Fiat 500

Financially tough times were the catalyst for a vehicle that led to the birth of the city car

The Fiat 500 was arguably the first car that truly brought the concept of vehicle ownership to the working classes. 

Nearly 50 years beforehand, the Model T from Ford did this to some extent, but is associated more with the production of vehicles en masse because the final product was still out of reach of much of the working population (see Milestones, AE April). The Fiat 500, however, was not only attainable but also made the most of its diminutive size at a time when the term 'city car' did not even exist as a vehicle description.

The focused attention to the maximising of space was an approach to vehicle design born more out of economic hardship than anything else. Even into the 1950s, much of the Italian population was still struggling to come to terms with life after the Second World War – personal transport was extremely limited at that period. 

Fiat wanted to tap into this market and was acutely aware of the need for a vehicle that could be minimal in luxury but fuel efficient and crucially low priced. Confusingly, the OEM had actually produced and released a small vehicle called the Fiat 500 in 1936 but it was expensive and production ceased in 1955. 

When it was first launched, that vehicle – more commonly known as the Topolino (Italian for 'little mouse') – was, at 3,215mm long, one of the smallest in the world. Following in the footsteps of the Volkswagen Beetle – another vehicle also aimed at the post-war market – the Fiat Nuova ('new' in Italian) 500 had a rear-engine design in order to make the vehicle as small as possible. 

Apart from the shared name, the Nuova 500 had no relation to the Topolino in regard to vehicle design and was shorter in length by nearly 300mm than its forebear when it was unveiled in 1957. 

tags: June 2015 Fiat
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