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Car atop pole in Talent is from Italy, but it's not a Fiat

Is the car on a pole in Talent really a Fiat 500? Everyone seems to think so, but is it really?

— Barb S., Ashland

Based on the helpful links you sent our way, Barb, we here at Since You Asked world headquarters have a sneaking suspicion that you already know something that only a select few European car aficionados know: The car mounted atop a pedestal on South Pacific Highway isn’t a Fiat “Cinquecento.”

It’s actually an Autobianchi Bianchina Trasformabile... er, convertible.

Autobianchi was a relatively obscure venture between Italian bicycle manufacturer Bianchi, tire maker Pirelli and the carmaker Fiat, which was launched in the mid 1950s and active until the 1970s. To paint a bunch of mergers and acquisitions in broad strokes, Autobianchi was later rolled into the carmaker Lancia, and Lancia is now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — soon to be renamed Stellantis once a new merger with French carmaker Peugeot goes through.

How could we have confused the three-box car that now adorns Pump House Burgers & Brews in Talent with the scrappy and distinctive compact? Probably because it does indeed share a chassis with the Fiat 500.

Jim Walker first put the mini car on a pole back in 1965 to draw attention to his then fledgling used car lot, Jim's Better Buys, according to the 2007 Mail Tribune story. An obituary shows that Walker passed away on April 13 of last year. He was 81.

The Bianchina was produced from 1957 to 1970, and an article about Jim Walker described the diminutive vehicle as a 1959. You can tell its a Trasformabile convertible as opposed to the roadster because of its distinctive front-opening doors.

At about 119 inches long, it dwarfed an MG Midget by nearly 20 inches. The car got about 16 horsepower from its air cooled two cylinder engine.

It’s best known in pop culture as the cherry red roadster Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole drove in the 1966 movie, “How to Steal a Million.”

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501 or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

An old Autobianchi Bianchina marks the Jim's Better Buys used car lot on Highway 99 in this 2007 Mail Tribune file photo.