Saturday, December 3, 2016

Cinquecento! The tiniest Fiat.

Right at the end of my block this little egg appeared the other day. Where was its mother? Should I wrap blankets around it to keep it warm? It's just a baby!
Actually this little fluffy bunny of a car is a 1971 Fiat 500F in White. This is the Italian VW Beetle, yet smaller! They were built between 1957-1975 without huge differences from beginning to end.
Even though it is diminutive it has this sizeable rollback sunroof. I had a '63 Beetle that had one and with the top rolled back it was like being in a convertible with almost no wind.
This was the perfect car for the European market in the '50s-'70s as over 3 million were built. After WWII most European countries were scrambling to get transportation into the public's hands with little resources and a reeling economy. The answer was the microcar; tiny vehicles meant to carry 1 or 2 people and basically no luggage. This is one step up in size from a microcar and vastly more practical.
The engine is in the back which explains those vents under the rear window. Unlike the Beetle the 500 is water cooled. The name comes from the minuscule 500cc inline 2 cylinder engine. How much power can be gleaned from an inline 2? A full EIGHTEEN HORSEPOWER! Hold on tight!
One of the many changes that can be seen on this generation is that the door hinges are in the front like most vehicles. Until 1965 (and through 1969 on the 500D) they had reverse-opening suicide doors.
The 500F was the base model so there is little in the way of chrome trim on this ride. Another downside is that the fabric sunroof is only half-length as other models got a full roof rollback.
Look at this thing standing up straight behind that SUV. When I first noticed this car that truck was backing up in the spot in front of the Fiat getting closer and closer. I really thought the driver was going to just bump it and I think they would have if the little Fiat wasn't already gathering onlookers. The driver got out of the SUV and said "that little car stole my spot!" all indignantly to those of us who couldn't care less. Finally with myself and others gawking and fawning over the 500 she left without doing damage.
How Italian can a dashboard get? Options: ashtray, and it's open.
That round speedometer tells me this is not the Lusso model which received a square version. Perhaps the most astounding thing about this car is that the seat is moved forward meaning someone was actually in that backseat!
Just look at this stout little puppy and try not to smile. The fact that it's survived all this time and made it to NYC without being rusted or wrecked is remarkable. These are still ubiquitous in Italy and they're not worth terribly much so extensive restorations are usually reserved for the rarest models. If you're curious to see what a pricey version looks like and don't mind your heart exploding into a million pieces check out the Fiat Jolly complete with wicker seats and a tent-like cloth roof! They go for north of $100,000 these days.
Well that's where we'll leave this little crumpet looking all innocent and sweet. I once took a job working for an old man just to try and obtain a '59 Fiat he had languishing on his property. In was the Bianchina version from 1959 which had a canvas roof that rolled all the way back to the top of the engine, even folding the rear window down with it (the metal sides remained in place). After a while I finally got a good look at the inner workings and found the engine to be rusted into a solid shape, so I forfeited. However I've never even sat in a running example and would love to acquire one some day.
Arrivederci little Fiat!

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