Since its launch in 1957, the FIAT 500 (Cinquecento) has made a name for itself as an icon of style and design. It has also made a significant cultural impact on Italy, and countries all over the world, by making individual mobility accessible.
In Part One of this series, we looked at this little car’s beginnings, with the launch of the first FIAT “Nuova” 500. Now it’s time to look at the second half of the evolution of the Cinquenceto, starting in 1960 with the Fiat 500 Giardiniera.
In 1960, the company began producing the FIAT 500 Giardiniera, a station wagon version of the Cinquecento. With 17.5 horsepower and dimensions measuring 125 inches long and 52 inches wide, the Giardiniera could accomodate four adults and 88 pounds of luggage – or a whopping 440 pounds of cargo with the driver alone.
In 1960, FIAT also began to offer the 500 D as a replacement to the former Sport model. With an engine increased to just under 500cc delivering 17.5 horsepower, the FIAT 500 D could carry four passengers and hit 59 mph. The Cinquecento’s styling lines carried on, and the doors were still hinged at the rear, but the design of the front and side direction indicators changed, adopting those of the larger FIAT 500 Giardiniera.
NEXT came the FIAT 500 F in 1965 – the first Cinquenceto to feature front-hinged doors, which were designed to be safer in the event of an accident. It also featured a more robust transmission and a number of improvements to the clutch, drive shafts and differentials. The engine still had a capacity of 499.5 cc but now delivered 18 horsepower.
Marketing, evolving tastes and changing lifestyles were leading the people at FIAT to develop a car that could be a small status symbol for its day. And in 1968, FIAT began to differentiate the Cinquecento range by adding the more luxurious 500 Lusso. This well-equipped FIAT 500 featured the same engineering and performance as the 500 F but with lush interior styling including leather upholstered seating with vertical quilting and plenty of chrome work on the exterior.
With the availability of the FIAT 126 in 1972, the FIAT 500 R would be the last of the variant of the breed. In the last three years of its career, the FIAT 500 R (meaning ‘Rinnovata’, or renewed) used the 594 cc engine of the 126, downgraded from 23 to 18 bhp and utilized the Cinquecento’s existing gearbox. The top speed was increased to 62 mph (100 km/h), and it was fitted with new wheels. However, the interiors had less equipment than the previous FIAT 500 L.
The FIAT 500 R concluded the Cinquecento’s story. A total of 3,893,294 Cinquenceots were built between Mirafiori (Turin), the Autobianchi plant in Desio and, finally, the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo, Sicily) where the last unit would come down the assembly line in the summer of 1975.
The FIAT 500 made its triumphant return on July 4, 2007, offering class-leading safety, fuel economy, quality and advanced technology all wrapped in a package that offers iconic Italian style. Now on sale and in demand in more than 80 countries worldwide, the only question left is, “Where will the Cinquenceto go next?”