FIAT 500

Italy’s an­swer to the Mini is slow in stan­dard form but easy and cheap to pep up a bit – or quite a lot, if you have the bud­get and time

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Living with Classics - Richard Dredge

When your car packs a 499cc en­gine that gen­er­ates just 17.5bhp, the chances are that you’d love a bit more power. So it’s no sur­prise that most Fiat 500 own­ers have ei­ther tweaked their cars to go a bit faster, or are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing do­ing so. If you think about it, an ex­tra 5bhp in a Fiat 500 rep­re­sents a near-30 per cent boost in power, and achiev­ing this needn’t be costly or in­volved.

Fiat 500 Club sec­re­tary Paul An­der­son says: ‘ With­out doubt the most com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tion is the fit­ting of a 126 en­gine and gear­box, which gives a much im­proved drive with ex­tra power and a syn­chro­mesh gear­box; all 500s came with a crash ’box. Front disc con­ver­sions are pop­u­lar too as a lot of younger driv­ers like a more mod­ern brak­ing feel. Ex­haust changes are also com­mon as a small power in­crease is of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by a more sporty noise which ap­peals to many own­ers.’

The ear­li­est 500s, from 1957 to 1960, fea­tured a 479cc en­gine that ini­tially gen­er­ated just 13bhp, but was quickly in­creased to 15bhp with some tweaks to the car­bu­ret­tor, camshaft and com­pres­sion ra­tio. The 500 Sport that ar­rived in 1958 packed a 21.5bhp 499cc en­gine and this larger dis­place­ment pow­er­plant be­came stan­dard fare for the 500 from 1960. At first there was just 17.5bhp on tap but this was upped to a heady 18bhp in the 500F of 1965. The ul­ti­mate 500R made its de­but in 1972, pack­ing the same 594cc en­gine as the 126 and a blis­ter­ing 23bhp.

Many tun­ing com­pa­nies were happy to hot up the 500 in pe­riod, of­fer­ing an ar­ray of op­tions for the en­gine, brakes, sus­pen­sion and more. Abarth is per­haps the best known but there was also Gian­nini and Stanguellini, among oth­ers. Nowa­days, the key out­fit for pep­ping up 500s in the UK – is Ri­cam­bio In­ter­na­tional. It of­fers kits to up­grade just about ev­ery­thing, and gen­er­ally at af­ford­able prices. That’s the joy of hav­ing just two com­bus­tion cham­bers…

’The most com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tion is the fit­ting of a 126 en­gine and gear­box’

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