Fun, inexpensive, head-turning, excellent road handling, fuel efficient this were the things that made this car so famous.
The tiny Fiat 500 is now something of a trendy cult car, its rounded egg-like body and diminutive size endearing it to millions. The car was a successor to the Topolino model. (Topolino means ’mouse’). The designer was named Dante Giacosa, an individual who would later become an automotive legend for his contributions to the industry.
To meet the demands of the post-war market which called for cars of very low cost, the Fiat 500 was rear-engined on the pattern of the Volkswagen Beetle. Several car makers followed this now nearly vanished pattern at the time and were quite successful.
But only the Fiat 500 was used as the pattern for other car makers in Europe. The firms Neckar of Germany and Steyr-Puch in Austria each made cars that were legally based on the Fiat 500.
Measuring less than 3 m (10 ft) long, and powered by a tiny 479 cc two-cylinder (economical and hard wearing, so long as you can resist the temptation to drive flat-out all the time), aircooled engine, the 500 redefined the term "microcar".With 13 horsepower the 500 never set any land speed records. It had a top speed of 85 km/h.
I cant really say much on the safety aspect of these cars - being a very small classic car with the engine in the rear I certainly wouldn’t think it would hold up very well in any kind of collision, most models have front seat belts though, and to be fair, Fiat did add numerous other safety features from time to time, just remember they were designed long before air bags came out!
To help improve the performance of the 500, Carlo Abarth offered bolt-on aftermarket parts and accessories, the cars were fitted with spartan like design, with vinyl covered seats and fitted carpets on the ’L’ models. These additions helped with increasing the horsepower and performance of the engine as well as improving the handling and making the vehicles more fun to drive and competitive on the streets.
In 1957, the 500 received 2 extra horsepower, bringing the total to 15. Wind-up windows were now standard.
The handling is also superb for a car of its age and price, on ice the car can behave in unexpected ways - being rear-wheel drive and having most of the weight at the back means you get lots of traction, but cornering can be very exciting if you get it ’a bit wrong’.
In summer the huge fabric sunroof provides excellent ventilation and great views, if you dare to drive in winter then make sure the heating system is working - it relies on ’wafting’ cooling air from around the engine up the central floor-tunnel to vents in the dashboard. Any air leaks and it just doesn’t work!
From 1958 through 1960, Fiat offered a Sport version. These Sport versions offered a 21 horsepower engine, and a one piece roof. The standard 500 version had a fold-back sunroof.
In 1965, the 500F lost its suicide doors in favor of the more popular hinged doors. The horsepower rating was once again improved and now offered 19. The top speed was 95 km/h.
From 1969 through 1975, a Lux version was offered. This featured full carpeting and plastic revised dashboards.
In 1975 production of the Fiat 500 ceased. 3.6 million examples had been produced during its life span. In 2004, Fiat created a concept car that was similar in design and style to the Fiat 500. It was called the Fiat Trepiuno and featured front wheel drive.
The 500 endured a successful life span due to it economical size, excellent fuel economy, easy to repair, styling, competitive price, and city-friendly driving characteristics. Due to its small size, it was easy to navigate and drive in the small, Italian streets. Thanks to its short wheelbase and length, the vehicle could manuever easily into cramped parking spaces.