FIAT 500 COM­PET­ING WITH THE MINI

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Epic Battles -

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.

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