Fiat 500: Celebrating 81 years of an Italian Icon

The Fiat 500 turned 81 on the 7th of April – and while the design has changed dramatically since 1937, the small hatch still packs a giant punch.

Affectionately dubbed “Topolino” (meaning Mickey Mouse), the Fiat 500, the car could reach top speeds of 85 km/h, running at 6 litres per 100km. More than half a million cars were sold. Three models were produced until 1955. The iconic cinquecento shape was adopted from 1957 to 1975, while a striking white Fiat with red racing stripes was introduced between 1958-1960. Like the Vespa, its image is inextricably linked to Italy where its small frame and zippy engine earned it its reputation of being the first true city car.

Of course the car had a few design flaws, mainly its rear-hinged doors (which were known as “suicide doors”), which was replaced in the mid-60s. The improvement led to widespread complaints from Italian men who complained the new doors didn’t provide the same generous glimpse of girls’ legs when they got into the car…

Little cars like the Panda took over the market, but the Fiat is still immensely popular, relaunching to a warm reception in 2007. The 500 is marketed in more than 100 countries, reached the 2-million production mark in 2017 and won more than 40 accolades, including The World’s Most Beautiful Automobile. Its retro design is part of its appeal and in 2009, architect Fabio Novembre went so far as to create an art installation featuring 20 full-size fiberglass replicas of the Fiat 500C in Milan as a tribute.

A new Fiat 500 is expected to hit the market in 2019 or 2020, ditching its 1.3-litre diesel engine for a clean 48-volt system designed to lower emissions but keep costs down.

Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Auto, says that this is a solid strategy for a small car. “Introducing a full hybrid or electrical engine would push up the price too dramatically. A mild hybrid engine is an eco-friendly option for a diesel-hostile market, without the hefty price tag. Fiat is definitely a competitor of note in the market, and the 500 is still a classic. I’m very curious to see the next-generation model.”