2016 Fiat FreakOut drives into the Motor City

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Motor City muscle is taking a backseat this week to Italian style for the 33rd annual Fiat FreakOut.

The event — hosted by Fiat Club America — started Wednesday with special events for its members and continues through the weekend with a chance for the public on Saturday to see more than 60 years of Fiat cars.

“Detroit’s been a great town for us to have our show,” said Fiat Club America President John Montgomery. “It’s a great thing for Fiat to be here involved in the auto capital of the world.”

More than 130 Fiats will participate in the Italian Happening’s Concorso display from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at The Inn at St. John, 44045 5 Mile in Plymouth. About 200 cars from Italian brands are registered for the event. Admission is $20 cash.

Other events for the 350 registered participants of the 2016 Fiat FreakOut have included stops at the M1 Concourse track and car condos, Meadowbrook, Walter P. Chrysler Museum and other events with Fiat executives and employees.

“When you get these kind of enthusiast together, and this number of enthusiasts together for this long, it’s a pretty cool thing to rally around,” Bob Broderdorf, North America director of Fiat brand for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. “And for us, it’s just fun.”

Club officals said Fiat has officially been involved with the FreakOut since 2008 — two years before the brand made its return to the United States with the debut of the 2012 Fiat 500.

This year, Broderdorf said, was particularly important for the brand to be involved with the FreakOut as it relaunches the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider this year, 50 years after the car originally began arriving in the United States.

“So much of what went into the (new) car was based off the history and the past, and really a lot of these owners had these cars, they identify with these cars and it really is important,” he said. “What better way could we showcase a year like this and get, really, feedback about a car that was designed to appeal to these kind of people that are into rear-wheel drive roadsters and historical cars?”

Fiat Club America Vice President Thad Kirk said the original 124 Spider, which Fiat sold 170,000 of from 1968-1985, is the reason why he and many members of the club became passionate about the Italian brand.

“Fiat, and specifically the Fiat Spider to me and other people in the club, was always thought of as the affordable Italian sports car,” said the Philadelphia-area resident who has owned 15-20 Spiders. “It was a car most of us could buy as teenagers and keep running.”

Registrants for the Fiat FreakOut are from 25 states and provinces, with one enthusiast coming from Ireland to attend.

“It was quite a sight,” said Golling Alfa Romeo Fiat Studio Director Michael Golling, whose Birmingham location hosted a FreakOut event on Thursday. “It was fun to have all of the classic Fiats, modern Fiats and we had some Alfas sprinkled in.”

The event dates back to 1983 when a small group of owners met on the infield of the Pocono International Raceway for a one day gathering. Since then, the event has been held in several cities including Poughkkeepsie, N.Y. (site of Fiat’s first American operations); Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Nashville; and Chicago. The last time it was held in Metro Detroit was 2007, officials said.

“There’s this affinity for the car,” Montgomery said. “There’s that emotional pull that the Fiat brand tends to bring out in folks.”

Since its return to the United States, Fiat has not performed as well as many had expected, with sales declining 8 percent to less than 42,500 vehicles sold in 2015. The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, built off the Mazda Miata platform and assembled in Japan, is expected to help draw more attention to the brand.


(313) 222-2504

Twitter: @MikeWayland