Would You Buy Pope Francis’s Fiat 500L?
In March, Jerry Seinfeld will be selling three of his classic Porsches through the Gooding & Company auction house. The expected price for the “cheapest” of the three? $1.2 million. But if you’re in the market for a European car with historic provenance and a documented celebrity collection, we might just have the one for you. A 2015 black Fiat 500L used by Pope Francis on his trip to the United States last September is being auctioned off to benefit the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. A gray 500L used by the Pope will also be on hand, and may be auctioned as well, though no announcement has been made yet.
The car (or cars) will cross the block January 29 at the Black Tie Tailgate event, which takes place during the Philadelphia Auto Show. The midsize 500L crossover was introduced in 2014, and a new one starts at just under $20,000. According to Kelley Blue Book, a well-equipped used model will run you around $15,000 nowadays. But if you’re set on breathing in the same new car smell the Pontiff did, it’s likely to cost you more — a lot more. There’s no word on a pre-sale estimate, but with tickets to the event starting at $225, we’d be shocked if the Pope’s car fetched anything less than twice the sticker price.
The Pope’s Fiat caused quite a stir while he was in the U.S., especially considering the expensive tastes of previous Holy Fathers. As the first sitting Pope to visit America, Paul VI had a special Lincoln Continental limousine built for him in 1965. Successive popes have since enjoyed the comforts of Mercedes models, custom-built trucks, and even a Ferrari. But this Pope is different, and in Europe, Francis’s humble automotive tastes have made him stand out more than any Pope in recent memory.
When the Argentinian Cardinal ascended to the papacy, he wanted to drive himself around the Vatican, not be chauffeured like previous Popes. So he was given a well-preserved 1984 Renault 4 with 186,000 miles on it, which he regularly drives. When he must be driven, it’s in decidedly 21st-century rides. The tall, boxy bulletproof Popemobiles are largely a thing of the past, replaced by a stretched Jeep Wrangler, and somewhat strangely, a custom open-topped Kia Sedona and Hyundai Santa Fe.
So it wasn’t out of character for Pope Francis to go for something a little more humble than his predecessors would’ve on his first American visit. From a business standpoint, it was likely the best PR Fiat ever got for the struggling 500L too — the brand has sold fewer than 30,000 500Ls in the U.S. since its introduction three years ago. While the tall crossover seats five comfortably, and averages a combined 28 miles per gallon, a number of reliability issues have hamstrung the Serbian-built model (it’s built in the former Yugo factory), and its love-it-or-hate-it styling have made it difficult to break into the American marketplace.
But for at least one 500L next week, none of that should matter. At the very least, the 500L is one of the more interesting crossovers on the road, and we were glad to see Pope Francis pick such an unusual Popemobile. In 30 years, there probably won’t be many 500Ls left on the road, so these two may have just been picked as the model’s lucky survivors. It may not have been the most eye-catching Popemobile, but it sure ranks up there as one of the most interesting.
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