The Italian Almanac

Fiat Panda

A New Record

The Guinness World Book of Records added a 2012 Fiat Panda to its pages this week after it clocked the fastest overland trip from Cape Town to London ever recorded. Driven by British endurance racers Philip Young and Paul Brace, the Italian minicar covered the 10,000-mile transcontinental haul in 10 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes, a full day ahead of the previous record set in 2010 by a team driving a Land Rover.

Drivers said the Panda's light weight and fuel-efficient engine gave it an edge over the trucks and SUVs favored by most trans-African racers. 'With a 600-mile range from our fuel tanks, and capable of covering the 11,000 miles on one set of tyres, going light (offered) an advantage against the heavier Land Rovers that have to stop more often,' said the drivers in a blog they kept from the road. Had the Panda got stuck in the mud, it would have been easy to push out the racers said. With a little help, they could have picked it up and carried it if they'd needed to.

Designed with Italy's narrow, cobblestoned streets in mind, the Panda also proved much better adapted to weaving through the bumper-to-bumper traffic in cities like Cairo and Nairobi. 'The car that Autocar journalists voted as their top city car has just proved itself invincible at punching through gaps of African cities,' blogged the couple after leaving a traffic jam in Zambia's capital of Lusaka behind them.

Before setting off, the Fiat underwent a few minor alterations to help it contend with the potholes and dust of African roads. They also swapped out the driver's seat with a cozier one from an old Volkswagon and put a thick mattress in the back, so the drivers could sleep on the road.

Along the way, the Fiat encountered every kind of terrain conceivable from the marshlands along the Zambeze river to the deserts of Egypt and Sudan. Ironically, the couple suffered its worst setback in Italy when a snow storm forced them to head up the Adriatic Coast bypassing Naples and Rome.

On February 11 at 5:30 GMT, the Panda rolled past the finish line at London's Marble Arch to clinch the world record.