Preview: the new fiat 500

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21 March 2007

Fifty years ago, on 4 July 1957, Fiat introduced the Nuova Fiat 500, which became an icon of our times, and with which Fiat completed a revival that had begun immediately after the Second World War.
This summer, on 4 July 2007, exactly 50 years later, and once again in Turin, the company will be presenting its new Fiat 500, which will go on sale immediately after the launch. This new car will also mark an important cycle of revival for Fiat Automobiles SpA.
Developed by the Fiat Style Centre and manufactured in Fiat’s Tychy (Poland) plant, the new 500 is a 3-door model with very compact measurements: 355 cm long,

165 cm wide, 149 cm tall and a wheelbase of 230 cm. Produced with three engine options: a 75 bhp 1.3 16v MultiJet turbodiesel and two petrol engines, a 69 bhp 1.2 8v and a 100 bhp 1.4 16v, with five or six speed manual gearboxes, the new Fiat 500 is designed to be notably entertaining to drive.

The new car’s arrival confirms Fiat Automobiles SpA’s undisputed leadership in this category – a result of the company’s extraordinary heritage of technical, design and human experience accumulated over more than a century – and the new Fiat 500 takes a quality leap forward in terms of comfort and safety, technology and equipment for this segment.


Preview: the new Fiat 500…2
The new Fiat 500 is the most up-to-date solution for motorists who ‘enjoy’ their car in complete freedom, and appreciate it for day-to-day use, but also wish to drive a vehicle that is entertaining and practical, environmentally-friendly and accessible, but also appealing and full of fun.
The new Fiat 500 will go on sale in the UK early next year.
For further information please contact:

PETER NEWTON Public Relations Director

or Puneet Joshi Press Officer

Fiat Auto (UK) Limited

Tel: 01753 511431 Fax: 01753 516871

E-mail addresses: /
This press release and photographs are also available on


21 March 2007

  • The Fiat 500, an icon of our time

  • The reconstruction and conquest of the market

  • The versions from 1957 to 1975

  • Tuned versions and interpretations

  • Rapid guide to an icon

  • The Fiat 500 Club Italia

Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…2
Some cars go down in history for their technological or styling innovations. Others deserve to be remembered for the role they have played in the daily life of an entire generation or an entire country. Few succeed in combining the two: technology and sentiment. They leave an indelible mark, becoming a sort of icon of their age.
The Nuova 500 is one of these. In a career lasting 18 years, from 1957 to 1975, exactly 3,893,294 were built, and it helped Italians and numerous other Europeans to satisfy a need for individual mobility that began to gain momentum from the early 1950s. The Nuova 500, even more than the 600 (1955), also brought the end of the post-war emergency period for motorisation and the automotive industry in Italy, and the start of the striving for comfort, albeit minimal and economical.
With the Nuova 500, the country of the Poor but beautiful became, or tried to become, not quite as poor (and to a certain extent it succeeded), but above all, able to move around more freely.
The Nuova 500 also concluded the rebirth of Fiat and of its product range, after the devastation of the Second World War. Dante Giacosa, the father of the Nuova 500, but also of the previous 500 Topolino and of numerous other models, said in his book Progetti alla Fiat prima del computer (Design at Fiat before the computer), that when the 500 was launched on 4 July, 1957, Fiat realised its programme of renewing its models, to replace those born before the Second World War.
At two-year intervals, the 1400, 1900, 1100, Nuova 500 and their derivatives were launched on the international market. In just 10 years, Fiat had conceived and begun manufacture of four completely new basic models that had their roots in the technological culture that had grown up in its own offices and laboratories.


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…3
Writing about the launch of the Nuova 500, Dante Giacosa revealed that the term Big little car was also coined at Mirafiori, but the pragmatic engineer commented that people just called it the 500. Fifty years after that summer of 1957, in an age when television is even available on mobile phones, with shots and reports from all over the universe, it is entertaining to read that the launch was held in great style. National television installed itself in the Mirafiori workshop on a boiling hot evening in July, and even I was invited for a live interview on the assembly line.
Eighteen years after that boiling hot evening in July, during which time almost 3.9 million cars were built, another very hot day dawned – 4 August, 1975 – the day on which the last car, at least of the 1957-75 Nuova Fiat 500 series, was built, not at Mirafiori but at the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo).


