Italy’s icon celebrates 60th anniversary
The cheap city vehicle Fiat 500 became enormously popular in post-war Europe
14 July, 2017
In the Italian town of Garlenda, past and present have been embodied by one symbol – the iconic Fiat 500.
The people’s car, the symbol of Italy, Fiat 500 has turned 60 years old. To celebrate the occasion, last Sunday more than 1,200 vehicles, different reiterations of the brand, flocked to the Italian town of Garlenda. There were cars from all over Europe but also from Japan, Australia and South Africa. Yet another cause for celebration was provided by the introduction of the Fiat 500 to the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York a week ago.
The Fiat 500 was born in the Italian economic boom that followed the devastations of WWII. At the time, Italian workers could not afford more than a modest type of fuel-efficient vehicle. Their dream came true and the first Fiat 500 was released on 4 July 1957 with a price tag of 490,000 liras, approximately 13 blue-collar salaries.
Designed by Dante Giacosa, this tiny car that evolved for use in the narrow city streets very quickly earned the name of “the people’s car”. Measuring just over 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) long and powered by a 479 cc two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, it was considered to be the first true city car for the Italian driving population. The car then had a top speed of 85 km/h (about 53 m/h).
The initial version was followed by a rapid pace of development, which led to the appearance of Normale ed Economica, followed by Sport and several other modifications. The price gradually became even more affordable and the small big car became more than a feature of Italian households, it garnered international success too. Eighteen years later, more than 4.2 million had rolled off the factory line. Production of the 500 ended in 1975, although its replacement, the Fiat 126, was launched two years earlier. The 126 was never as popular as its predecessor in Italy, but was enormously popular in the former Eastern Bloc countries, where it is famed for its mechanical durability and high fuel economy.
The model was relaunched in 2007 with some modern tweaks, although it retained its traditional curves. Since then some two million more Fiat 500s have been made, according to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Their retro 500 has proven to be a best seller, and although larger than its predecessor it still retains the original curvature and iconic look that is expected from the people’s car.
Special editions such as “500 by Diesel” and “500 Gucci” have appeared, and even one wrapped up in scenes from the Kama Sutra, the inspiration for that particular design coming from Gianni Agnelli’s grandson Lapo Elkann last May. New models such as 500L and 500X are best sellers outside of Italy. The reincarnation, or second leaf of life for this car, has been marked by all sorts of records – it is a leader in sales in Europe, holds first place in eight countries in the European Union and is among the top sellers in another six countries on the continent.
The company making Fiat 500 today, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, recently reported its first 2017 quarterly profits of $698 million with a rise of 34%. These quarterly earnings are a record for the company since it was formed from the merger of Fiat and Chrysler in 2014. The Italian-controlled multinational corporation is currently the world’s seventh-largest auto maker.