A love-hate hobby

Our photographer went to campus Monday evening and ran into Rick Peters, who sat surrounded with old rags and plastic bags containing tools and other materials. The Master’s student Sustainable Energy is working on his 40-years young Fiat X1/9, which his grandfather gave him a few years ago. A car with two sides, we find out - sweet, happy and Spartan at the same time.

“This way at least some work is being done on campus. Not on Stella Vie, but on an old-timer,” Peters says laughing on the phone the next morning, referring to Solar Team Eindhoven’s most recent solar car.

Not that he is involved with this automotive team, incidentally, or with any other such team; graduate Peters is mostly active at Team Energy. That’s why sustainability and energy transition feature prominently on the Sustainable Energy Technology student’s agenda, which seems a bit at odds with the fact that the sportive Italian car he’s working on isn’t exactly a model of sustainability, Peters realizes all too well: “But I make up for it a little bit because I hardly ever drive in it; perhaps some two thousand, three thousand kilometers per year.”

The car was a gift from his grandfather. The Fiat X1/9, which is said to have been built in 1981, already showed some signs of rust when it landed in his grandfather’s lap after a neighbor who was on the point of moving away decided to get rid of it. “It sat in my grandfather’s garage for some twenty, twenty-five years, he completely restored it in the nineties.” Grandfather, too, didn’t exactly increase the car’s mileage; working on the car was what mattered most to him as well.

New generation

Four years ago, Peter’s grandfather decided the time had come to hand the car over to the new generation. “I was the only grandchild with a driver’s license. And I had enrolled in a technical program, so it probably suited me. I’d never worked on cars before, but my grandfather said: ‘I hope you can make it drive’.”

Peters bought “one of those workshop books” and started to work – sometimes with help from his grandfather or father, sometimes assisted by an enthusiastic seventy-year old “proper Fiat X1 fanatic” from Bergeijk. The car “had a couple of issues” in the first year in particular. “It regularly just stopped or didn’t start at all.” But the student put the ‘learning by doing’ approach into practice. “You just need to start, don’t be afraid, build some confidence. Because there are many things you can do yourself.”

The main and most persistent challenge at this point is to deal with the problem of rusting. “I don’t have a garage where it won’t get wet. Especially after the winter, when I remove the cover, it becomes apparent that it’s paint is in worse shape than the year before.”

An alternative would be to have a professional go over the car: galvanizing, a new paint job, “but that will easily cost you thousands of euros. I might spend that kind of money on the car one day, but I’m still just a student, remember?” Therefore, he mostly makes “small repairs” for the time being - although he does intend to go about it a bit a more thoroughly this year, with some serious sanding and some filling of the bodywork in particular. “I use my brain a lot for my graduation. It’s nice to step outside now and then to do some work on the cars bodywork.”

Love-hate relationship

Peters doesn’t exactly see himself taking the car out for an idyllic drive through the hills of Italy - for which the car was designed he says - any time soon. “It remains to be seen whether it will even get there and in what condition; most parts are still forty years old. For now, the goal is to keep it driving and not to let it be eaten away by rust. And I’ve managed to do so.” Peters speaks of a “kind of love-hate relationship. It left me stranded many times, mostly in the beginning. But when you manage to get it running again after much hard work and realize you have been driving around without any problems for almost two years, you can’t help but think: ‘look, it paid off’.”

His Fiat has two faces anyway. “It’s a very happy car. Sweet, small, Italian, with funny hood lamps. But at the same time, it’s quite a Spartan car as well, a very harsh ride. When you’re driving 100 kilometers on the freeway you feel the wind entering the car from all sides. It’s like driving a kart.”

His grandfather enjoys his grandson’s hobby from a distance. “He thinks it’s really great. He never thought his car would one day be on the TU/e campus, or that it would even drive from south Limburg to Eindhoven.”

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