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…4

The Nuova 500 was not just a brilliant idea by Dante Giacosa, like the 600 and the many other cars he designed. Nor was it just a model of which millions were made, which got the mission and contents just right to fall in with the company’s programmes at the time. More than anything else, the 500 was the result of a strategy to develop and revamp its range that Fiat had already embarked on during the Second World War. Vittorio Valletta, Managing Director first and then company chairman from 1946 (after the death of Senator Agnelli), asked Giacosa to start thinking of new cars that could go into production after the war, even while Turin was still being targeted by Allied air raids, and the Mirafiori offices were occupied by German allies-occupiers.
But it was only in the early 1950s, and therefore when the reconstruction of the plants was well underway, that work on the new models began in earnest at Mirafiori. In 1949 the Topolino C, the last of the series, went into production, but other real new models arrived: the 1400, a cabrio version of the 1400, the 1900 diesel, the Nuova 1100 of 1953 and its derived versions. And in 1952, in a blaze of technology, the sporty 8 V appeared, followed a year later by a futuristic turbine-powered prototype.
The reconstruction years at Fiat and the consequent development of new cars, including the Nuova 500, reflected the situation in the country in the early 1950s, when there were growing signs that the market was becoming increasingly receptive to mass motorisation. The need for individual mobility was answered, in Italy, from 1946 until the mid 1950s, not by cars but by two-wheeled vehicles, and particularly the scooters built by Piaggio and Innocenti, the Vespa and the Lambretta. The former, for example, from an output of 2500 units in 1946, reached its one millionth unit just 10 years later, in 1956.

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In 1955, registration of two-wheeled vehicles in Italy totalled 400,000 units, an amazing record, if we think that in 1951 there were just under 40,000 licensed motor vehicles registered. The boom of the two-wheeler was an important indication of the prospects for the four-wheeled vehicle market, and prompted Fiat to speed up development of its new model. The great commitment by Fiat design engineers culminated in 1955 with the 600, Italy’s first real popular family car (between 1955 and 1970, 2,777,313 were built in Mirafiori alone) and in 1957 with the Nuova 500.
From then on, Fiat’s manufacturing volumes began to soar (from an annual total of 108,700 in 1950 – the first year in company history that the 100,000 mark was passed – to almost 513,300 in 1960, and 994,000 in 1965), as well as the daily output: 1,000 units/day in 1956, 2,000 units/day in 1960 after the 500 had been on the market for three years, and 4,000 units/day in 1965 when the 850 joined the 600 and the 500. The workforce increased from 72,000 in 1950 to almost 93,000 in 1960, and almost 185,000 in 1970.
The boom of accessible four-wheeled vehicles heralded the start of the crisis for two-wheelers. From 1955 (the year that the 600 was launched) registrations of motorcycles and scooters began to fall off, and by 1957, when the 500 arrived, they were just above 330,000 units/year; in 1965, the year that Fiat output first exceeded one million cars in a year, registrations of motorcycles were just above 200,000 units. In other words, if Fiat had set out to win over a segment of the domestic market with its 500 and 600 to the detriment of other forms of vehicles, it had been successful. Pioneering travel on two wheels, albeit motorised, was no longer enough in the new, more affluent Italy. The number of wheels doubled; people wanted a roof over their heads to protect them from the weather, in other words, they wanted a car.


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…6
The level of motorisation in Italy is worth mentioning; it grew from 6 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1950 to 32 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1960 (therefore in the period of greatest demand for the 600, but above all for the 500), reaching 167 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1970, and leaping to 330 vehicles/1000 inhabitants in 1980, in line with the rest of Western Europe. The great task of motorising the Italians and of bringing them into line with Europe in terms of car use, was certainly achieved thanks primarily to the Fiat 600 and 500, supported by the 850.

The 110 prototype for the Nuova 500

To understand how and why the Nuova 500 was conceived, we have to think not of a mere substitute for the old Topolino (509,650 units between 1936-1955), or of a model that was able to compete with a scooter, in terms of costs and efficiency.
Giacosa wrote an interesting description of the preparatory stage before the arrival of the car. The most important Italian automotive engineer in the second half of the 20th century, and the true father of the Nuova 500, is the best witness to these events. While the 600 was still at the experimental stage, he said, I had put people back to work on a minimalist car, even smaller and more economical. The Italians wanted cars, and they were willing to make do with even less space, provided it was on four wheels. No matter how small, a car would still be more comfortable than a scooter, particularly in winter and in the rain. I had people sketch models of unconventional small cars that had to compete with the Vespa in particular.
As far back as 1939, Fiat had already done some work on minimalist cars that had remained at the experimental stage because of the war, which is what happened to the
first type 100 with front-wheel drive and a 500 cc transverse engine, designed in 1947,
which was never built.


