And it only took a few minutes on a historic Johannesburg pass to see why Giovanni and the rest of Italy are such spirited drivers and fans of motorsport. There is no other way to drive a 500. Not only do you have to keep the momentum going because of the miniscule power, but the little Italian begs to be driven this way. It is like the Thomas the Tank Engine of cars, chugging “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can” from its 500cc two-cylinder air-cooled engine, egging you on to keep the fancier, faster cars behind you, hairpin after hairpin.
Going to the village for some prosciutto becomes a Grand Prix as Mr Hyde kicks Dr Jekyll out the small driver’s door. Turn on the ignition key, pull the choke lever below the handbrake, and then lift the lever next to this to crank the starter motor. Seating is of the upright type, which allows for relatively decent rear occupant legroom. Pedals are typically Italian and offset a touch to the left. With the air-cooled engine up to operating temperature and the choke released, a blip on the throttle shows the perkiness of the engine. Select first gear, give a bit of gas and release the clutch, and the 500 takes off in a nippy manner, where no gap in the traffic is left empty for long. Second gear pulls well, and before you know it you are heel-and-toeing into every hairpin you find, attacking the corners with gusto as the direct steering carves the shortest line up the hill. Top speed is claimed at 95km/h, but to be honest we never got close – or we don’t think so as the cockpit was so busy that we never even checked the simple gauge.