Remembered with fondness by those who were there when it was launched in 1957, the original Fiat 500 is today adored by most who see her. The little rear-engined two-door car could accommodate four people and is widely regarded as the first proper city car and was initially powered by a 479cc two-cylinder air-cooled engine.
Launched as the Nuova 500, no less than 3.8-million of these little town cars were produced between the years 1957 to 1975. Such was its popularity that various body styles were introduced which included the station wagon (500 Giardiniera), a van variant (Furgoncino), the 500 F or Berlina and the 500 L or Lusso models. The final model produced between 1972-1975 was the 500 R or Rinnovata, which was powered by a 594cc engine. Many 500s came with a folding sunroof, no doubt to increase the sense of space and to enjoy the Mediterranean climate.
The design house, Ghia, produced a derivative called the 500 Jolly which featured an open top covered only by a canvas canopy, and was fitted with wicker seats. Suitable only really for poodling along the boulevard at low speeds, this was a favourite ‘toy’ for those who wished to be seen out and about. Another popular option was the diesel engined version which took fuel economy to new levels, even for the frugal little 500.
In 1968 Fiat issued a press release in which it stated that over two million units had been sold in the previous decade, with few changes to the basic design. The press release did point out that the little 500 now boasted self-parking windscreen wipers. In September 1968, a new 500 could have been yours for £348, and together with Purchase Tax, it could be driven away for the princely sum of £446 15s 0d.
Of course, the 1970s was an age of speed and power, not fuel efficiency. And so, it is perhaps not surprising that Carlo Abarth grabbed the little 500 and infused it with extra performance, making it a ‘giant killer’ in its racing class. The little Abarth 500 was soon a familiar site around the race tracks of Europe, speeding around with its rear engine cover fixed in a near horizontal open position.
In 2007, and in celebration of the launch of the original Nuova 500, Fiat launched their new ‘stylistically inspired’ 500. The modern version of this iconic city car, is today a front-engined car driven through the front wheels. With the original car measuring just 2.97m (9 feet 9 inches) long, the new 500 is a much larger vehicle at 3.55m (11 feet 7 inches) in length.
Either way, the Fiat 500 turns heads everywhere and is still a great runabout, as sales of the new version for the eight-year period from its launch in 2007 to September 2015 of 1.5 million units, will testify.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Glen Smale/Virtual Motorpix and Fiat