I am delighted to have received the following article from Paul de Turris of DTR European Sports Cars, Coulsdon. Many of you will know of DTR and those within reach are likely to have visited his premises. DTR has an enviable reputation in the UK and in Europe as THE Barchetta specialist. The workshops are usually full of exotic Italian cars undergoing either servicing or extensive restorations. Paul and his team have proven to be a superb source of advice to our members over the years.
Thank you Paul for this contribution.
DTR Sports Cars and the Fiat Barchetta
As confirmed lovers and specialists in the classic Fiat 124 Spider and following their demise in 1985, we were always hopeful of another convertible Fiat sports car to replace this under rated (and in our ever so slightly biased opinion) iconic beauty. We had heard rumours of something in the pipeline in 1994 and with the launch of the Barchetta in 95, it was more a question of how quickly we could get our hands on one to look and see what could be done to evolve our business, which by the the mid 1990’s was focusing more on the restoration and service of Italian cars, than their sales.
The news that the new Barchetta was only to be made available in left hand drive was also of interest, having been responsible for the majority of the right hand drive 124 Spiders on the roads in the UK. The waiting list was a problem, but we managed to source an early 1995 car at the end of the year. Having run it ourselves for a couple of months, we were convinced of the potential appeal of the Barchetta in Britain. It ticked so many boxes for us. Firstly a Fiat convertible, secondly quite scarce and as left hand drive, something of an enigma for a lot of people.
The decision was made to convert our own car to right hand drive to ‘see if it could be done’. Not a symmetrical layout and with an engine bay already a little ‘busy’ there were one or two obstacles to overcome (to put it mildly!) The main one being that the dashboard was steel and part of the car’s structure. Slicing the hump off and swapping over was not an option, so the windscreen, the engine and the loom were all removed. Following about a couple of weeks of fabrication, we had what we considered was a structural solution to the dashboard, retaining the safety element being paramount.
We then made a cosmetic cover from which we took a mould in fibreglass and then covered it in leather. The brake servo and master couldn’t be relocated so a remote mechanism was fabricated. The first car was a ‘mule’ and never really destined for re-sale. It was a demonstration of what could be done and was of no financial interest to us, as the time involved in the creation could not be realistically passed on.
So having built 6 in total, including one specifically for BBC Top Gear, we made the decision to destroy the moulds to avoid the temptation to do another! Brutal maybe, but they were always so much better in their original format as a left hand drive car and with a deal done to secure special and Limited edition cars with a German dealer, we were selling as many as we could get our hands on. We sold on volume rather than profit, so were undercutting the UK main dealers by over 30%.
Our interest was always the after sales and continued maintenance and repair rather than a quick profit. We were and still are a workshop before a car sales outlet and still try to keep the Barchetta flag flying, although these days we don’t tend to sell them unless they are exceptional. Parts are harder and harder to source, although most mechanical items are still readily available, we still have large stocks of new bonnets and front wings, but front noses are now virtually impossible to find, and as the most vulnerable of panels, they often require replacement.
The good news is that as the cars become more and more scarce, so values will invariably increase and it will become a worthwhile proposition to reproduce these and other rare pieces. The biggest enemy of any Barchetta owner though is corrosion, which sees off far too many cars, but which should not be ignored. Often MOT testers will miss the rear inner wheel arch sections which are covered in thick factory under seal, hiding the non -existent steel which, although supposedly galavanised from new, does not escape the ravages of the British climate (and lack of cleaning!)
Rear slam panel seals which are holed let water slosh around behind your ears, then after once or two corners the noise goes? Unfortunately it has only gone to the lowest area of the foot wells where it can’t drain, instead rusting the floors from the inside out. None of these faults should be terminal to a Barchetta if noticed early, so always check the soft top drains on the rear slam panel seal, clean the inner rear arches and keep these lovely cars covered where possible!
Paul de Turris