The Fiat 500 is headed for a revival this summer, the 50th anniversary of this early small city car. Known as the Nuova Fiat 500, the car was introduced on July 4th, 1957. This July 4th, in Turin, Fiat will offer the new made-in-Poland Fiat 500 for sale. Only 355 cm long, 165 cm wide and 149 cm tall, the new Fiat 500 comes with three engine options: a 75 bhp 1.3 16v MultiJet turbodiesel and two petrol engines, a 69 bhp 1.2 8v and a 100 bhp 1.4 16v, with five or six speed manual gearboxes. Really useful stuff, like mpg ratings and cost, are yet to come, but there's heaps of Fiat 500 history in the official press release after the jump.
[Source: Fiat] PREVIEW: THE NEW FIAT 500
Fifty years ago, on 4 July 1957, Fiat introduced the Nuova Fiat 500, which became an icon of our times, and with which Fiat completed a revival that had begun immediately after the Second World War.
This summer, on 4 July 2007, exactly 50 years later, and once again in Turin, the company will be presenting its new Fiat 500, which will go on sale immediately after the launch. This new car will also mark an important cycle of revival for Fiat Automobiles SpA.
Developed by the Fiat Style Centre and manufactured in Fiat's Tychy (Poland) plant, the new 500 is a 3-door model with very compact measurements: 355 cm long,
165 cm wide, 149 cm tall and a wheelbase of 230 cm. Produced with three engine options: a 75 bhp 1.3 16v MultiJet turbodiesel and two petrol engines, a 69 bhp 1.2 8v and a 100 bhp 1.4 16v, with five or six speed manual gearboxes, the new Fiat 500 is designed to be notably entertaining to drive.
The new car's arrival confirms Fiat Automobiles SpA's undisputed leadership in this category – a result of the company's extraordinary heritage of technical, design and human experience accumulated over more than a century – and the new Fiat 500 takes a quality leap forward in terms of comfort and safety, technology and equipment for this segment.
The new Fiat 500 is the most up-to-date solution for motorists who 'enjoy' their car in complete freedom, and appreciate it for day-to-day use, but also wish to drive a vehicle that is entertaining and practical, environmentally-friendly and accessible, but also appealing and full of fun.
The new Fiat 500 will go on sale in the UK early next year.
FIFTY YEARS SINCE THE LAUNCH OF THE FIAT 500
- The Fiat 500, an icon of our time
- The reconstruction and conquest of the market
- The versions from 1957 to 1975
- Tuned versions and interpretations
- When the 500 was born, the world was a very different place
- Rapid guide to an icon
- The Fiat 500 Club Italia
Some cars go down in history for their technological or styling innovations. Others deserve to be remembered for the role they have played in the daily life of an entire generation or an entire country. Few succeed in combining the two: technology and sentiment. They leave an indelible mark, becoming a sort of icon of their age.
The Nuova 500 is one of these. In a career lasting 18 years, from 1957 to 1975, exactly 3,893,294 were built, and it helped Italians and numerous other Europeans to satisfy a need for individual mobility that began to gain momentum from the early 1950s. The Nuova 500, even more than the 600 (1955), also brought the end of the post-war emergency period for motorisation and the automotive industry in Italy, and the start of the striving for comfort, albeit minimal and economical.
With the Nuova 500, the country of the 'Poor but beautiful' became, or tried to become, not quite as poor (and to a certain extent it succeeded), but above all, able to move around more freely.
The Nuova 500 also concluded the rebirth of Fiat and of its product range, after the devastation of the Second World War. Dante Giacosa, the 'father' of the Nuova 500, but also of the previous 500 Topolino and of numerous other models, said in his book 'Progetti alla Fiat prima del computer' (Design at Fiat before the computer), that when the 500 was launched on 4 July, 1957, Fiat "realised its programme of renewing its models, to replace those born before the Second World War".
At two-year intervals, the 1400, 1900, 1100, Nuova 500 and their derivatives were launched on the international market. In just 10 years, Fiat had conceived and begun manufacture of four completely new basic models that had their roots in the technological culture that had grown up in its own offices and laboratories.
Writing about the launch of the Nuova 500, Dante Giacosa revealed that the term 'Big little car' was also coined at Mirafiori, but the pragmatic engineer commented that "people just called it the 500". Fifty years after that summer of 1957, in an age when television is even available on mobile phones, with shots and reports from all over the universe, it is entertaining to read that "the launch was held in great style. National television installed itself in the Mirafiori workshop on a boiling hot evening in July, and even I was invited for a live interview on the assembly line."
Eighteen years after that "boiling hot evening in July", during which time almost 3.9 million cars were built, another very hot day dawned – 4 August, 1975 – the day on which the 'last' car, at least of the 1957-75 Nuova Fiat 500 series, was built, not at Mirafiori but at the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo).
THE RECONSTRUCTION AND CONQUEST OF THE MARKET
The Nuova 500 was not just a brilliant idea by Dante Giacosa, like the 600 and the many other cars he designed. Nor was it just a model of which millions were made, which got the mission and contents just right to fall in with the company's programmes at the time. More than anything else, the 500 was the result of a strategy to develop and revamp its range that Fiat had already embarked on during the Second World War. Vittorio Valletta, Managing Director first and then company chairman from 1946 (after the death of Senator Agnelli), asked Giacosa to start thinking of new cars that could go into production after the war, even while Turin was still being targeted by Allied air raids, and the Mirafiori offices were occupied by German 'allies-occupiers'.
But it was only in the early 1950s, and therefore when the reconstruction of the plants was well underway, that work on the new models began in earnest at Mirafiori. In 1949 the Topolino C, the last of the series, went into production, but other 'real' new models arrived: the 1400, a cabrio version of the 1400, the 1900 diesel, the Nuova 1100 of 1953 and its derived versions. And in 1952, in a blaze of technology, the sporty 8 V appeared, followed a year later by a futuristic turbine-powered prototype.
The reconstruction years at Fiat and the consequent development of new cars, including the Nuova 500, reflected the situation in the country in the early 1950s, when there were growing signs that the market was becoming increasingly receptive to mass motorisation. The 'need' for individual mobility was answered, in Italy, from 1946 until the mid 1950s, not by cars but by two-wheeled vehicles, and particularly the scooters built by Piaggio and Innocenti, the Vespa and the Lambretta. The former, for example, from an output of 2500 units in 1946, reached its one millionth unit just 10 years later, in 1956.
