FIAT 500 COMPETING WITH THE MINI
The Volkswagen Beetle and Citroën 2CV may have been mobilising their masses in their home countries, but Italy had no such equivalent for its signors and signorinas wishing to dash home for mama’s best polenta. Thankfully the firm had a resident design genius – director of engineering, Dante Giacosa – who had been responsible for the original 500 Topolino of 1936.
By the summer of 1957 the ‘Nuova’ Fiat 500 was launched with a huge cavalcade of the new cars through Turin, each with a lovely Signorina beaming from the open sunroof.
Not all was pretty though. The 13bhp cars were considered slow, but more worrying there was considerable vibration from the engine and transmission. Although the 500 was designed to be as cheap to produce as possible – it cost approximately £300 in Italy at its launch; even the sunroof is there just to save on costly metal – it was felt that Fiat had gone too far down the path of austerity, going so far as to axe opening windows in the front doors.
Espresso machine on overtime, Giascosa and his team toiled to get an improved car ready for the Turin Motor Show in November. This they did, the result being a 16hp opening windowed stunner. The rest is history.
Britain’s Motor magazine said in September 1957 that it was ‘especially interesting to report on the latest version of the car, which may be said to have first set the fashion [for miniature cars] 20 years ago’.
More than three million 500s would be produced until 1975, with everything from Giardiniera estates to Abarth sport versions, to Gamine open-top examples. SEAT and Autobianchi would build their own variants, too.
More luxury (relatively speaking) and improvements in power with engine capacity raised to 499cc all followed. The original rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors were banished in 1965.
Nuova 500 mobilised the postwar Italian masses in much the same way as the Citroën 2CV and Volkswagen Beetle did in France and Germany.
Huge sunroof looks cool, but was actually a cost-cutting measure.