This small rear-engined car was an important step in Fiat’s long march towards fully paid-up membership of the international car manufacturers’ club. The two-door Fiat 850 was introduced in 1964 to run alongside and eventually succeed the Fiat 600, that hugely successful Seicento city car produced between 1955 and 1969.
In fact, the 850 saloon was an evolution of the 600, with a bored-out engine that came in two versions — standard and super, with the latter being only slightly more powerful than the former. But that wasn’t the only variation on a theme, because several body styles were wrapped around the same mechanicals.
The 850 Special was a sports saloon introduced in 1967. It had a tuned engine, better trim and front disc brakes. Another variant was the Familiare, an early people carrier with a boxy body and three rows of seating. It claimed to accommodate seven, though truthfully didn’t add the words ‘in comfort’. The Familiare lasted longer than its parent, remaining in production for three years after the saloon was discontinued.
A Sports Coupe with tuned engine appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in ’65, and that year also saw the Bertone-designed 850 Spider make a welcome entrance. This little roadster could zip to 90 mph (145 km/h) with good acceleration along the way. The Spider featured flowing lines and a clever hood that easily folded beneath a rear flap.
Last but not least was the 850 Abarth. Don’t attempt to drive one unless you’re tired of life, because it can be a brute. The engine size was nearly doubled and twin carbs helped punch out far more power than the car could comfortably handle. The Abarth therefore suffers from understeer and becomes unstable under braking or at speed, which could be 131 mph (210 km/h). Scary!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1964 (until 1973, saloon)
817 cc, 843 cc or 903 cc OHV Straight Four
Basic saloon – top speed of 78 mph (126 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 25.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Though it did not make the same impact behind the Iron Curtain as the Fiat 124, the 850 was definitely the hors d’oeuvre – it was assembled from kits as the Pirin-Fiat by a state cooperative in Bulgaria between 1967 and 1971.