In 1955, registration of two-wheeled vehicles in Italy totalled 400,000 units, an amazing record, if we think that in 1951 there were just under 40,000 licensed motor vehicles registered. The boom of the two-wheeler was an important indication of the prospects for the four-wheeled vehicle market, and prompted Fiat to speed up development of its new model. The great commitment by Fiat design engineers culminated in 1955 with the 600, Italy's first real popular family car (between 1955 and 1970, 2,777,313 were built in Mirafiori alone) and in 1957 with the Nuova 500.
From then on, Fiat's manufacturing volumes began to soar (from an annual total of 108,700 in 1950 – the first year in company history that the 100,000 mark was passed – to almost 513,300 in 1960, and 994,000 in 1965), as well as the daily output: 1,000 units/day in 1956, 2,000 units/day in 1960 after the 500 had been on the market for three years, and 4,000 units/day in 1965 when the 850 joined the 600 and the 500. The workforce increased from 72,000 in 1950 to almost 93,000 in 1960, and almost 185,000 in 1970.
The boom of 'accessible' four-wheeled vehicles heralded the start of the crisis for two-wheelers. From 1955 (the year that the 600 was launched) registrations of motorcycles and scooters began to fall off, and by 1957, when the 500 arrived, they were just above 330,000 units/year; in 1965, the year that Fiat output first exceeded one million cars in a year, registrations of motorcycles were just above 200,000 units. In other words, if Fiat had set out to win over a segment of the domestic market with its 500 and 600 to the detriment of other forms of vehicles, it had been successful. 'Pioneering' travel on two wheels, albeit motorised, was no longer enough in the new, more affluent Italy. The number of wheels doubled; people wanted a roof over their heads to protect them from the weather, in other words, they wanted a car.
The level of motorisation in Italy is worth mentioning; it grew from 6 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1950 to 32 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1960 (therefore in the period of greatest demand for the 600, but above all for the 500), reaching 167 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1970, and leaping to 330 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1980, in line with the rest of Western Europe. The great task of motorising the Italians and of bringing them into line with Europe in terms of car use, was certainly achieved thanks primarily to the Fiat 600 and 500, supported by the 850.
The 110 prototype for the Nuova 500
To understand 'how' and why the Nuova 500 was conceived, we have to think not of a mere substitute for the old Topolino (509,650 units between 1936-1955), or of a model that was able to compete with a scooter, in terms of costs and efficiency.
Giacosa wrote an interesting description of the 'preparatory' stage before the arrival of the car. The most important Italian automotive engineer in the second half of the 20th century, and the true father of the Nuova 500, is the best witness to these events. "While the 600 was still at the experimental stage," he said, "I had put people back to work on a minimalist car, even smaller and more economical. The Italians wanted cars, and they were willing to make do with even less space, provided it was on four wheels. No matter how small, a car would still be more comfortable than a scooter, particularly in winter and in the rain. I had people sketch models of unconventional small cars that had to compete with the Vespa in particular."
As far back as 1939, Fiat had already done some work on 'minimalist' cars that had remained at the experimental stage because of the war, which is what happened to the first type 100 with front-wheel drive and a 500 cc transverse engine, designed in 1947, which was never built.
During the war, a prototype, known as the Gregoire, appeared in France, attracting a great deal of attention, but again, nothing came of it. But at Mirafiori, Fiat engineers knew that in Germany they were designing small cars like the BMW Isetta, which Giacosa called "half-way between a car and a motorcycle", and attempts were being made to restart manufacture of the people's car, the Volkswagen, in viable numbers. The Deutsche Fiat company had a sort of technological antenna in Germany through its headquarters in Heilbronn and its assembly plant in Weinsberg. A technician called Hans Peter Bauhof worked there, whom Dante Giacosa defined as a man with a "fervid imagination, animated by a restless spirit of initiative", adding, in what resembled a note to the personnel department, that he was "shy and modest, but ingenious, tenacious and hard-working".
In 1953, the technician from Heilbronn submitted his proposal (which appears somewhat rustic from the pictures that still remain) for a small car with a single cylinder, 2-stroke engine derived from a motorcycle which, in Giacosa's words, was "unsuitable for the car that Fiat wanted to build". But Bauhof's ideas for the construction of the bodywork were appreciated in Turin. Bauhof also sent a prototype to Turin, which Giacosa found "interesting for its simplicity", but the rest of the company considered it too superficial and insufficient as a car.
When Bauhof's proposal to use a motorcycle engine had been discarded, Giacosa continued to work on the 500 project. In 1954 he decided "that the engine had to be a 4-stroke, with two cylinders in line, which is the simplest, most economical engine, and that it should be air-cooled. It may be positioned transversely, it is simple and has a high mechanical efficiency". He entrusted the actual design to the engineer Giovanni Torrazza, "the only graduate working for me who knew how to draw", and designed the bodywork himself, because "I was so worried about giving the car an attractive shape, a structure that was as light as possible but sturdy, and simple but economical to build". Giacosa prepared two plaster models, one very similar to the 600 and the other entirely new. "I tried to make the sheet metal surface as small as possible", he wrote in his book, "in order to limit the weight and the cost, much as I had done for the 600".
His description of the presentation of the two 500 mock-ups is involuntarily comic because, as Giacosa recalled, "when I presented the two mock-ups to the Professor (Vittorio Valletta, Fiat Chairman at the time) and to the small Executive Committee, they were silent and perplexed, although they gradually relaxed when they understood the various reasons for things. And because they had to take a decision, they decided to support me, and approved the new version".
The start of development
Giacosa went on to say that "once the bodywork was approved, the new model 110 (Fiat internal number-code name for the Nuova 500 project which adopted the 'hundreds-based' numbering system for the various 'types' and models) was discussed for the first time at the New types meeting of 18 October, 1954, attended by Giacosa, Vittorio Valletta (Chairman and Managing Director of Fiat), Gaudenzio Bono (also Managing Director and General Manager), Luigi Gajal de la Chenaje (Vice Chairman and Commercial Manager) and other representatives of company management. And on that occasion, the new car shed its project number and was given its first name, or number, the 400.
At the meeting it was decided that the new model would have a power delivery of 13 bhp, a capacity of 480 cc with overhead or side valves, a top speed of 85 km/h, fuel consumption of 4.5 litres for 100 km, a weight of 370 kg and would carry two passengers. The prototype was to be approved on 30 June, 1955 so that production could start in mid 1956. At the same time, a prototype with four seats instead of two was also approved, as well as another prototype "but with a different, more luxurious body" for Autobianchi (a company created out of the former Edoardo Bianchi company, set up in 1955 with capital from Fiat, Pirelli and Bianchi).
