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FeaturesMe and My Car: Georgina Wootten and her Fiat Panda

Me and My Car: Georgina Wootten and her Fiat Panda

It’s cute, it’s loveable, and it’s driven for a good cause

After its winter hibernation for restoration, Georgina Wooten’s favourite pet Fiat Panda is hitting the road in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. Here, she tells Charlotte Vowden why she’s chosen this car to raise awareness of a cause that’s close to her heart

Fiat is famous for its small cars and the Panda, named after the Roman goddess and patroness of travellers rather than the black and white endangered bear, is one of its best. Modestly built with a tiny engine, they are the practical choice for inner-city driving, but venture out into the South Wales Valleys and you’ll find one that’s escaped the cliche…

“I get told my black and white Fiat Panda looks like a cow or a zebra all the time, but making a Panda look like a panda for less than a hundred quid using masking tape and rattle cans is a tough one to pull off. Its peeling in places, but considering my partner Owen and I resprayed it on the cheap in his grandmas garage I think weve done an OK job. 

Fiat Panda Wales

The plan was to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK by driving the painted Panda, in a convoy of Pandas, over a thousand miles from home in South Wales to a town called Pandino in Italy where they try and get as many Pandas together as they possibly can at a special annual event. Sadly, because of covid, none of it came to fruition for us, but next year the run is 100% on.

A few years ago prostate cancer was something that was affecting us as a family because my dad, Neil, was diagnosed with it, but thank god, he caught it at a very early stage and hes a lot better now. He thinks the car is hilarious, but was quite emotional when I said thats why I was going to do it, he wouldnt want to be seen driving it himself though!

Fiat Panda Wales

I got the Panda four years ago and I adore him, ask any of my friends and theyll tell you the car is my best friend. Hes called Charmander, after the Pokemon character, because hes a similar reddish orange colour, well, he was, hes not any more.

Inside, there isnt really much to him. Youve got your little dash with your speedo (which stops at 100mph), fuel and temperature gauges, and then youve got a little picture of a panda which has symbols around it that light up. I dont have much luck with cars, but touch wood, hes never let me down… apart from head gasket failure. I was using him every day up until then and have done over 20,000 miles!

Fiat Panda

The first drive I ever had in him was cool but it also surprised me because when I accelerated it was so much faster than I remember my other Pandas being – Ive had a few! Originally it had a 750 engine but its had a 1.2 8v conversion to make it a bit faster, which is quite a common upgrade for the Pandas. Its also been lowered, has wider wheels and runs on rain sport tyres. It handles like a go kart!

Ive recently moved up into the Valleys in South Wales and 30 seconds out of the village where I live there are fantastic mountain roads. Ill be honest, I push the Panda quite hard sometimes.

Fiat Panda Prescott

Doing a non-competitive run of the Prescott Hill Climb was a cementing experience because it proved how good the car is. When the light went green at the start line it was amazing to be able to go as fast as I wanted on the tight, windy uphill course; in a Panda youre very aware of things when youre driving at speed.

Now hes off the road its a good opportunity to get him ready for next years charity run but I wont lie, Im sad not to be driving him, hes my favourite. If I look outside the window on to our drive theres four Fiat Pandas out there at the moment and weve got another two elsewhere. Is it an obsession? Yeah, thats what a lot of people describe it as, and its come from my mum, Sue.

Fiat Panda

My first car was her car, a bright orange 58 plate Fiat Panda. She passed it down to me when I passed my test in 2015, and since then Ive always owned them. Mum says theyre full of character, and I agree, and she also likes how easy they are to run and maintain. Shes always said you can fix them with a screwdriver for a few quid.

I think Pandas have finally hit a point where theyre starting to get recognised and are worth money now, which leaves her in amazement. Back in the nineties she had a little white 750 model, the most basic one you can get, and when someone broke into our garage they stole the lawnmower rather than the car even though it had the keys in it. Its a story that always makes me laugh.

Although my mum started my love of Pandas, Owen has been a massive influence as well, he currently owns five, or six – but he could be hiding more somewhere! Its because of a group I joined called Car Girl Culture that Ive felt confident enough to do the modifications that make Charmander my own.

Theyre a growing community thats open to anyone and promote the idea that its your car, do what you want to do. Theyve created a safe space thats free of judgement and even though Owen is so supportive, and Im happy to shut someone down who is upsetting me, its good to have that safe space just in case.

Fiat Panda

One of the things I like about Pandas is they have all these really funky special editions with different interior trims, but Ive redone Charmander my way by putting in leatherette seats from a Fiat Coupe, painting the dash orange and fitting a wooden steering wheel. My car has got a very antisocial exhaust on it which is loud at 30 mph, its a bit headache inducing after an hour so it might be time to change it! Ive also had a private plate J12 GGW, the 12is to represent the 1.2 engine and GGWare my initials.

When I buy a car I buy it to use it, not to put it in the garage and bring it out once or twice a year, so I have to accept that taking the Panda out in the pouring rain, or when theres salt on the road, might mean a little bit more work is involved with getting an MOT. Sadly, rust is what kills a lot of Pandas off but I prefer to see a car that isnt 100% perfect because the owner has taken it on trips, its inspiring.

Last Christmas I decorated Charmander and drove him around for a bit of fun but the attention we got helped raise awareness of his charitable cause. Im quite a shy person and tend to keep myself to myself, but I love talking to people about Charmander and its great to be using him as a force for good. At shows and when I go out to advertise what Im doing for Prostate Cancer UK I say to people go and have anything youre worried about checked out, if my dad hadnt gone to the doctor as soon as he thought something was wrong, things could have been a lot worse. Making it a less taboo topic will help keep people safe.

I dont have another car that makes me feel the same way as Charmander does so Im excited to get going with the restoration. Im not very mechanically minded but Owen is fab, hes a mechanic, and knows Pandas like the back of his hand, its actually how we met. He wants to help me learn and I want to take more of a front seat with Charmander and do as much of it as possible myself. Together we can do all the mechanical stuff, but after weve sorted the rust well have him resprayed professionally in orange as a homage to my first car. Charmander has been owned by a lot of people, but hes my car now and Ill never get rid of him.

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