Topolino or “Little Mouse” is the nickname given to the Fiat 500, which was the smallest car in the world when it was first produced in 1937. The last 500 came off the line in 1975, and today the tiny machines have become instantly recognizable symbols of Italy.
Fiat 500 Topolino
Specifications of the Fiat Topolino 500
When first produced the car was equipped with a 569 cc four- cylinder engine complete with side walve and water cooling mechanism. The car’s engine was located in front of its front axle and the radiator was mounted behind the engine. The position of the radiator allowed the car to have a lowered-nose profile, unique from the flat front grills other manufacturers were producing at the time and great for visibility.
Originally, the 500’s rear suspension was built on quarter elliptic rear springs, but when Fiat saw that customers were filling up the little cars with as many as five passengers this was revised. In later years the rear chassis was extended to allow for stronger and more robust semi-elliptic springs that were able to hold additional weight.
The highest speed originally offered by the car was 53 mph and it could achieve around 39 miles for every gallon. When first introduced the price of the car was about 5,000 lire. At its highest point the cost of the car was 9,750 lire, due to high demand. When other manufacturers began offering similar cars the price was lowered to 8,900 lire. Though Fiat found the Topolino to be more expensive to produce than originally planned the car remained competitively priced.
Fiat 500 Topolino
Improvements to the Fiat Topolino
In 1955, auto giant Fiat introduced the mid-size, rear wheel drive Fiat 600. The new 500s were based on the 600 model and called the Nuova 500 (“New 500”). The Nuova 500 was easily the most popular version of the line throughout Italy and Europe.
Changes were once again made in 1968, when the 500 L was launched, and were centered on increasing the interior comfort level. The steering wheel was changed, while carpeting, reclining seats and an instrument panel was added to the design.
In 1972 the Fiat 126 was introduced as the replacement of the 500. The model had the same design as the 500, including a small rear engine, but more comfort and power. Unfortunately for Fiat the 126 never became as popular as the 500 it replaced.
The last series of the Topolino 500, known as the 500R and sold alongside the 126, was sold from 1972 to 1975. The 500R featured new wheels and was considered to be the best performing model of the series.
The production of the 500 ended in 1975, by which time almost 3.6 million of the cars had been sold. The production of the Fiat 126 had already been outsourced to FSM, a Poland-based company, which continued to produce the 126 along with a similar Polish model until 2000.
In 2004, Fiat launched the Trepiuno, which has the feel of a 500. An upgraded model was launched in 2007, but so far its performance has not been as successful as the original.
The New Topolino 500
Fiat is now working on a small, economic car for city driving to range below the Panda. Code name of the project? Topolino, of course. The four-seater model is to be manufactured in the Zastava plant in Kragujevac, Serbia. Reportedly, Fiat has invested 700 million euros to modernize the Zastava plant. The original plan is to produce 200,000 models of the new Topolino.
Don’t be surprised if you soon see these new models zipping through the streets of Italy right alongside their older forebearers.