The meeting in the Park at Stupinigi
Nowadays, carmakers try to hide their new models, keeping them even from the eyes of employees, or they organise ultra-secret clinic tests, and Dante Giacosa's description of the presentation of the entire new range of Fiat models, including the 500, is another curious sign of the half-century that has passed. It all took place not in a secluded spot, but in the park of the Royal Hunting Lodge at Stupinigi, just outside Turin. The park is open to the public and no manufacturer would use it today to present its entire range of future models to company managers, and also to its major stockholder, since 'Avvocato' Gianni Agnelli, Vice Chairman of the company, was also present at the meeting on 18 October, 1955.
"Someone expressed the fear that the public might find the Autobianchi more attractive and appealing than the Fiat, and prefer it", said Giacosa in his book, "but we decided to set a higher price, closer to the 600, in order to limit demand to no more than 50 cars/day, since Desio (the Autobianchi plant) could not exceed that figure". At the same meeting, a manager whose name is not known, even proposed giving the 500 to Autobianchi to produce, while Fiat built the Bianchina, but the proposal never got off the ground.
An investment of 7 billion lire was earmarked for the project, with an output of 300 cars/day. "Valletta persuaded us to turn out 500 units/day of mechanical parts and bodies, but only 300 cars/day worth of other parts that were built in the subsidiary workshops in Lingotto". The 200 per day not assembled but manufactured and available on hand were used to build up the parts stocks, and if necessary, would be assembled to create the so-called end-of-line 'store'. The months leading up to the launch were intense, with road tests, particularly to reduce vibration and engine noise, and to increase reliability and driveability. But at the beginning of the summer of 1957, the Nuova 500 was ready for the market.
-Profile of the protagonists-
Dante Giacosa - Born in Rome on 3 January, 1905, but his family was originally from Piedmont. He took a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Turin Polytechnic in 1927 when he was just 22, and immediately joined Fiat, having answered an advertisement in the paper. He was taken on as a design engineer and went on to become one of the greatest designers in the company's history. In 1933 he became Car Engineering Manager, in 1955 head of the Vehicle Engineering department, and in 1966 Division Manager and Member of the Executive Committee. During his career he dealt not only with engineering but also with car design, as in the case of the Nuova 500 in 1957, which won him the Golden Compass award in 1959. He left Fiat in 1970 but remained a consultant 'for life'. The cars created by Giacosa included: the Topolino in 1936, the 1400, 1900, Campagnola, the various versions of the 1100, the 600 and 600 Multipla, the Nuova 500, 1800, 2300 and 2300 coupé, the Autobianchi Bianchina, the Autobianchi Primula (the first Italian car with front-wheel drive and a transverse engine), the Autobianchi A112, the Fiat 124, 125, 126 and 128, and he also collaborated with Pio Manzù on the development of the Fiat 127. He died in Turin on 31 March, 1996.
Vittorio Valletta - Born in Genoa on July 28, 1883. He moved to Turin where he studied Accountancy at night school, followed by a diploma at the Institute of Commerce, also at evening classes. He taught in an institute of accountancy, and he worked for a tax and business consultant, and for the Chiribiri company, a Turin carmaker that has now vanished. In 1921, the 'Professor' was appointed to the Fiat top management by Fiat founder Senator Giovanni Agnelli, becoming General Manager in 1928. He was appointed Fiat Managing Director in 1939, and after being suspended for a short period in 1945 when the company went into administration at the end of the second world war, he became company Chairman in 1946, a position that he held for 20 years, until 1966. He died in Pietrasanta (Lucca) on 10 August, 1967.
THE VERSIONS FROM 1957 TO 1975
The Nuova 500 (1957 - 1960)
Output: over 181,000 units
(including the 'economica': 'normale and 'Sport versions)
Launch price: 465,000 lire
The Fiat Nuova 500 made its debut in the summer of 1957, with an excessively spartan specification: just two seats and a rear bench. The car could only accommodate two people, but could carry 70 kg of luggage (very important at the time).
The 500 was 2.97 metres long, 1.32 metres wide and 1.325 metres tall. It had a wheelbase of 1.84 metres. Empty it weighed 470 kg, and fully laden 680 kg. The rounded, well-proportioned lines recalled an egg, and one distinctive feature was the canvas roof that opened right to the rear of the vehicle, like the one on the 500 Topolino. The roof incorporated a transparent plastic rear window. The Nuova 500 won its designer, Dante Giacosa, the prestigious Golden Compass award for industrial design in 1959.
The engine of the 500 was a new petrol engine with two cylinders in line and air-cooled (it was Fiat's first air-cooled engine) with a capacity of 479 cc, delivering 13 bhp. The gearbox had four speeds with synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Braking was hydraulically assisted on all four wheels. The transmission was of the oscillating axle shaft type and drive was to the rear wheels, with the engine positioned at the rear of the car, the second time in Fiat history, after the 600 launched in 1955. Top speed was 85 km/h and average fuel consumption was 4.5 litres /100 km.
The front suspension was independent with upper cross links, a transverse lower leaf spring and telescopic dampers at the front, and independent, with cross links, large coil springs and telescopic dampers at the rear. Because there was no other space available, the 20-litre barrel-shaped fuel tank was located under the front bonnet.
One of the characteristic features of the Nuova 500 were the pressed metal wheels without hub caps that were painted a light colour; the headlights were recessed flush with the body at the front, and oval at the rear. There were no direction indicators on the front, these being replaced by the large drop-shaped indicators on the sides. On the front was the Fiat logo, surrounded by a sort of grille with two chrome-plated 'whiskers'. The doors were hinged at the rear.
The equipment and fittings were kept to a minimum; for example, the windscreen wiper did not have an automatic return, and the few tools provided, such as the jack, were kept in a canvas bag in the boot.
The Nuova 500 received its first revisions at the 1957 Turin Motor Show (i.e. just three months after its launch). It had not been a great success with the public. The clientele found it much too basic, and two seats were considered too few. In other words, the improvement over the scooter (and a costly one at that) was not yet perceived or perceivable by the clientele. That was not all: the difference in price with respect to the basic 600 (launched in 1955) penalised the new Fiat. The 600 had a more powerful engine (633 cc, 21.5 bhp and a top speed of 95 km/h) and carried 4 passengers + 30 kg of luggage. It also had better equipment, was more of a car, and cost 590,000 lire, just 125,000 lire more than the 500.
So Fiat was quick to act, introducing two modified versions, which it called the 500 'Normale' and 500 'Economica'. Although their names seemed to indicate the opposite, they offered more equipment, could seat four thanks to a 'real', homologated rear seat that was also slightly padded, and had a more powerful engine, but cost 25,000 lire less than the first 500. The comparison with the 600 improved.
