Classic corner: ‘Better than new’ Fiat basks in Cork sunshine

The fact that John Harrington is a panel beater by trade and founded a very successful body-shop in Cork city should come as no surprise to those who’ve seen his beautifully-restored Fiat 880 from 1980.

The paintwork is immaculate and the finish is superb.

There is little doubt that it is now in better condition than when it left the factory for, as John points out, “anywhere that couldn’t be seen wasn’t painted” when it was built.

These areas included the underside of the bonnet and beneath the cab linings, which were left as bare metal.

That has now been rectified and there is not a spot of the Italian rust scourge anywhere to be seen.

The fact that it took two of the 12 years that he has owned it should also come as no surprise; neither should his absolute intent to keep it in the family where it began its working life 38 years ago.

It was his brother who purchased it new from Agri-Power in Cork.

At the time, the dealership was selling both Massey Ferguson and Fiat tractors; it was the former that he was originally determined to buy. However, the salesman sat him in the Fiat and persuaded him to try it for a week.

The day after the demo model arrived he rang the dealer to say he wanted to keep it. Agri-Power sold a lot of tractors that way it seems.

“They would out-pull a Massey,” explained John.

His brother rented around 120ac each year for beet and hay. All of the tractor’s 2,253 hours were accumulated doing the field-work for these two crops.

“They’ve a great engine, but are awful slow on the road,” he added. Neither the engine or transmission have ever let him down during the vehicle’s working career. Today she runs as sweetly as any diesel-powered machine can.

John has retained as many original parts as possible, including the window rubbers (which are usually cracked and brittle on tractors of this age). He assures us that these are the very same items that came with the tractor, as are all the glass and the cab interior.

His brother obviously looked after it and John has taken it to the next level.

Parts that he was not able to revive included mirrors, the exhaust and mudguards. Some minor welding was required on the cab and a couple of cables were renewed (as the originals had seized).

No work was required on either the engine or transmission; it has hardly let loose even a drop of oil. There was certainly no evidence of any leaks on any of the very impressive paintwork.

He has also replaced the tyres for a new set – to smarten the tractor up. ‘Smart’ is the best word to sum up its appearance today. It really does look as if it’s turned out in its ‘Sunday best’.

Fiat manufactured the 880 model between 1978 and 1984. It was a tractor of 88hp – whether fitted with a four or five-cylinder engine.

The slightly larger five-cylinder unit appeared in early 1980, while the newer Terracotta livery arrived later in the same year.

The distinctive Pininfarina-designed cab was fitted right from the start of production.

John’s example is one of the last of the earlier versions – still resplendent in the Fiat orange of the time.

“People keep asking me if I’d do the same for their tractor,” John noted.

“But no way will I do that; it’s just far too long a job and will cost them more than most would be willing to pay.”

Yet it’s not just about cost. John has put a great deal of effort into this machine to make it what it is. That must come from the heart; such perfection simply cannot be bought.