The Nuova 500 (1957 - 1960)
Output: over 181,000 units
(including the ‘economica’: ‘normale and ‘Sport versions)
Launch price: 465,000 lire
The Fiat Nuova 500 made its debut in the Summer of 1957, with an excessively Spartan outfit, just two seats and a rear bench. The car could only accommodate two people, but could carry 70 kg (154 lbs) of luggage (very important at the time).
Fiat Nuova 500 (1957-1960)
The 500 was 2.97 meters (116.92 inches) long, 1.32 meters (51.97 inches) wide and 1.325 meters (52.17 inches) tall. It had a wheelbase of 1.84 meters (72.44 inches). Empty it weighed 470 kg (1036 lbs), and fully laden 680 kg(1499 lbs). The rounded, well-proportioned lines recalled an egg, and one distinctive feature was the canvas roof that opened right to the rear of the vehicle, like the one on the 500 Topolino. The roof incorporated the transparent plastic rear window. The design of the Nuova 500, by Dante Giacosa, won the designer the prestigious ‘Golden Compass’ award for industrial design in 1959.
The engine of the 500 was a new petrol engine with 2 cylinders in line and air-cooled (it was Fiat’s first air-cooled engine) with a capacity of 479 cc, delivering 13 bhp. The gearbox had 4 speeds with rapid engagement on 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Braking was hydraulic on all four wheels. The transmission was of the oscillating axle shaft type and drive was obviously to the rear wheels, with the engine positioned at the rear of the car, the second time in Fiat history, after the 600 launched in 1955. Top speed was 85 km/h (53 mph) and average consumption was 4.5 liters /100 km (52.3 mpg).
Fiat Nuova 500 Cutaway
The front suspension was independent with upper cross links, a transverse lower leaf spring and telescopic dampers at the front, and independent, with cross links, large coil springs and telescopic dampers at the rear. Because there was no other space available, the 20-liter (5.3 gal) barrel-shaped fuel tank was located under the front bonnet.
One of the characteristic features of the Nuova 500 were the pressed metal wheels without hub caps that were painted a light color; the headlights were recessed flush with the body at the front, and oval at the rear. There were no direction indicators on the front, replaced by the large drop-shaped indicators on the sides. On the front was the Fiat logo, surrounded by a sort of grille with two chrome-plated whiskers. There was a chrome trim on the front bonnet, which had a purely stylistic role. The doors were hinged at the rear, opening with the wind.
The equipment and fittings were kept to a minimum; for example, the windscreen wiper did not have an automatic return, and the few tools provided, such as the jack, were kept in a canvas bag in the boot.
The Nuova 500 first series received its first alterations for the 1957 Turin Motor Show (i.e. just three months after its launch). It had not been a great success with the public. The clientèle found it much too Spartan, and two seats were considered too few. In other words, the improvement over the scooter (and a costly one at that) was not yet perceived or perceivable by the clientèle.
That was not all: the difference in price with respect to the basic 600 (launched in 1955) penalized the new Fiat. The 600 had a more powerful engine (633 cc, 21.5 bhp and a top speed of 95 km/h (59 mph)) and carried 4 passengers + 30 kg (132 lbs) of luggage. It also had better equipment, was more of a car, and cost 590,000 lire, just 125,000 lire more than the 500. So Fiat was quick to act, introducing two modified versions, which it called the 500 ‘Normale’ and 500 ‘Economica’. Although their names seemed to indicate the opposite, they offered more equipment, could seat 4 thanks to a ‘real’, homologated rear seat that was also slightly padded, and had a more powerful engine, but cost 25,000 lire less than the first 500. The comparison with the 600 improved.
The additions to the car included chrome-plated shields to the front headlights, descending side lights, deflectors, front quarter lights, lateral trims, improved facia controls, chrome-plated hubcaps, and a new rear model tag. The canvas roof stopped at the rear edge of the roof, and remained like that on subsequent versions of the car. The engine was also boosted by increasing the compression ratio, and adopting a new carburettor and camshaft. The power delivery increased from 13 to 15 bhp, and the top speed was 5 km/h higher at 90 km/h (56 mph).
The price was 490,000 lire, therefore more than the first 500, and just 100,000 lire less than the 600 with which it was compared.
The Nuova 500 Sport saloon and open roof (1958 - 1960)
Price: 560,000 lire (saloon) and 495,000 (open roof)
Fiat 500 Sport (1958-1960)
In 1959 an open-roofed version of the Sport appeared, with a canvas roof that stopped just behind the front seats. The doors were still hinged at the rear and, where styling was concerned, the tires no longer had white walls (synonymous with elegance at the time) but were plain black, more gutsy but also less expensive, and the seats were made of plasticated, washable solid tone fabric (mainly red) with a red band at the top.