The additions to the car included chrome-plated shields to the front headlights, front quarter lights, lateral trims, improved facia controls, chrome-plated hubcaps, and a new rear model tag. The canvas roof stopped at the rear edge of the roof, and remained like that on subsequent versions of the car. The engine was also boosted by increasing the compression ratio, and adopting a new carburettor and camshaft. Power delivery increased from 13 to 15 bhp, and the top speed to 90 km/h (+5 km/h).
The price was 490,000 lire, therefore more than the first 500, and just 100,000 lire less than the 600 with which it was compared.
Nuova 500 Sport saloon and open roof (1958 - 1960)
Price: 560,000 lire (saloon) and 495,000 (open roof)
In the summer of 1958 Fiat launched the Sport version to differentiate and further strengthen the 500 range. The engine was more powerful, and the capacity increased to 499.5 cc, delivering 21.5 bhp, for a top speed of 105 km/h (+10 km/h). Consumption also increased, but only marginally, to 4.8 litres/100 km. But it returned to the 2-seat layout, with a rear bench that was not suitable for passengers. However the luggage capacity increased to 70 kg once again.
In 1959 an open-roofed version of the Sport appeared, with a canvas roof that stopped just behind the front seats. The doors were still hinged at the rear and, where styling was concerned, the tyres no longer had white walls (synonymous with elegance at the time) but were plain black, more gutsy but also less expensive, and the seats were made of a washable solid tone fabric (mainly red) with a red band at the top.
The 500 Giardiniera (1960 – 1977)
Output 458,000 units
(including the cars built by Autobianchi)
Launch price: 565,000 lire
The Giardiniera, the station wagon version of the 500, was launched in May 1960. The car had a 499.5 cc engine delivering 17.5 bhp, which took this mini estate to 95 km/h, with fuel consumption of 5.2 litres/100 km. The most important element, technically, was the different positioning of the twin-cylinder engine which was laid on its side 'like a sole', as they said at Fiat, so that it could fit under the flat loading surface. This same engine also powered the 126 in the latter days of its life, on the Bis version of the late 1980s which had a rear opening tailgate, and even on the first Cinquecento in 1991, suitably modified and developed.
For the Giardiniera, the engineers at Mirafiori increased the wheelbase by 10 centimetres to boost load capacity. This made the car 3.182 metres long, 1.323 metres wide and 1.354 metres tall with a wheelbase of 1.940 metres. Empty, the car weighed 555 kg and fully laden 875 kg. In terms of engineering, the brakes were still hydraulic on all four wheels, the gearbox still had four speeds with synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and 4th, and the suspension design also remained the same.
The Giardiniera had a payload of 4 adults + 40 kg of luggage, but the rear seat squab folded down to increase load capacity. With only the driver on board, the 500 Giardiniera could carry up to 200 kg of luggage.
The styling was typical of a small station wagon of its day, with the rounded lines of the 500 saloon at the front and the addition of two round direction indicators, while those at the side were smaller, with two front doors (still rear-hinged), and a small rear tailgate that opened from right to left, being hinged on the left. The rear side windows slid open to improve ventilation and circulate the air. There was a long canvas sunroof. The Giardiniera was initially built at Mirafiori, on the same assembly lines as the saloon, but in 1966 it was transferred to Desio and built by Autobianchi. A total of 327,000 Fiat 500 Giardinieras were built (and at the end of its life, some appeared with only the Autobianchi name and without the Fiat logo on the front and rear).
The 500 D (1960 – 1965)
Output: over 642,000 units
Launch price: 450.000 lire
The new 500 series D was launched in the Autumn of 1960. Engine capacity was increased to 499.5 cc, and this version inherited the engine of the Sport version, which was taken off the market. It had a power output of 17.5 bhp, a top speed of 95 km/h and average consumption of 4.8 litres/100 km. The car was homologated for four people with 40 kg of luggage. The unladen weight also increased to 500 kg (the first 500 of 1957 weighed 470, and this reflected an important increase in content and stronger materials) and 820 kg fully laden.
The styling did not change, and the doors were still hinged at the rear but the design of the front and side direction indicators changed, adopting those on the Giardiniera. The rear light clusters changed and the canvas roof was now sturdier, easier to open and slightly smaller. White 'walls' returned on the tyres.
The fuel tank on the 500 D lost its barrel shape but remained in the front; its new less bulky form took up a little less space in the boot although it increased in size from 20 to 22 litres. A fold-down rear squab was adopted.
500 F (1965 – 1972)
Output: 2,272,000 (including the 500 L)
Launch price: 475,000 lire
The 500 F made its debut in March 1965 (it was joined by the 500 'Lusso' in 1968), and was the first version to feature front-hinged doors which were safer in an accident, and made it possible to hide the ugly door hinges for the first time. In terms of engineering, the transmission was made more robust, with a number of improvements to the clutch, drive shafts and differential.
The engine still had a capacity of 499.5 cc, but now delivered 18 bhp, taking the 500 F to a top speed of 95 km/h. Fuel consumption also increased compared to previous versions, to 5.5 litres/100 km. The weight rose to 520 kg empty and 840 km fully laden. The car maintained its 4-seat homologation, with a maximum 40 kg of luggage. The gradient negotiable was now 26% compared to 23% on the first series.
Inside, there were a number of improvements and additional equipment and materials. With the 500 F, Fiat began to differentiate the range by price, styling and content. The
engineers at Mirafiori designed a 'basic' version, the 500 F, and a better equipped version, the 500 'Lusso', which was launched in 1968.
500 L – 'Lusso' (1968 – 1972)
Output: 2,272,000 units (including the 500F)
Launch price: 525,000 lire
This version, which appeared in September 1968, had a clear mission: to meet the demands of customers looking for a car that was more comprehensive, more customised and more 'luxurious'. These motorists were prepared to spend as much as 525,000 lire, in other words, 100,000 lire more than the 500 F. Marketing, evolving tastes and changing lifestyles were leading Fiat to develop a car that was a small status symbol for its day. The age of the basic car was already coming to an end, because customers wanted more.
The 500 L did not change where engineering and performance were concerned (engine capacity of 499.5 cc, 18 bhp, top speed of 95 km/h), but fuel consumption was down to 5.3 litres/100 km from 5.5 litres/100 km on the 500 F. The interior and exterior styling of the 500 L was new. Chrome nudge bars on the front and rear bumpers increased the length to 3.025 metres compared to 2.970 metres on the 500 F (the weight also increased by 10 kg to 530 km empty). The front and rear light clusters changed radically, and the two round front headlights, the direction indicators and the rear lights were all larger.
