sports Car Club.
After this initial meeting a four-page newsletter was sent out to everyone who was interested, photocopied only on one side of each foolscap sheet, plus a page of photos of Fiats which attended the first meeting.
On August 18th a formal meeting was held at the Wanneroo home of David Sadique and his sons Danny and Rubin, where the foundations of the club were formed, including election of a committee and plans for a calendar of events. The name was changed by popular choice to Fiat Car Club at that meeting, but not without a fight being put up by the two founders.
From the earliest stages the club also actively catered for Lancias and always had several Lancia owners as members.
The first elected committee consisted of the following people:
President Graeme Smith (124 CC)
Chairman David Sadique (Lancia Beta 2000)
Secretary David Letts (124 AC)
Treasurer Lorena Preo (125)
Competition Secretary Tony Morton (127)
Editor Paul Blank (no Fiat at that time)
Parts & Services Danny Sadique (125 Special)
Social Organizer Rubin Sadique (128 3P)
Other than David Sadique and Tony Morton, it was a very youthful committee, all 21 or younger, reflecting the young age group that most of the club members were.
In the early days committee meetings were very loud becoming real shouting matches when strong opinions differed. I recall a committee meeting held at the Preo family home where everyone was standing up, shouting, to make their point. The club was an energetic association, quickly becoming involved in organizing all sorts of events, with a strong bias towards motor sport.
A club points system was introduced, with members gaining points towards club championship awards by results in events, input to Fiatmania and attendance at meetings. Winner the first full year was Allan Basell, driver of a blue X1/9 1300.
As the majority of members were quite young, meetings were usually held at members’ parents homes, mostly the Smith house in Doubleview, which had a suitably large family room. Attendances were strong with about 25-30 people turning up each month.
As a special event at one early meeting a formal debate was run against members of the MG Car Club the topic being that a Fiat 124 Sport was better than an MGB! This occurred just as local councils were distributing the first of Perth’s green wheelie bins and the leaflets distributed to homes referred to them as MGBs (Mobile Garbage Bins), which was brought to the attention of all present. The Alfa Romeo Owners Club adjudicators decided in favour of the Fiat argument.
In these early days of the club, the local Alfa Romeo Owners Club was struggling to exist, and for a period they joined in our events and meetings.
There was rarely a shortage of volunteers for most committee positions and events were always well attended whether they were speedway track days, economy runs or film nights.
We joined the Combined Car Clubs and participated in their then active events calendar, especially when their Sports Register was developed, with which some of our members were involved.
To begin with, only a few members had much actual knowledge about Fiats other than their own car. A Lombardi 850 arrived for an event at the Causeway Car Park (even that’s gone now!) and a certain high-profile member asked why a Triumph TR7 was parking among the Fiats!
Initially, the club was dominated by 124 Sports models. The loudness of your air-horns and stereo became less significant (these were VERY important to several members early in the piece) as people strove to do well in the motor sport events which the Club ran.
The gravel air strip at Mooliabeenie near Gingin, which was part of what had once been a racetrack, provided many excellent events in early years.
The Club found lots of new event venues including the Mt Ommanney hillclimb in Northam which had never before been used for motor sport. One exciting but very dangerous event was a fast gravel hillclimb in Millendon only used once after a couple of spectacular offs. We used speedway tracks at Northam, Bridgetown and Jandakot.
The mud flats near Belmont Park racecourse was a favourite location for autokhanas. This ultra-slippery surface was huge fun. The purchase of dozens of red and green buckets (left and right, for events) was among the first investments made.
We also visited the farm of Mike Leitch in Clackline where grass autokhanas, hillclimbs and a brilliant circuit sprint style event were held every year. One year we ran a hillclimb there which worked on the principle of how far up you could get not how fast. All this was before the days of insurance, litigation, overbearing CAMS regulations, etc.
Of course there were some pretty spectacular crashes memorable examples include a Regata rollover at Wanneroo, a 500 tipping onto its side in a motorkhana and an X1/9 narrowly missing trees as it exited the side of a hillclimb. Most fantastic though was a 128SL launching off the embankment at Bridgetown Speedway, flying for about 50 metres before landing. The driver kept his foot down as the car was airborne no 128 had ever revved so high! Thankfully, nobody was ever hurt.
The Club Competition Championship was hard fought over for many years; the main challenge was for someone other than the Sadique boys to win.
From early on the club had a high standard of monthly newsletter called Fiatmania, which was an apt name that had been dreamt up by David Letts. Fiatmania has always remained a very important aspect of the club. For the large number of non-active members it is the only contact they have with the club. Many people have taken the role of Editor over the years, among them myself (several times), Ian Towart (several times), Rubin Sadique, Kelly La Velle, Jeff Kealley, Margo Beilby, Mike Beilby, Nick Cunnington, Rod Randall, Rod & Darrin Wortlehock, David Hey, Paul Bevis, Mark Mariotti and Giles Wilson.
May 1982 was a very contentious issue of Fiatmania which was printed with an ever-so-slightly lewd cartoon referencing the committee members. After it was printed, but before circulation one committee member called a special meeting which resulted in the page being censored. By 1989 when the 100th issue of Fiatmania was produced the uncensored cartoon was considered acceptable for publication.
We have put together some excellent displays at the Classic Car Show, some years with creative themes which were quite memorable. Our Italian Café at the 1991 show in the Burswood Dome was a prize-winning effort and one year at Lilac Hill Park, a toll gate with line of cars waiting at an Autostrada was a very effective display. The Fiat Lancia Club display of soccer-playing 500s won the Best Display at the inaugural All Italian Car Day 2007, and the Club has exhibited every year since.
We tried our own Concours d’Elegance, once at Moore River and once at Perry Lakes, but ours was much more of a competition driving oriented club at the time. The Fiat Car Day was a success from the start and continues to be to this day. The focus now is less on competition, and more on just using the Fiats and Lancias in our sheds which would otherwise be gathering dust.
Social events have also been an integral part of the club since inception. We have held a Club Birthday Dinner every August the first year everyone sang Happy Birthday at the restaurant (something we thankfully don’t do these days).
We went as a group to see plays, movies and in 1983 to see a 126 which could 2-wheel, in a roller skating show from Poland. We participated in events including the Ciaofesta in 1991, which bade farewell to the Macchi training jets at Pearce Air Base.
And there were annual weekends at John Scott’s property at Yornup. Bonfires, some drinking, some debauchery, but mainly cars. Fabulous driving courses were created for us on paddocks and the Bridgetown Speedway track was resurrected especially after some years of being unused.
The club struggled a bit as it reached the twenty year mark, with membership and activities diminishing, in the main part due to the fact that it had been so long since Fiat and Lancia cars had been imported. One of the initiatives, to give the Lancias a more active and visible role in the club, has been successful and today the club is in good health, having recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. Since the reintroduction of Fiat vehicles into Australia in 2006, the Club’s membership has continued to rise, and the events held by the Club have been chosen to appeal to the diverse membership, with social events, drive days, static shows and motorsport events. In 2008 the Club Champion trophy and motorsport trophy were reintroduced. In 2009 the Club was affiliated with the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS), permitting it to run its own competitive events. And in 2014 the Life Membership by-laws were enacted, with many past and current members acknowledged for their contributions.
Long may it prosper.