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You could not have asked for a more appropriate ride than the 2018 Fiat 500L Lounge to travel to the recent 35th annual Fiat Freakout, an annual gathering organized by the Fiat Club America. And what better city than Orlando to celebrate this collaborative effort between the Florida-FCA chapter and the club?  
For our drive to Mickey town from Tampa, the 500L cruised with a 1.4-liter turbo inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 160 horsepower and180 pounds-feet of torque. Mated to a fine 6-speed auto gear box, the cheeky-styled 500L (base-priced at $23,895) provided us a comfortable drive while surrounded by a sumptuous and cavernous cabin.
The colonial Spanish-themed Coronado Springs Resort Convention Center served as headquarters for the four-day gathering, which began with a “Taste of Europe” excursion. Fiat club owners banded together in a procession of 25 to 30 cars from one destination to the next. The first stop, in “France,” was a tour of Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards ( in the rolling hillside town of Clermont. It included a tasting of table and sparkling wines made from muscadine and hybrid grapes. Fine wines made in Florida? You better believe it! Another shocker? Lakeridge is the largest winery in our Sunshine State.
Next up was a taste of “Germany” at the nearby old-town Yalaha Bakery ( for lunch in the outdoor biergarten. What about Italy, you ask? No worries. After the sun set and the stars came out, the Italy Pavilion at the Epcot Center Showcase served up delicious desserts as the nightly fireworks lit the sky.  
The next day, nearly 100 Italian automobiles from almost every era lined up during the 35th annual “Concorso Di Eleganza” on hotel grounds. The Fiat club members who traveled the farthest were John and Sondra Mangan, who drove their 2017 Fiat 124 Spider cross country from Tacoma, Wash. A 1952 Fiat 500c Topolino was the oldest vehicle on display. Others included a 1977 Lancia Scorpion, 1984 Pininfarina Spider Volumex, 1986 Bertone X 1/9 Dallarlra, a highly modified 2008 Fiat 500 Abarth Meifestofile and an original factory-raced Fiat Abarth 131 rally car from the collection of John Campion.
For the concourse and the “Feast of a Hundred Fiats” banquet that evening,  Anneliese Abarth (in photo above), who was wife and partner of the late automobile designer Carlo Abarth, made an appearance. She and Carlo met in the early 1960s and quickly became close. In fact, Anneliese, who was always present at every test and race, became his favorite photographic model. Carlo, who founded the high-performance Abarth, sold the company to Fiat in 1971.
Anneliese, a lifelong car enthusiast, now runs the Carlo Abarth Foundation and successfully carries the baton passed on by her late husband. As brand ambassador, she actively represents the high-performing Abarth cars at classic car events and international club meetings. It is about keeping the Fiat heritage alive, she says.
“Carlo was a genius, an inventor,” she said. “He began with motorcycles and though he had no formal engineering training, he tried to do different things. Yes, Abarth has seen a revival, come back strongly in Europe. It is a fast car for people who do not buy Ferraris.”
Anneliese said it is difficult and different in the United States to keep Abarth in the limelight. She dreams that one day, there will be an Abarth museum. “We have to get more messages out,” said the owner of a 500X AWD, a birthday gift from the Fiat company. And that is the reason she attended, signed autographs and spoke to the 400-odd Fiat Freakout audience in Orlando, a delight for Fiat club members and aficionados.
Of the 100 cars in attendance, half were new, with several Abarths among them. The nonprofit Fiat Club America, which has 1,500 members, is run like a business with annual dues, President Doug Von Koenig told us. “We have a passion for cars, passion for family and the driving experience. Our members are from U.S., Canada and some by mail correspondence from Europe. Fiat company has supported us well since 2010. What we try to do is share history and bring people together, which you cannot do otherwise.”