The Fiat logo on the front also changed, becoming rectangular, whereas on the 500 F it was still surrounded by a grille, with two chrome-silver painted plastic 'whiskers'. Chrome-plated trim appeared on the roof drip channels for the first time. At the rear, the model name in italics used on previous series was abandoned in favour of new rhomboid-shaped brand and model graphics with black upper case lettering, positioned horizontally and no longer transversely on the bonnet, surrounded by squares with a metallic grey background which recalled the rhomboids of the Fiat trademark, that were used on all Fiat models from 1968.
But it was inside that the 500 L lived up to its name as the 'luxury' version. A number of interior details were redesigned, and the seats were upholstered in leather cloth with vertical quilting, usually in a light hide colour or red. The seats themselves were better padded with reclining squabs, and the number and size of the storage compartments increased (for example in the doors).
But the 500 L was a sort of swansong for the model. In 1972, when it was taken off the market, there was a new small Fiat, the 126, and from 1972 to 1975 only one version of the 500 was still in production, the last, and most basic version, the 500 R.
500 R (from 1972 to 1975)
Output: over 340,000 units
Launch price: 600,000 lire
Simultaneously, with the presentation of its successor, the 126, the last 500 was launched in 1972 at the Turin Motor Show. The car concluded the story begun 15 years earlier, in 1957, with a total of 3,893,294 units built at Mirafiori, at the Autobianchi plant in Desio and, finally, at the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo), where the last 500 came off the assembly line in the Summer of 1975.
In the last three years of production, the 500 R (meaning 'Rinnovata', renewed) used the 594 cc engine of the 126, downgraded to 18 bhp from the 23 of the 126, but it kept the old 500 gearbox. Top speed was increased to 100 km/h, but the interiors had less equipment than the previous 500 L.
The age of the rounded curves of the 500 was over, and Italy was no longer the same country that had motorised itself in the space of 15 years (1957-1972), thanks in part to the small car designed by Dante Giacosa.
The production of various versions of the 500 exceeded even the 600, another car created by Giacosa, which closed its career with a total of 2,677,313 in 15 years of life, from 1955 to 1970.
The 500 Topolino, which was built in Lingotto from 1936 to 1955, reached little more than 509,000 units, partly because of the War. So for many years, until the Uno, Panda and Punto passed the one million mark, the legendary 500 of 1957-1972 remained the biggest selling and most built Fiat car.
The story of the 500 cannot be told without mentioning Autobianchi. In 1955, the Edoardo Bianchi company became part of Autobianchi, a joint-stock company, with capital from Fiat and Pirelli. In 1967 Autobianchi was in turn taken over by Fiat. When the company was transformed in the mid-Fifties, it stopped building its own cars and became a brand that produced variants of Fiat models. One such case was the Bianchina, which was basically a 'diversified' 500, also designed by Giacosa, which made its debut in 1957, costing a little more than its Fiat 'cousin', to avoid overlapping and 'cannibalisation' within the group for the saloon version. The subsequent Bianchina Panoramica, was a 500 Giardiniera 'dressed up' by Autobianchi.
In 1964, the Milan-based company launched the Primula (the first Italian saloon with front-wheel drive and a transversely mounted engine, the result of Giacosa's ingenuity), followed by the A 111 and the legendary A 112. The 500 Giardiniera was built in Desio, at the Autobianchi plant, until the 1970s.
Autobianchi output grew from just 141 cars registered in 1957, to 12,233 in 1960, and 74,397 in 1970. Output of the Bianchina Cabrio was significant for its time, and a total of 9,000 were built in just four years from 1957.
TUNED VERSIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS
Abarth is an Italian firm famous for tuning car engines for regular road use and for competition. At the 1957 Turin Motor Show, Carlo Abarth exhibited a version derived from a model just launched by Fiat which boosted the standard delivery of 13 bhp to 20 bhp, and the top speed from 85 km/h to 100 km/h, without altering engine capacity.
And at the same Show, Abarth teamed up with Pininfarina to exhibit a delightful coupe version of the 500. In 1958, Carlo Abarth, who was Austrian by birth but lived in Turin, built a 500 GT with Zagato. In 1963 the 595 saloon 1st series appeared, with an engine derived from the 500 D and a power output of 30 bhp. It was totally re-engineered compared to the basic version, and could be ordered as a ready assembled car or as a kit for an extra 145,000 lire. Several evolutions of the 595 appeared in 1964, the 595 SS convertible saloon, the 695, and the 695 SS in 1965 and 1966.
Over the years, 500 Abarths became icons and introduced the fashion of tuning one's own car to Italy, to the point that customers unable to purchase an Abarth would at least try to get hold of the styling accessories. As a result, there were a number of entirely normal Fiat 500 Ds on the road that resembled the 595, stylistically at least.
The 500 Giannini
Talk of tuned Fiat 500s should include a mention of Domenico and Attilio Giannini, two brothers from Rome. Their company, which was created as a mechanical repair shop, was linked to the Itala in the 1920s, and in the 1930s Giannini began to modify Fiat cars, including the Topolino, and the Nuova 500 from 1957. The years up to 1960 were the best for Giannini, which opened branches and workshops, and launched several tuning kits, in addition to complete modified cars, both for everyday use and competition.
Coachbuilders and the 'modified' 500
Numerous coachbuilders and stylists also worked on the 500, including Vignale who launched the Gamine model based on the 500 F, Moretti (who also worked on an electric engine), Francis Lombardi with his 2-seater coupé, the Coccinella, and Fissore, who tried his hand both with a coupé and, in 1966, with an off-roader, the 500 Ranger, which boasted sturdier engineering borrowed from both the 500 and the 600, but still had two-wheel drive to the rear wheels.
WHEN THE 500 WAS CONCEIVED THE WORLD WAS A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE
The years in which the Fiat 500 was in production (1957-1975) were some of the most important in the 20th century. Apart from major events and history with a capital 'H', the overall evolution in living conditions and lifestyles was constant.
Numerous objects that we now use regularly and which appear absolutely banal, such as felt-tip pens or colour photocopiers, even colour television, or the now almost obsolete VHS video tapes and music cassettes, soft contact lenses, and safety attachments for skis, were invented, developed or produced in the 18 years in which the various series and versions of the 500 were on the roads of Italy and elsewhere.
The 500 debuted in 1957, when the first episodes of the Carosello programme were broadcast on Italian television, and ceased production in 1975, when the first pioneering VHS video recordings were appearing. In its 18 years of life, it survived a whole epoch.
