Sunday, May 19 2024

At the height of the Italian economic miracle, the Fiat 500, or rather the Nuova 500 as it was christened to distinguish it from its predecessor though better known as the Topolino, at once contributed to mass motorization in Italy and, in fact, opened the citycar genre.

Declining in a variety of ways, it remained in production from 1957 to 1975 and won the sympathies of nearly 3.9 million motorists throughout Europe, often accompanying them in their first steps of driving but teaching, to all, to become familiar with the double downshift since its gearbox did not include synchronizers.


When the first “cinquino” came out of the Mirafiori plant on Italian TV, the first episodes of Carosello began; when he retired, the Vhs video recording format arrived.

Contextually, he witnessed crucial years in both the transformation of Italy into a modern industrial country and the personalities, events, movements and discoveries that marked that period.

Later, in 1991, its name graphically changed from 500 to Cinquecento reappeared on the automotive scene to identify a model that had nothing to do with the original, but which garnered a fair amount of success.

But, then, in 2007 it again relied on numbers for the generation formally inspired by the mother of all 500s, which subsequently originated the current family that also encroaches into the territories of MPVs with the 500L and crossovers with the 500X.

A line-up that, today, allows the 500 lineage to be able to boast a total production approaching 6 million units.

But let us look back over the career of this legendary automobile, recalling also the most significant facts that have flanked the presence of each version in the past.

 

 

Debuted with the birth of the European Economic Community.

The New 500 had a self-supporting body, a 479 cc air-cooled rear twin-cylinder engine (Fiat’s first), four independent wheels and cost 490 thousand liras, slightly less than the sturdier 600.

It debuted in the summer of 1957, the year when the USSR launched the Sputnik spacecraft carrying the first living dog Laika to orbit the Earth and the founding treaties of the European Economic Community were signed in Rome, with a spartan layout, just two seats and a rear bench seat.

As a result, it could accommodate only two people in the cockpit but could also carry 70 kg of luggage.

Three months later, however, it was modified as it received little interest.

Fiat, therefore, ran for cover and presented two modified versions that it called the 500 Normal and Economy. Both, in spite of the name that would lead one to imagine the exact opposite, offered more content, accommodated four people thanks to a real homologated and padded rear seat and, finally, had an engine that developed 15 instead of 13 hp, but were sold at 465 thousand Lire.

 

 

Then it becomes sporty and evolves into a station wagon

In 1958, the year he became Pope John XXIII and Khrushchev was head of the government and the USSR’s Pcus, the 500 Sport arrived. It costs 560 thousand liras and has an engine with displacement increased to 499.5 cc with 21.5 hp.

It stands out because it initially has a hardtop roof, the exterior traversed by a red band on the sides and, in some cases, two-tone bodywork as well.

The interior, however, reverts to the two dry seats and the unusable rear bench seat.

Two years later, then in 1960 when the Rome Olympics are held and John F. Kennedy is elected president of the United States of America, the small Fiat family expands. The 500D and Giardiniera debuted, costing 450 and 565,000 Lire respectively.

The first inherits the Sport’s engine but with 17.5 hp and features a slight cosmetic update.

The second, is a mini-station wagon with a hinged tailgate on the left side, a long canvas sunroof sliding windows for the rear area of the passenger compartment where passengers benefit from more space than in the sedan due to the 10 cm increase in wheelbase, the rear couch folds down to increase the capacity of the trunk area under which the engine is housed.

The latter is of similar displacement and power to that of the 500D, but is “sole-shaped” to generate a flat load floor.

 

In the mid-1960s it becomes fancy

In 1965, when the Cultural Revolution broke out in China and Mary Quant launched the miniskirt in England, the 500F debuted, selling for 475,000 liras.

It brings to debut front-hinged doors that are more secure and better integrated into the car’s features thanks to the absence of unsightly exposed hinges, a less spartan interior than its predecessors, and an engine that develops 18 hp.

This version inspired a differentiation of the 500’s offerings.

In fact, in 1968 when the French May emerges and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are assassinated, it has a family consisting of the base version and the L, or Lusso.

The latter, which mounts the same engine as the 500F, is sold for 525,000 Lire. On the outside, it is distinguished by chrome rostrums on the bumpers, larger headlights, chrome scattered over the bodywork, radial tires, Fiat logos and unprecedentedly graphic identification badges.

Inside, however, it offers more upholstered seats covered with better materials than those in other versions and dashboard details of a more attractive design.

 

 

In the early 1970s it retires, changing its mission.

By the time it rolls off the lists in 1972, there is a new car among Fiat’s small cars, the 126, to which the 500 joins the Spartan Interpretation R that will remain on the scene until 1975.

When it debuted, a year in which Richard Nixon made a historic trip to China just before the outbreak of Watergate and in which the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics took place, it was on sale for 600,000 Lire.

Although less well-equipped and more expensive than the 500L it establishes itself as a true second car for the family even as the Italians’ standard of living changes.

Suffice it to say that in 1957 the price of the first 500 was equal to 13 worker’s salaries, while in 1975 it took only four to buy a 500R.

In the 21st century it returns and makes conquests even outside Europe

The rest of the history of the 500 is written by both the sport and racing interpretations signed by preparers such as Abarth and Giannini and, of course, the current generation, which in all its declinations continues to win many sympathies outside Europe as well.

Including North America, from where it disembarks from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Mexican plant.

The continuous metamorphosis of the 500, generated both by the advent of the Cabrio and Abarth-signed versions and the robust L and X interpretations, has given birth to Cinquecentismo.

It is a movement animated by various communities of enthusiasts sensitive to the emotional personality of the little Fiat, past and present.

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