Long before the Fiat 500 came to the US to try and capture the public's imagination, a Fiat 600 was cruising in the Shell Mileage Marathons (the precursor to today's Eco-marathons) and setting records by getting over 300 miles per gallon. The little red cutie was on display at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 in Houston, TX this weekend to remind the students participating in the challenge – and the public stopping by to see what all the crazy cars were about – incredible that fuel efficiency is nothing new.

"They'd crank it, run and then kill the engine and coast. Same thing they're doing here. They just did it with real cars back then."

The 1959 Fiat 600 in question is currently in the hands of Ken Smith, who maintains a website on its history. For years, the car sat a junked state near the Talladega Museum before making headlines when it was discovered in 2007. "We didn't know what it was at first," he told AutoblogGreen, but bought it anyway and discovered that it had a fuel-saving past, running in the Wood River Mileage Marathons. Those events ended in the late 1970s, but with the Eco-marathons now back in the US, Smith thought it made sense to display the car. He also showed the car at the 2012 event in Houston.

The Fiat 600 ran at least three times in the Mileage Marathons, Smith said. It managed 173 mpg in 1967, 244 in 1968 and 304 in 1973. The car looks like a normal Fiat 600, but there were serious changes made inside.

"Basically, what they did was everything that ran off the pully at the bottom, they took off," he said. "The alternator is gone, the water pump is gone, the radiator is gone. There's no fan. They used electric pumps to circulate the water, and they used a small heater core as a small radiator for the air to come through, and the air would pick up the heat and help cool the water. But they didn't run the engine that long. They'd crank it, run and then kill the engine and coast. Same thing they're doing here. They just did it with real cars back then."

You can read more about this year's Shell Eco-marathon here and here.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 9 Comments
      mayajan67@gmail.com
      • 2 Days Ago
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      • 2 Days Ago
      The Fiat website is http://www.59fiattestcar.com The full explanation to the vehicle use can be found there.
      MotownHeavyMetal
      • 2 Days Ago
      That's a really beautiful Italian car in its simplicity and efficiency.
        LabRat
        • 2 Days Ago
        @MotownHeavyMetal
        By simple you mean deadly in a crash and toxic emissions into the air.... If you do not mind averaging 20 MPH and can accel to 30 and coast until 10, then yes, >300 MPG is possible.
      edward.stallings
      • 2 Days Ago
      Teleny411 said, "And the 600 had the nerve to be fairly practical transportation! It would be good for automakers to revisit some of these minimalist cars." Can't happen due to the complexity and weight associated with all the government safety and emissions regulations. Ironic isn't it?
      BraveLil'Toaster
      • 2 Months Ago
      So, let me get this straight. There *was* no "big oil conspiracy" to suppress this "technology" as the owner of said Fiat claims on his website here: http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2007/05/26/big-oil-conspiracy-continues-244-mpg-fiat-600/ It was just crazy hypermiling techniques which would, ah, get you *shot* if you were ever to actually use them in traffic, combined with a few lightweighting tricks and removing a bunch of hardware that makes it possible to drive the car for more than 15 minutes at a time? So really, it's just the average motorist's impatience and demands for crazy features like "air conditioning", "headlights", "electric starter motors", and "highway speeds" that have kept fuel economy so low for so long. That's an amazing revelation. Please, do tell us all about how this little bit of information has changed your belief in big oil conspiracies. I'll wait.
      jz78817
      • 2 Days Ago
      wow, so you mean you can get great mpg in a 1200 lb car with a 600 cc engine after disabling all of the accessories and manually turning the engine off and on? *Seriously?*
        The Wasp
        • 2 Days Ago
        @jz78817
        I tend to agree with your criticism -- however, this was done 40 years ago with fairly primitive technology and they still got better mileage than nearly all newcomers. They could enter this thing in mileage competitions today and still win.
          Teleny411
          • 2 Days Ago
          @The Wasp
          And the 600 had the nerve to be fairly practical transportation! It would be good for automakers to revisit some of these minimalist cars.