For example, when it was presented, the USSR launched Sputnik into space carrying a small dog, Laika, the first living thing to orbit the Earth. It was the age of the conquest of space, but then, the 500 helped to conquer the problem of mobility in Italy.
In 1957, AC Milan won the soccer championship, and Gastone Nencini of Tuscany won the Giro d'Italia. Jacques Anquetil won his first Tour de France and Juan Manuel Fangio the last of his five F1 world titles with Maserati. The Mille Miglia had been cancelled because of the terrible accident in Guidizzolo. Italian television in 1957 not only broadcast the Carosello, but also 'Il Musichiere' with Mario Riva and 'Lascia o Raddoppia' presented by Mike Bongiorno. At the cinema, the major films were the Swedish Wild strawberries with Ingrid Thulin and, A King in New York with Charlie Chaplin. West Side Story debuted on stage in the USA, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and Italian bookstores offered Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.
1957 was also an eventful year politically. In Rome, Italy, France, the German Federal Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the treaties that founded the European Economic Community, which was to produce the European Common Market in 1958.
1958, the year of the 500 Sport, was certainly no less intense than the previous year. Vladimir Nabokov published his novel Lolita in the United States, which caused a scandal and created a new word. There were news items that went almost unnoticed although they were extremely important. For example, Swedish doctor Ake Senning invented the cardiac stimulator or pacemaker. The first high-speed dentists' drills made a little more noise, but were less painful. The American Ampex company announced the arrival of a video colour recorder. The race to nuclear propulsion picked up speed. The USA and USSR launched atomic transport and icebreaker ships, and the US Navy submarine, Nautilus, passed under the polar icecap. A young ballerina, Carla Fracci, became an étoile at La Scala in Milan. In sport, Brazil won the World Cup in Sweden, Juventus won the Italian soccer championship, Ercole Baldini won the Giro d'Italia, and a climber, Charly Gaul from Luxembourg, won the Tour de France. Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, died in 1958 and Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII, Khrushchev became Soviet Premier and Communist Party Chairman, and General De Gaulle was elected President of the Fifth French Republic. In Algeria, Generals Salan and Massu attempted a coup to try to prevent the process of independence in the North African country.
In 1959 Fulgencio Batista fled from Cuba and Fidel Castro came to power, Cyprus declared independence, and a revolt in Tibet was put down by Chinese troops as the Dalai Lama found refuge in India. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states of the USA. Astérix comics debuted in France, and cinema audiences watched Hiroshima mon amour by Alain Resnais and Some like it hot with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon, directed by Billy Wilder.
The 500 D and the Giardiniera were launched in 1960, the year of the Rome Olympics. John Kennedy won the US presidential elections and a crisis immediately started with the USSR when an American U2 spy plane was shot down. Economic relations with Cuba were interrupted, and in South Vietnam, the Vietcong guerrilla forces attacked the Diem government and the Americans who supported it. 1960 was also the year of the first performances by the Beatles in Liverpool.
The general census of 1961 found that there were 50,624,000 Italians. During the year, the first audio cassettes were manufactured. The WWF was founded, and Briton Peter Benenson founded Amnesty International in the field of human rights. 1961 went down in history for a number of dramatic events. Construction of the Berlin Wall began during the year, while in Cuba, the anti-Castro Bay of Pigs expedition, supported by the CIA, was a failure. The USSR announced that it was carrying out nuclear experiments again. In the meantime, France was trying to deal with OAS terrorists who wanted to maintain colonial domination in Algeria.
In 1962, France gave up Algeria which became independent. The Cuban crisis exploded and the world found itself one step from nuclear war and, as if that were not enough, China launched a partial invasion of India. In the meantime a German, Walter Bruch, developed the PAL colour television system, the American satellite, Telstar, made the first global transmission in colour possible, and the first industrial robots were built in Japan.
1963 was a year of mourning, with the Vajont dam disaster (over 2000 dead) and the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas. In Italy, the centre-left Government was reshuffled yet again, and the cultural scene was very lively. Nikita Khrushchev fell from power in Russia, replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as Communist Party secretary and Alexey Kosygin as Prime Minister. Palmiro Togliatti, secretary of the Italian Communist Party, died in Yalta (USSR).
Early in 1964 France recognised Red China and the USA began to bomb North Vietnam. China exploded its first atom bomb and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) was founded in Jerusalem. That year the Milan underground was inaugurated and A fistful of dollars by Sergio Leone, the first archetypal 'Spaghetti' Western, reached the cinemas. A Czechoslovak technician produced the first soft contact lenses and in Germany, biodegradable detergents became obligatory.
In 1965 the 500 F made its debut, while the Cultural Revolution was starting in China, Mary Quant was launching the miniskirt in Britain, and the vernacular was replacing Latin in the Catholic liturgy. The mention of these three so different events (combined with the launch of another version of the small Fiat) underlined the many changes that took place in 1965. From the marketing of the first video-recorders right up to the construction of the first electronic music synthesisers and the launch of the first telecommunications satellite. Tragic events for the year included the race riots in Los Angeles, the assassination of Malcolm X, a new war between India and Pakistan, and guerrilla attacks on Israel by the PLO and Al-Fatah.
In 1966, Indira Gandhi was elected Prime Minister of India, while the Red Guards were created in China to support the Cultural Revolution. It was the year that the Americans bombed Hanoi, and that De Gaulle decided to take France out of NATO. The French manufacturer Salomon produced and marketed the first safety attachments for downhill skis. The home team won the World Cup in England.
The Six Day war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, during which the Israeli army occupied the Golan Heights, Sinai, the West Bank and Jerusalem set the summer of 1967 alight. That same year there was a military coup in Greece, and Ernesto Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia by government troops. The South African Christian Barnard carried out the first human heart transplant. Hair was staged for the first time in a theatre off Broadway.
The Fiat 500 L was launched in 1968, as was the first colour television patented by Sony, the Trinitron. That year Italy was also involved in a huge project to dismantle and reassemble the Abu Simbel temples, threatened by the construction of the Aswan dam. With the slogan 'Power to the Imagination', student movements all over Europe rose up to try to shake up a society that was out of date. That same year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, the violence of the Vietnam war increased, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Russian troops to wipe out the new liberal political environment created by Dubcek. In the USA, Richard Nixon was re-elected President. In Italy, a disastrous earthquake hit the Belice Valley.
Man's landing on the moon was the event that symbolises 1969. By itself. It was sufficient to represent a year characterised by Concorde's first flight, or the Woodstock pop festival in the USA, depending on one's taste. The first peace negotiations between USA and North Vietnam were held in Paris during the year, and Ho Chi Mihn died in Hanoi. Yasser Arafat was elected President of the PLO, and in France De Gaulle resigned and was replaced by Georges Pompidou. A military coup in Libya removed King Idris, and colonel Gaddafi seized power.
