Typically, teachers’ cars are not what you would call interesting. A Subaru Forester here, a Volkswagen Passat there — not much in the way of diversity or excitement. The Haverford School is an exception. There are many cars that inspire a double take — some that you might even want to drive yourself.
But in the back of the Lower School parking lot, behind the sea of traditional sedans and SUVs, there is a splash of color, a tinge of uniqueness, and the most famous license plate on campus: LIGGY1.
Over the years, many interesting rides have had the custom plate mounted to their tailgates, most notably a cherry-red Smart Car. Known throughout the school, kids were enamored with its tiny footprint and desk chair-sized wheels.
Today, the car holding the famous six-character plate is a 2016 Fiat 500X: a little bit of Italian flair to spice up the parking lot.
For students who attended Lower School, that license plate is synonymous with cursive handwriting, five-paragraph essays, and Where the Red Fern Grows. This car belongs to none other than fifth grade English teacher Mr. Joseph Lignore. He always tries to help others, whether in the classroom or his town, and driving a fun car that students and pedestrians can point to makes himself and those around him smile.
When starting with a Smart Car, anything is bigger.
Needing more room than was available in his little cherry bomb, Mr. Lignore decided to upsize to a Fiat. When starting with a Smart Car, anything is bigger. Having decided on the quasi-cross over Cinquecento, Mr. Lignore went to the Philadelphia Auto Show to test it out. There he met his dream car. Flyers Orange with dark brown leather seats, it was perfect for a diehard Philly sports fan. He pictured in his mind the black-and-white pinstripe going down the beltline, ending at a small Flyers logo on the rear quarter panel. This was the one.
Before it had gotten back on the dealer’s floor from the show, Mr. Lignore had bought the Fiat, and it was quite the step up. With four doors, a higher ride height, and an all-wheel-drive, this version of the Fiat 500 is quite the departure from the usual lineup of small, economical city car.The cabin is airy, with good visibility out of the front, and it has lots of nice design touches in the interior. The body-colored dash and glove compartment bring the fun inside, and the espresso seats provide apt comfort needed to tootle around town.
What I have learned from my time with the car and Mr. Lignore is that it is not for driving like your hair’s on fire. The Fiat wants you to enjoy your time in its cabin. The 9-speed transmission is smooth cruising along, but having the driver stomp on the throttle and force the ‘box down a few gears is not the little car’s favorite activity. This reluctance to bolt could be more related to the engine, which is very European in its size and power.
While this might be classified as a Crossover or CUV, the Fiat is still compact, and its light, easy steering reminds you that it has city-car roots. Sure, a lot of parts are shared from the Jeep Renegade, but the Fiat is more accustomed to the road and handles better than its FCA sibling. Feedback from the pedals and steering wheel is commendable, and the suspension takes bumps nicely.
Now you might be thinking: How could this Fiat, a car from a company infamous for its unreliability, possibly be easy to live with? Well, according to Mr. Lignore, who has owned this car since it was new, the only thing he has put in it is oil. Everything runs smoothly: it feels like it just came off the big ship from Italy. Mr. Lignore points out that he meticulously cleans his engine and takes great care of the bodywork, waxing on and off frequently. He takes pride in his work, and rightly so.
Most people will tell you that you should not buy a Fiat. Consumer Reports trashes them, consistently giving them poor ratings based on their own tests and owner reviews. Honestly, I don’t know where they come from. When one buys a car, one must remember the purpose of the car. Does it go fast? Does it hold a lot of cargo? Is it fuel efficient? The Fiat has a very specific job for a very specific person: it is for fun. Driving around with Mr. Lignore, you get the sense that he really loves his car. He talks passionately about it as though it were some kind of collectible.
Driving a car like this brings attention, but it’s good attention. It puts a face to a name.
This car, then, suits Mr. Lignore perfectly. Not only can you tell by the car he drives that he is a happy spirit, but the amount of care he puts into his car is emulated in the amount of care he puts into his work in the classroom. Driving a car like this brings attention, but it’s good attention. It puts a face to a name.
Now whenever people see a bright orange Fiat go by, they’ll say, “Hey, it’s LIGGY1!”