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
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’