In 1970, American bombing raids started again in Vietnam, Nasser died and Khmer Rouge guerrilla warfare began in Cambodia. Divorce was introduced in Italy. The list of 'positive events' for the year included the first regular flights of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet and the first cassette video recorders on the market.
Bangladesh was created out of the former East Pakistan. This was one of the events of 1971, the year in which a popular referendum gave women the vote in Switzerland. In Uganda, Idi Amin seized power. China obtained a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The same year, French fashion designer Coco Chanel died. In California, biochemist Chob Hao Li synthesised the growth hormone, and the CAT scan diagnostic procedure was refined. Moon landings continued and the American Apollo 15 astronauts actually drove around on the moon in a special lunar vehicle.
1972 was the year of the last series of the Fiat 500, the R. In the Spring, Luigi Berlinguer was elected secretary of the Italian Communist Party and Richard Nixon made an historic journey to China. But the most shocking event in 1972 was the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. And the Watergate scandal broke in the USA. Interesting events of the year included the marketing of the first home pregnancy test, and the sale of the first, extremely expensive, pocket electronic calculators.
In January 1973, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined the European Common Market, and USA and North Vietnam signed an agreement that envisaged the American withdrawal from the country and its unification. Also in the USA, the Senate investigation into Nixon's role in the Watergate affair began. In Chile, Salvador Allende was killed during a coup, and in Argentina Juan Domingo Peron returned to power, being elected President. The two Germanies joined the United Nations. The Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war broke out in November, and in Spain pro-Franco Prime Minister Carrero Blanco was assassinated. OPEC countries approved an increase in oil prices that had serious repercussions for Western economies.
1974 began with the good news that Israel was abandoning the Suez Canal, thus speeding up the peace process with Sadat's Egypt. In Portugal the Carnation Revolution took place, bringing the Salazar-Caetano era to an end. In Germany, Willy Brandt resigned as Chancellor when one of his collaborators was accused of spying for East Germany. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was elected President of France, with Jacques Chirac as Prime Minister. In Greece, the military regime collapsed, and Cyprus was divided in two, after the landing of Turkish troops. Nixon faced impeachment following the Watergate affair and he resigned, being replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford. In Italy, while the threat of terrorism from the left and the right increased, a referendum to abolish divorce was defeated.
1975 was the last year of production of the 500 R. To understand how much the world had changed in the 18 years since 1957, we only have to think that in 1975 the VHS format for video cassettes had become common use, the first colour photocopier was being mass produced, and a primitive video-disc was on the market. The American and Soviet spaceships Apollo and Soyuz linked up in space. In Italy the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, another sign of the changing society.
GUIDE TO AN ICON
Ignition... The operation was divided into three stages. First you had to insert the key into the switch at the centre of the dashboard and turn it to the right. Then you had to lift the choke and carburettor lever on the left behind the gearshift between the two front seats, modulating the height on the basis of exterior temperature. It was a fine art. You learned it with practice, avoiding flooding the engine or causing it to malfunction. The third and last part was to pull the other lever up, which was connected to the starter motor. One turn, two turns, sometimes a small bang, the 500 gave a shudder... and that was it. The two-cylinder engine had started with its unmistakable sound. As the engine temperature increased you could lower the first lever. But if you did it too soon, the engine would hiccough and lose power. So you lifted the lever again slightly and the engine ran more smoothly, until it had warmed up and you could lower the lever altogether.
Battery... The technologies of the 1950s meant that the battery had to be treated with great care. And not only because the 500's battery was tiny, stuck in the front boot next to the spare wheel. The manufacturer recommended 'every 2,500 kilometres, when the battery is rested and cold, check the electrolyte in each cell', adding distilled water if necessary, verifying the levels again in the summer and checking the terminals every 10,000 kilometres. But in spite of all this, in those days batteries seemed to have a mind of their own. They decided when they were going to 'go on strike', and you never knew when, or why.
Keys... There were two, one that opened the doors and the other for the ignition. No duplicates were provided, and you had to note down the serial number immediately, so that you could obtain a copy from the Fiat network if one was lost or damaged.
Anyone who has had a 500, of whatever series, will remember that the keys were made of very light metal, which deformed easily, but which could also be heated with a cigarette lighter in winter if the locks froze in the cold weather, so as to open the doors.
Quarterlights... The two glass triangles were needed to regulate the quantity of outside air that entered the interior if you did not want to lower the two side windows. When it was wet, they helped to demist the interior of the windscreen. And because of the minute size of the ashtray on the 500, well-mannered smokers also used the quarter lights to tip their ash outside, while the less well-mannered, unfortunately, tipped out their fag ends. The quarter lights were also very useful to car thieves: by twisting one slightly (they were hinged precariously to the frame) and fiddling with the seal, the window would open sufficiently for a hand to reach the lever and release the door.
Economy... "Bear in mind that a few minute's advantage gained by covering a certain distance at excessive speed may mean considerable extra expense in terms of fuel, tyres and maintenance. It is like throwing money out of the window, while common sense can save money". This advice, which is pertinent today in spite of the rather old-fashioned tone, was contained in the 16th edition (1963) of the booklet: Advice for users, a collection of guidelines for good motorists that Fiat enclosed with every Owner's Handbook in its cars.
Fiat refrigerator... The well-being of the 1950s and 1960s in Italy was due partly to the car and the increase in mass motorisation, but also to the development of 'white' goods: home appliances such as cookers, refrigerators and washing machines. In the Lingotto plant, Fiat also manufactured refrigerators and washing machines, which were extremely sturdy and efficient, as the many people who had one or saw one work can testify. The home appliance sector was not marginal for the company, and numerous reports by the Board to the Stockholders proudly refer to the "considerable developments of the electric home appliances that we make at Lingotto".
Grinding the gears... The need to double declutch, i.e. 'blipping' the accelerator between one gear and another with the clutch pedal depressed, was typical of the 500 and 'Cinquecentisti'. The 'masters' of the double declutch would do so when they changed down or up. For many people, if it was executed perfectly, double declutching improved the performance of the 500, it certainly made gear changes easier, and represented an action typical of the car and of the times for anyone who ever drove a 500, even for a few minutes.
