The Fiat 500 is art adorable bubble of a car conceived by a philosophy so successful that in 2007 it was relaunched in its umpteenth incarnation. The philosophy was originally dictated by post-World War II economics. Fiat took its prewar 500 (the ‘Topolino’, of 1936) and created the first true ‘city car’, capable (just) of carrying four people in completely basic, no-frills, pitifully low-powered, rear-engined, bony discomfort.
The ‘Nuova 500’, designed by Dante Giacosa, instantly became the definitive ‘Cinquecento’. Never mind it was necessarily small, cheap and utilitarian. It was reliable, and almost as basic to maintain as the scooters it replaced. Most of all it was loved because it was insanely cute.
The Cinquecento did for Italy what the 2CV did for France. It was classless, meaning you got jounced about on Italy’s cobbled streets and uneven tarmac just as much on a romantic date as you did packing the family to market; and its appeal has endured as much as the simple purity of its engineering and styling. Between 1957 and 1975, Fiat introduced at least six versions, losing the ‘suicide doors’, switching the engine from rear to front, experimenting with chrome add-ons, and calling the 500 the ‘Bambino’. But as any owner will confirm, it eventually proved more fun to keep your old, battered friend on the road than to buy new.
Only in 2004, with the ‘Trepiuno’, did Fiat rediscover its original 500 magic – the radically modern redesign looks much more like a descendant of the classic Cinquecento than anything in between; and the 500 Abarth, the Sports version based on the Trepiuno, caused a sensation in 2007 for marrying low cost to fabulous performance, comfort and sporty looks. If any car has a philosophical pedigree – of doing a simple thing with brilliance and flair, cheaply – suited to the economic climate, it’s the Fiat 500.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1957 (until 1975)
479 cc, 499 cc, 594 cc Straight Two, air-cooled
Top speed of 59 mph (95 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
There’s an all-electric Fiat 500 made by NICE Car Co and the Italian firm Micro-Vett. Powered by lithium ion batteries, it has a range of 55 mi (89 km) and a top speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) – plenty for a typical day in the city.