Of the many Italian automakers out there, Fiat has been around for more than a century and is still running strong with 16 cars currently available in their lineup. Fiat came to be back in 1899 and has had many classic and revolutionary cars, but there has been one car that Fiat has made that tops all of them, and that is the Fiat 500 introduced on July 4th, 1957.
The idea of a small, efficient car is a common idea for sure, but when Fiat decided to create their own version of this idea, something magical happened in the process. The new category of the “city car”, or a car so very small and made for heavily populated areas, came to be. The Mini Cooper was another example, yes, but that would not happen for another two years, so technically the Fiat 500 was the first small car that maximized interior space.
Its dimensions are 9 feet 9 inches long, 4.3 feet wide and 4.3 feet tall! Its wheelbase is 6 feet and it only weighed 1,100 pounds, which is unprecedented for a car these days in the USA! To give you another example, the newest Honda Accord now weighs in at 3,100 lbs! This may not mean much at first, but when you realize the lighter a car, the more fuel efficient it is, because the less weight is being pushed, thus improving nearly all aspects of the car.
In 1957, when Fiat created this car, it was a phenomenon. People loved it, and not only that, it was an absolutely gorgeous car. It was fuel efficient, fun, and actually spacious. People today called it the people’s car for Italy, referring to the Volkswagen Beetle (Volkswagen itself means “the peoples car” in German). In fact a lot of the car was based on the Beetle, more specifically the rear engine mounting in the Fiat 500.
*In its lifespan, there were 6 different models for the 500 that came from 1957 to 1977:
- Nuova – (1957-1960) The original 500, the Nuova has a smaller engine than all newer models, at 479cc and producing 13 bhp. The original model also features a roof folding all the way back to the rear of the vehicle, rather than the later roof design which only folds half way back along the roof. The Nuova is one of three models featuring “suicide doors”. There is also a stylish Sport version of the Nuova, which features a distinctive red stripe and a more powerful engine, bored out to 499.5cc from the original 479cc engine and with a longer stroke, thus producing an impressive 21 bhp from the same original block.
- D – (1960-1969) Replacing the original Nuova in 1960, the D looks very similar, but there are two key differences. One is the engine size (the D features an uprated 499cc engine producing 17 bhp as standard – this engine is used right through until the end of the L in 1973) and the other is the roof (the D roof does not fold back as far as the roof on the Nuova). The D also features “suicide doors”.
- K or Giardiniera – (1960-1977) The longest running model, this is the estate version of the Fiat 500. The engine is laid under the floor of the boot to create a flat loading surface. The roof on this model also stretches all the way to the rear, not stopping above the driver and front passenger as it does in other models of the same period. Very useful if you need to carry a “tall” load! The K also features “suicide doors” and is the only model to continue to sport this door type in to the 1970s. It is shown here to the left.
- F or Berlina – (1965-1972) The F spans two periods of 500 production, the D and the L. As such, it is the most frequently misidentified model. Between 1965 and 1969 the F carried the same badging as the D and the two models are only distinguishable by their doors – the D has “suicide doors” and the F does not. Between 1969 and 1972 the F was sold alongside the Lusso model as a cheaper “base model” alternative. While the F and L are mechanically very similar, the key differences are the bumpers (the L has an extra chrome nudge bar) and the interior (the F interior is nearly identical to the original 1957 design while the L sports a much more modern look).
- L or Lusso – (1968-1972) The penultimate model, the main change for the L is a much modernised interior (including a renewed dashboard) which brought the Fiat 500 up to date. Greater comfort and style were provided in this new model for the new generation.
Fiat 500 Introduction in 1957
- R or Rinnovata – (1972-1975) The last incarnation of the Fiat 500, the R, was arguably the best model. It had a larger 594cc engine, giving it a much more sensible power rating of 23 bhp, and contrary to many translations of the FIAT literature, came with a non-synchromesh “crash-box” transmission. This transmission was retained from the earlier ‘F’ model, unlike the floor-pan which was from either the ‘L’, or later, the new 126. It was also more comfortable and more simply trimmed and equipped than ever – no gas gauge, just a low fuel warning lamp. Sadly, it was also merely a stop-gap for Fiat prior to the launch of the Fiat 126, and when the new 126 was launched sales of the old Fiat 500 R naturally plummeted. It plodded along for another two years beside the Fiat 126 but in the end Fiat made the only sensible choice – to retire the Fiat 500 R once and for all.
Through all the time the 500 was available to the happy hands of the world, many were sold, although it is unclear as to how many in total were made. America did not receive the 500, although classic car dealerships sometimes have them as imported items, as many from Europe have fallen in love with this tiny and beautiful car, and how many are still flying around Italy roads.
By Daniel Lora
*Souce: Wikipedia – Fiat 500