Hot... The heating system on the 500 was decidedly rudimentary, regulated by a lever at the back of the tunnel on the right, behind the passenger seat, and therefore practically unreachable by the passenger without a great deal of arm-twisting. Only the driver could easily control the lever which, when it was turned to the right, directed hot air from the engine bay into the interior of the car, and through a pipe which fed two slits on the facia. The small size of the 500 cabin, a sporting spirit and the younger age of most occupants, meant that the 500 was never considered a 'cold' car. If anything, at times, it was almost too hot.
Switches... There were three on the 500: one to illuminate the instruments, one for the external lights and one for the windscreen wipers. They were all on the facia, each one a small flick switch surrounded by a knurled ring nut. One of the distinctive features of the 500, apart from the switches, was the legendary black rubber pump for the windscreen washer (to the right of the steering wheel under the edge of the facia, and it had to be held down, just the right amount of time, to prevent it from clogging). Then there was a manual accelerator, positioned under the document pocket below the facia (from the F of 1965).
Lubrication... The mass of lubricants required by the 500, and the short interval between oil top-ups or changes underline how cars have evolved, as in the case of the battery mentioned earlier. Today, when fluids only have to be changed after tens of thousands of kilometres, it is difficult to accept that on the 500 the engine oil level had to be checked every 500 km, and changed every 10,000 km or 6 months. When the engine was new, the running-in oil had to be replaced after 1,500 km and then again after 4-5000 km. There were also three types of 'grease' needed to lubricate other mechanical parts. The 500 was an extremely sturdy car, but roads, materials and technologies required activities and remedies that are unthinkable today. For example, every 20,000 km, Fiat asked that the door hinges be lubricated "using a brush dipped in engine oil".
The precious 16th edition (1963) of the booklet, Advice to users, contained some advice about driving in traffic that is worth rereading. "Using the horn and flashing headlights is not an insurance policy against accidents. Misusing them will only earn you unflattering comments from other people". Or: "Avoid any nervous reactions when you are at the wheel; do not get angry with other road users and refrain from retaliating (sic) against drivers of other vehicles: the road is not a race track". And finally: "remember that driving well is no more difficult than driving badly, and make sure that anyone you know will be able to praise your skill and prefer you to be at the wheel rather than other people". The booklet was written 44 years ago.
Naphthalene... The Advice to users recommended that "if the car is not used for some time, it is best to scatter naphthalene, camphor or similar products on the upholstery in order to prevent attacks from moths". The interior of the 500 was upholstered with plastic fabrics, but Fiat decided it was better to be safe than sorry. As for the tyres, the booklet recommended removing them, storing them in a safe place, and "dusting the insides of the tyres and the inner tubes with talcum powder".
The advantages of plastic. This material is considered cheap if it is used in a car today. But on the 500 L of 1969, where the L stood for Lusso or Luxury, Fiat underlined several times in the Owner's Manual that the polished and black plastic materials used for certain components were not just aesthetic but "made of plastic", a material which, 30 years ago, evidently represented a 'plus'.
Control panel... The speedometer/mileage counter was round, under a light plastic dome with the numbers indicating the speed set against a black background. Inside, the pointer was red and the speeds were marked with small discs that indicated the maximum speeds as well as a numerical mileage counter, without decimals. At the bottom there were four telltales: a green one for the side lights, red for low generator or battery charge, red for the fuel reserve (not present on the first versions) which was illuminated when there were from 3 to 5 litres remaining in the tank, out of a total of 22, and another red one for low oil pressure. The 500 L, or Lusso, on the other hand, had a rectangular control panel, which looked enormous on the 500's small facia, and was derived from the larger panels of bigger models.
Running in... For the first 700 km, Fiat advised motorists not to exceed 15 km/h in 1st and 60 in 4th, and from 700 to 1,500 (first maintenance between 1,500 and 2,000 km) 20 km/h in 1st and 75 in 4th. A second maintenance check was envisaged at 4,000 km.
And what about a radio? Fiat did not offer one, even as an option. From the mid 1960s Autovox and Voxson radios began to appear, and some people fitted a German Blaupunkt which provided the best sound quality, even if it was more expensive. Because it was impossible to fit a radio into the facia, it had to be mounted on two slides attached under the facia, together with the single loudspeaker, which limited passenger legroom to a certain extent. The aerial emerged from the edge of the nose next to the bonnet and was secured to the driver's side drip channel.
Seats... The front seats moved on two metal runners and the position could be adjusted with a lever. To access the rear seat, the squab of the front seat was folded forward, lifting and inclining the entire seat (cushion and squab). To load luggage the rear seat could be removed and the squab folded. On request (standard on the L), from the late 1970s, the squab of the front seats could have four adjustments. And after the 4th position, the squab rested on the rear seat.
Sunroof... Always useful; to ventilate the interior, to make the 500 feel like a cabrio, to celebrate some sporting event (who does not remember the nights of the Mexico 70 World Cup when flags and celebrating fans emerged from the roofs of their 500s?), but also to give a unique car a unique feature.
Tools... These were initially supplied in a canvas and then a plastic bag. Two spanners of various sizes, a punch, a double screwdriver, an Allen key for the sparkplugs, the crank to fit the wheels to the hubs, and the jack. It was actually an extensive assortment for a runabout, which reflects the period in which the 500 was built, a time when doing your own repairs was a point of pride. In addition to which, the simplicity of the 500 also made for fast emergency repairs.
Engine bay... This could be opened by a lever, but the lid could also be removed completely. This solution was very popular with technicians when they had to carry out longer, more complicated operations entailing more than a simple check and top-up.
THE FIAT 500 CLUB ITALIA
The Fiat 500 Club Italia was created in 1984 in Garlenda, in the province of Savona, as the Amici della 500 (Friends of the 500) by a group of enthusiasts. Today the Fiat 500 Club Italia has more than 20,000 members, and an efficient network of over 120 trustees in Italy and abroad, who organise and sponsor over 100 rallies every year.
The first rally was held on 15 July, 1984 with about 30 participants, including Dante Giacosa, the 'father' of the 500, who was very amused by it all and praised the "unusual and commendable initiative of giving a new breath of life and prestige to the Fiat 500".
In 1989 the magazine 4piccoleruote was launched. It now appears every two months with 64 pages in colour, and an annual circulation of 150,000 copies, representing an excellent link with the world of Fiat 500 fans.
The Fiat 500 Club Italia was officially founded on 13 March, 1990 and 10 years later it became part of ASI (Automotoclub Storico Italiano). The following year, in 2001, a new website was launched (www.500clubitalia.it) which aroused great interest and registered thousands of hits per week (total contacts have now reached approximately 2 million).
In 2004, the Club created the Historical Register of the Fiat Nuova 500 model, with its offices in Via Vanchiglia 21/E, in Turin, which carried out studies and research to guaran