What's it like to drive a 60-year-old Fiat 500 today?
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This year marks the 60th birthday of the Fiat 500.
To celebrate the landmark, we've decided to go back in time and conduct a road test of an early model to see if it really is the Daddy of all city cars? Can it hold its own today? Here's our verdict after a quick spin in this motoring icon.
Fiat got into the city car genre early, way before Mini.
The clue is in the name of this diminutive iconic little Italian car. When it came out in 1957 it was already the Nuova Cinquecento, thus the ‘new 500’. And that was because it was a follow up, albeit more than 20 years later, from the original Fiat 500 Topolino.
But it’s this 1950s car that is the one that makes people smile, far more than even an original Mini would make you smile.
People who don’t even like cars, who don’t even seem to like life itself, will smile when they see this classic machine.
So what set it apart? The sheer talent that designed it.
Take the engine. Aurelio Lampredi was brought in, the man who had designed the huge V12 engines in the Ferraris that won the factory its first Le Mans as a factory team. Though his brief this time around was for something slightly smaller.
The two-cylinder engine was air-cooled and made from aluminium, for better power-to-weight. There wasn’t a lot of power but that was okay since there was less than 500kg to haul around.
The rest of the car was designed by Dante Giascosa, the visionary creative who had already created the Topolino.
His brief was for a car less than 10-feet long which could take four people, even if they couldn’t wave their arms freely in approved Italian style.
His solution was a monocoque creation with independent rear suspension with that lightweight engine housed in the rear.
The result just looks so right that, 60 years later, it still can’t be improved upon – certainly not by the new breed of Fiat 500s that may look chic, but which lack all the engineering ingenuity and brilliance of the original.
The car you see here is a 500D, which means it’s early, it’s even rarer and it has the suicide doors at the front. And it also means it’s a hoot to drive.
There’s no weight, particularly over the front end, so the steering is incredibly light and immediate – perfect for city driving.
There’s also a load of grip, far more than you’d imagine, testimony to that chassis and suspension. Eventually it will sort of four-wheel drift and that can be brought easily back into shape.
The gearbox allows you to shift incredibly slickly between the four ratios and the whole car has an immediacy and sprightliness to it that is enormous fun and hugely endearing.
The brakes aren’t great, the infotainment system seemed to be missing, and it’s not perhaps the ideal vehicle to take four people and their luggage away on a two-week holiday. But none of it matters.
This is the Fiat 500, the Cinquecento, and it’s simply epic.
It’s also the start of the city car sector and it reminds you that most new city car designs, for all their clever electronics and safety aids, are simply tiny steps forward, while the itty bitty Fiat 500 took a giant leap that hasn’t been matched since.
- Graham Scott, Daily Mail