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…7
During the war, a prototype, known as the Gregoire, appeared in France, attracting a great deal of attention, but again, nothing came of it. But at Mirafiori, Fiat engineers knew that in Germany they were designing small cars like the BMW Isetta, which Giacosa called half-way between a car and a motorcycle, and attempts were being made to restart manufacture of the people’s car, the Volkswagen, in viable numbers. The Deutsche Fiat company had a sort of technological antenna in Germany through its headquarters in Heilbronn and its assembly plant in Weinsberg. A technician called Hans Peter Bauhof worked there, whom Dante Giacosa defined as a man with a fervid imagination, animated by a restless spirit of initiative, adding, in what resembled a note to the personnel department, that he was shy and modest, but ingenious, tenacious and hard-working.
In 1953, the technician from Heilbronn submitted his proposal (which appears somewhat rustic from the pictures that still remain) for a small car with a single cylinder, 2-stroke engine derived from a motorcycle which, in Giacosa’s words, was unsuitable for the car that Fiat wanted to build”. But Bauhof’s ideas for the construction of the bodywork were appreciated in Turin. Bauhof also sent a prototype to Turin, which Giacosa found interesting for its simplicity, but the rest of the company considered it too superficial and insufficient as a car.
When Bauhof’s proposal to use a motorcycle engine had been discarded, Giacosa continued to work on the 500 project. In 1954 he decided that the engine had to be a
4-stroke, with two cylinders in line, which is the simplest, most economical engine, and that it should be air-cooled. It may be positioned transversely, it is simple and has a high mechanical efficiency. He entrusted the actual design to the engineer Giovanni Torrazza, the only graduate working for me who knew how to draw”, and designed the bodywork himself, because I was so worried about giving the car an attractive shape, a


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…8
structure that was as light as possible but sturdy, and simple but economical to build. Giacosa prepared two plaster models, one very similar to the 600 and the other entirely new. I tried to make the sheet metal surface as small as possible, he wrote in his book, in order to limit the weight and the cost, much as I had done for the 600.
His description of the presentation of the two 500 mock-ups is involuntarily comic because, as Giacosa recalled, when I presented the two mock-ups to the Professor (Vittorio Valletta, Fiat Chairman at the time) and to the small Executive Committee, they were silent and perplexed, although they gradually relaxed when they understood the various reasons for things. And because they had to take a decision, they decided to support me, and approved the new version.
The start of development

Giacosa went on to say that once the bodywork was approved, the new model 110 (Fiat internal number-code name for the Nuova 500 project which adopted the hundreds-based numbering system for the various types and models) was discussed for the first time at the New types meeting of 18 October, 1954, attended by Giacosa, Vittorio Valletta (Chairman and Managing Director of Fiat), Gaudenzio Bono (also Managing Director and General Manager), Luigi Gajal de la Chenaje (Vice Chairman and Commercial Manager) and other representatives of company management. And on that occasion, the new car shed its project number and was given its first name, or number, the 400.
At the meeting it was decided that the new model would have a power delivery of 13 bhp, a capacity of 480 cc with overhead or side valves, a top speed of 85 km/h, fuel consumption of 4.5 litres for 100 km, a weight of 370 kg and would carry two


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…9
passengers. The prototype was to be approved on 30 June, 1955 so that production could start in mid 1956. At the same time, a prototype with four seats instead of two was also approved, as well as another prototype but with a different, more luxurious body for Autobianchi (a company created out of the former Edoardo Bianchi company, set up in 1955 with capital from Fiat, Pirelli and Bianchi).
The meeting in the Park at Stupinigi
Nowadays, carmakers try to hide their new models, keeping them even from the eyes of employees, or they organise ultra-secret clinic tests, and Dante Giacosa’s description of the presentation of the entire new range of Fiat models, including the 500, is another curious sign of the half-century that has passed. It all took place not in a secluded spot, but in the park of the Royal Hunting Lodge at Stupinigi, just outside Turin. The park is open to the public and no manufacturer would use it today to present its entire range of future models to company managers, and also to its major stockholder, since Avvocato Gianni Agnelli, Vice Chairman of the company, was also present at the meeting on
18 October, 1955.
Someone expressed the fear that the public might find the Autobianchi more attractive and appealing than the Fiat, and prefer it, said Giacosa in his book, but we decided to set a higher price, closer to the 600, in order to limit demand to no more than 50 cars/day, since Desio (the Autobianchi plant) could not exceed that figure. At the same meeting, a manager whose name is not known, even proposed giving the 500 to Autobianchi to produce, while Fiat built the Bianchina, but the proposal never got off the ground.
An investment of 7 billion lire was earmarked for the project, with an output of 300 cars/day. Valletta persuaded us to turn out 500 units/day of mechanical parts and


Fifty years since the launch of the Fiat 500…10
bodies, but only 300 cars/day worth of other parts that were built in the subsidiary workshops in Lingotto. The 200 per day not assembled but manufactured and available on hand were used to build up the parts stocks, and if necessary, would be assembled to create the so-called end-of-line store. The months leading up to the launch were intense, with road tests, particularly to reduce vibration and engine noise, and to increase reliability and driveability. But at the beginning of the summer of 1957, the Nuova 500 was ready for the market.
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