Pope's Philly Fiat up for auction

Auxiliary Bishop John G. McIntyre speaks about the Fiat auction. News coverage of Pope Francis' rides during his U.S. visit reportedly led to increased interest at Fiat dealerships.
Auxiliary Bishop John G. McIntyre speaks about the Fiat auction. News coverage of Pope Francis' rides during his U.S. visit reportedly led to increased interest at Fiat dealerships. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 22, 2016

If you bought it new, the 500L Fiat retails for about $20,000, but a used version up for bid through the Philadelphia Auto Show will draw far more given its former owner - the pontiff.

One of the four-door Fiats that Pope Francis cruised around in during his visit to Philadelphia will be auctioned off at the auto show's Black Tie Tailgate on Jan. 29, and a second will be displayed at the show.

Interested buyers can bid in person or remotely for the vehicle, with proceeds going to various charities.

The car - not to be confused with the big white Jeep "popemobile" Francis also used in Philadelphia - gets decent fuel economy (33 m.p.g. highway, 25 city) and can go from zero to 60 in about nine seconds.

Philadelphia Archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin called the timing "providential" at a news conference Wednesday. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) officials reached out to the archdiocese in December, saying they wanted to donate the two cars, which the Secret Service had returned to the company after the pope's visit.

For the skeptics out there: The Secret Service vouched for the vehicle identification numbers as the same as those on the Fiats used on Sept. 25 to 27. FCA made some changes, such as increasing the tint on the windows - which had been lightened for better visibility of the waving pontiff.

"We can think of no better way to officially close the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia than to have his papal Fiat drive off into the sunset while benefiting so many people in need," said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, which was held here before the pope's visit. "It's exactly what Pope Francis would have wanted us to do."

Organizers would not say what bids would start at, but auto show chairman David Kelleher said his expectation was that the car would "far exceed any reserve," the minimum price a seller is willing to accept.

Half the proceeds will go to Catholic Charities for family, housing, and homeless services. The second 50 percent will be split among Mercy Hospice, a recovery home for women and children; la Casa del Carmen, a family service center in North Philadelphia; and four special-education schools in the archdiocese.

The second Fiat used by Francis in Philadelphia will be on display at the auto show, which runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7 at the Convention Center. That car may be auctioned off but will remain on display throughout the show, Gavin said.

The little black car generated quite the buzz when Francis first climbed into it on the airport tarmac in Washington.

The modest ride reflected the pope's humble, no-frills nature, and led to reports of increased interest in the 500L at Fiat dealerships.

A Harley-Davidson motorcycle briefly owned and signed by the pontiff - a gift from a Davidson descendant - sold for $327,000 at a Paris auction in 2014.

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso

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