The 500 Giardiniera (1960 – 1977)
Output 458,000 units
(including the cars built by Autobianchi)
Launch price: 565,000 lire
The Giardiniera, the station wagon version of the 500, was launched in May 1960. The car had a 499.5 cc engine delivering 17.5 bhp, which took this mini estate to 95 km/h (59mph), with fuel consumption of 5.2 liters/100 km (45.3 mpg). The most important element, technically, was the different architecture of the twin-cylinder engine which was laid on its side ‘like a sole’, as they said at Fiat, so that it could fit under the flat loading surface. This same engine also powered the 126 in the latter days of its life, on the Bis version of the late 1980s which had a rear opening tailgate, and even on the first Cinquecento in 1991, suitably modified and evolved.
To go back to the Fiat 500 Giardiniera, the engineers at Mirafiori increased the wheelbase by 10 centimeters (.39 inches) to boost the load capacity. This made the car 3.182 meters long (125.28 inches), 1.323 meters ( 52.09 inches) wide and 1.354 meters (53.31 inches) tall with a wheelbase of 1.940 meters (76.38 inches). Empty, the car weighed 555 kg (1223.57 lbs) and fully laden 875 kg (1929.04 lbs). In terms of engineering, the brakes were still hydraulic on all four wheels, the gearbox still had 4 speeds with rapid engagement on 2nd, 3rd and 4th, and the suspension architecture also remained the same.
The Giardiniera had a payload of 4 adults + 40 kg ( 88.18 lbs) of luggage, but the rear seat squab folded down to increase load capacity. With only the driver on board, the 500 Giardiniera could carry up to 200 kg ( 440.92 lbs) of luggage.
Fiat 500 Giardiniera
The styling was typical of a small station wagon of its day, with the rounded lines of the 500 saloon at the front and the addition of two round direction indicators, while those at the side were smaller, with two front doors (still rear-hinged), and a small rear tailgate that opened from right to left, being hinged on the left. The rear side windows slid open to improve ventilation and change the air. There was a long canvas sunroof. The Giardiniera was initially built at Mirafiori, on the same assembly lines as the saloon, but in 1966 it was transferred to Desio and built by Autobianchi (which had entered the Fiat orbit in the mid Fifties). A total of 327,000 Fiat 500 Giardiniera's were built (and at the end of its life, some appeared with only the Autobianchi name and without the Fiat logo on the front and rear).
The 500 D (1960 – 1965)
Output: over 642,000 units
Launch price: 450.000 lire
Fiat 500D (1960-1965)
The new 500 series D was launched in the Autumn of 1960. The engine capacity was increased to 499.5 cc, and this version inherited the engine of the Sport version, which was taken off the market. It had a power output of 17.5 bhp, a top speed of 95 km/h (59.03 mph) and average consumption of 4.8 liters/100 km (49 mpg). The car was homologated for 4 people with 40 kg (88.18 lbs) of luggage. The unladen weight also increased to 500 kg (1102.31 lbs) (the first 500 of 1957 weighed 470 (1036.17 lbs), and this reflected an important increase in content and stronger materials) and 820 kg (1807.79 lbs) fully laden.
The line obviously did not change, and the doors were still hinged at the rear but the design of the front and side direction indicators changed, adopting those on the Giardiniera, the rear light clusters changed and the canvas roof was now sturdier, easier to open and slightly smaller. The white walls returned on the tires.
The fuel tank on the 500 D lost its barrel shape but remained in the front; its new less bulky form took up a little less space in the boot although it increased in size from 20 liters (7.1 cubic feet) to 22 liters (7.8 cubic feet). A fold-down rear squab was adopted, after the success of the solution of the Giardinetta.
500 F (1965 – 1972)
Output: 2,272,000 (including the 500 L)
Launch price: 475,000 lire
Fiat 500F (1965-1972)
The 500 F made its debut in March 1965 (it was joined by the 500 ‘Lusso’ in 1968), and it was the first version to feature front-hinged doors which were safer even in an accident, and made it possible to hide the ugly door hinges for the first time, 8 years after the first series of the 500. In terms of engineering, the transmission was made more robust, with a number of improvements to the clutch, drive axles and differentials.
The engine still had a capacity of 499.5 cc, but now delivered 18 bhp, taking the 500 F to a speed of 95 km/h (59 mph). Fuel consumption also increased compared to previous versions, to 5.5 liters/100 km (42.76 mpg). The weight rose to 520 kg (1146.4 lbs) empty and 840 km (1851.88 lbs) fully laden. The car maintained its 4-seat homologation definitively with a maximum 40 kg (88.18 lbs) of luggage. The gradient negotiable (ability to climb a steep incline) was now 26% compared to 23% on the first series.
