Corks are popping in Turin. Prosecco is being skilfully spilled down throats in celebration of the Fiat 500’s 60th birthday.
And with good reason: the Nuova 500s that left the city’s Mirafiori plant on 4 July 1957 became the first of four million, and two million more have been shifted since the 500 badge was revived a decade ago.
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The little Fiat has come a long way. As has our particular example, a sportily trimmed petrol 1.2 S. Born at the Tychy plant in Poland, it has been brought by us to the still, hushed gloaming of Glen Torridon in the Scottish Highlands. We’re 1400 miles by road from Turin, but it might as well be a million. Even the Romans didn’t make it this far. It’s 10pm and photographer Luc Lacey is eking out a shot from the remaining light. In half an hour, we’ll be in a lochside hotel, making our own toast with a whisky that has been hiding in a cask since before the millennium. Yes, we’re celebrating the 500’s big six-o with a lap of the North Coast 500.
Our journeys began earlier that day: mine from Edinburgh by road, Lacey’s from London by air. We met at Inverness Airport. The 500 had proved a surprisingly adept cruiser on the long slog up the A9. We know it’s accomplished in town, too – easy-going, nimble and small enough to dock where others daren’t – but will it be a fish out of water on the 500 miles of helter-skelter tarmac that make up the North Coast 500? With just 68bhp and 75lb ft, it’s likely to be the least potent car out here. And despite its tiny kerb weight of 865kg, 0-62mph takes 12.9sec. Given just three days to cover the route, the little car faces a big challenge.
With the rear backrests dropped to accommodate Lacey’s photographic kit, we’re paying homage to the 1957 car’s two-seat layout. Not much we can do about the rest, though: front-engined, front-drive and front-hinged doors all contradict the original. Our car has five times the power, twice the weight and it’s 30% longer, too.
We begin with an easy westward hop from Inverness to Glen Ord Distillery, where ancient alchemy has been transforming barley, yeast and water into whisky since 1838. Manager Alastair Orr shows us the wooden washbacks filled with warm, swirling, beer-like brew and the six enormous copper stills that turn it into single malt. The distillery is a regular stop-off on the route – they’re expecting a group of Porsche owners that afternoon – and samples are provided for drivers to enjoy later.