The Fiat 500: Piccolo Grande Cinquino

Fiat 500 race

Say the words iconic Italian motorcar to most petrol heads and they

will automatically conjure up images of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati.

There’s nothing wrong with this of course, as these names represent

the very best and quintessential luxury sports cars designed to make

a lasting impression. They are also a testament to Italy’s strong sense

of individual expression, extraordinary sense of style, design prowess

and fiery passion.

Fiat 500 classic

Despite the attraction of cruising around in a testosterone powered

super car, you get a very different response when you arrive in a Fiat

500 (cinquecento). One of the hottest selling and most popular cars

ever to leave Italy during the 1960’s, the diminutive Fiat 500 is still

impossible to ignore with its unpretentious looks and resonant sounds

emanating from its two-cylinder, air-cooled engine.

new fiat 500 custom

Designed by Dante Giacosa, the very first Fiat 500 was nicknamed

the Topolino, which at the time of production, was one of the smallest

cars in the world. These baby Fiats were produced from 1936 until 1955.

In all, over 500,000 models of the Topolino were sold, but in 1955 Fiat

launched the mid size, rear wheel drive 600 that would later become

the design basis for the new Fiat 500, which today ranks among Italian

cult icons. On the 4th July 2007, exactly 50 years after the very first

nuova 500 appeared, Fiat launched a new version, available in three

models: Pop, Sport and Lounge. This new version, Fiat says, is “entertaining

and practical, environmentally-friendly and accessible, but also appealing

and full of fun.”

classic car fiat

Its sheer ubiquity in Italy’s towns and cities means that they are

never hard to find and whenever I see or hear one these classical icons,

I find myself contemplating, completely suspended in a timeless silence

as my thoughts rekindle powerful and wonderful memories of my childhood

when I first became acquainted with the cinquecento. I vividly recall

my summer visits to Puglia where I would get to ride in my grandfather’s

treasured, pristine white cinquecento F.

Riding around Taranto and Grottaglie in this little car that was

made ideally for pottering through the narrow and cobbled streets of

Italian towns and villages was certainly an indescribable pleasure.

As well as its unusual looks and sounds, the cinquecento’s plastic interior

also had a distinctive fragrance that was not uncommon among Fiats of

that era.

Il piccolo grande cinquino, as it is affectionately known,

has a special place in my heart. I am glad that it was recently ranked

as a “car of its time that remains great today.” Moreover, the Fiat

500 “immobilized a nation, and since that nation was Italy it did it

in a hyperactive and charismatic way.” What better way to remember this

tiny, historic and ingeniously engineered car?

fiat cinquecento

small fiat

fiat 500 badge

During its heyday it wasn’t just a car, it represented the richness

of life that is so unique to Italy and Italians. There’s definitely

a star quality to the cinquecento. But you don’t have to take my word

for it – even Michael Schumacher apparently has one.

By Charles L. Joseph

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