Inside, there were a number of improvements and additional equipment and materials. With the 500 F, Fiat began to differentiate the range by price, styling and content. The engineers at Mirafiori designed a ‘basic’ version, the 500 F and a better equipped version, the 500 ‘Lusso’, which was launched in 1968.
500 L – ‘Lusso’ (1968 – 1972)
Output: 2,272,000 units (including the 500F)
Launch price: 525,000 lire
Fiat 500L (1968-1972)
This version, which appeared in September 1968, had a clear mission: to meet the demands of a clientèle looking for a car that was more comprehensive, more customized and more ‘luxurious’. These motorists were prepared to spend as much as 525,000 lire, in other words, 100,000 lire more than the 500 F. Marketing, evolving tastes and changing lifestyles were leading the people at Mirafiori to develop a car that was a small status symbol for its day. The age of the Spartan car was already coming to an end, because the customer wanted more.
The 500 L did not change where the engineering and performance were concerned (engine capacity of 499.5 cc, 18 bhp, top speed of 95 km/h or 59 mph), but fuel consumption was down to 5.3 liters/100 km (44.37 mpg) from 5.5 liters/100 km (42.76 mpg) on the 500 F.
The interior and exterior styling of the 500 L was new. Chrome nudge bars on the front and rear bumpers increased the length to 3.025 meters (c119.09 inches) compared to 2.970 meters (116.93 inches) on the 500 F (the weight also increased by 10 kg (22.05 lbs) to 530 km (1168.45 lbs) empty). The front and rear light clusters changed radically, and the two round front headlights, the direction indicators and the rear lights were all larger.
The Fiat logo on the front also changed, becoming rectangular, whereas on the 500 F it was still surrounded by a grille, with two chrome-silver painted plastic whiskers. A chrome-plated trim appeared on the roof drip channels for the first time. At the rear, the model name in italics used on previous series was abandoned in favor of new rhomboid-shaped brand and model graphics with black upper case lettering, positioned horizontally and no longer transversely on the bonnet, surrounded by squares with a metallic Gray background which recalled the rhomboids of the Fiat trademark, that were used on all Fiat models from 1968.
There was plenty of chrome work, and not only in the seals, new hub trims and radial tires, an important novelty in safety terms. But it was inside that the 500 L lived up to its name as the ‘luxury’ version. For example, the design of the steering wheel changed; it still had two spokes, but with a central recess that was no longer made of plastic but of metal painted matt black, the facia and a number of interior details were redesigned, and the seats were upholstered in leather cloth with vertical quilting, usually in a light hide color or red. The seats themselves were better padded with reclining squabs, and the number and size of the storage compartments increased (for example on the doors).
But the 500 L was a sort of swan song for the model. In 1972, when it was taken off the market, there was a new small Fiat, the 126, and from 1972 to 1975 only one version of the 500 was still in production, the last, and most Spartan version, the 500 R.
500 R (from 1972 to 1975)
Output: over 340,000 units
Launch price: 600,000 lire
Fiat 500 R (1972-1975)
Simultaneously, with the presentation of its ‘heir’, the 126, the last 500 was launched in 1972 at the Turin Motor Show. The car concluded the story begun 15 years earlier, in 1957, with a total of 3,893,294 units built at Mirafiori, at the Autobianchi plant in Desio and, finally, at the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo), where the last 500 would come off the assembly line in the Summer of 1975.
In the last three years of its career, the 500 R (meaning ‘Rinnovata’, renewed) used the 594 cc engine of the 126, downgraded to 18 bhp from the 23 of the 126, but it kept the old 500 gearbox. The top speed was increased to 100 km/h (62.14 mph), and it fitted new pressed sheet metal rims with a light alloy effect, but the interiors had less equipment than the previous 500 L; black predominated, on the steering wheel, plastic once again, on the instrument surround and the telltale trims, as well as on the upholstery and some oddment compartments. The 500 R marked a step backwards from the 500 L in terms of equipment and content, which clearly indicated that the model’s life cycle had come to an end.
Fiat’s goal at the time was clear: customers had to move to the square lines of the 126. The age of the rounded curves of the 500 was over, and Italy was no longer the same country that had motorized itself in 15 years (1957 - 1972), thanks in part to the small car designed by Dante Giacosa.
Fiat 126 (1972-1976)
Altogether, the output of the various versions of the 500 exceeded even the 600, another car created by Giacosa, which closed its career with a total of 2,677,313 in 15 years of life, from 1955 to 1970. The 500 Topolino, which was built in Lingotto from 1936 to 1955, reached little more than 509,000 units, partly because of the war. So for many years, until the Uno, Panda and Punto passed the one million mark the legendary 500 of 1957-1972 remained the biggest selling and most built Fiat car.
The Last Nuova Fiat 500 R of 1975
In our next installment of this series we'll explore the Abarth versions of the Nuova 500. Keep an eye out for it!
Source: Fiat Group Press