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Fiat 500 Through the Years

Niel Stender

The Fiat 500 is an iconic, Italian city car with roots going back over 60 years. With two distinct generations, let’s look at the Cinquecento’s history.

Looking Back at the Fiat 500

Known as the Fiat Cinquecento in its home market of Italy, the Fiat 500 is considered one of the first purpose-built city cars. Though it started production over 60 years ago, the 500 only spans two generations. During that time, it arrived and departed American shores during the first generation and is poised to do so again with generation two. Let’s look back through the years at some history of the Fiat 500.

The First-Generation Fiat 500

1957

1957 Fiat 500 - The Grand Teen on YouTube.com

1957 Fiat 500 – The Grand Teen on YouTube.com |  Shop Fiat 500 on Carsforsale.com

  • The first Fiat 500 is released in Italy with an air-cooled, 479 cubic centimeter (cc), 2-cylinder engine making a wee 13 horsepower paired with a 4-speed manual. The engine and driven wheels are in the rear.
  • Launched as the Nuova (New) 500, it is the successor to Fiat’s 500 Topolino.
  • It features two “suicide” doors that use hinges on the back edge and a fabric roof that can be manually folded all the way to the rear.
  • The original 500 is not quite 10 feet long and less than 5 feet in width and height. Curb weight is approximately 1,100 pounds.
  • Austrian outfit Steyr-Puch produce a version, under Fiat license, with a motorcycle derived, Puch boxer engine.
  • Sold in New Zealand as the Fiat Bambina (baby), that name is still in use today to describe the vehicle.
  • The Fiat 500’s practicality make it a sales hit in Europe with over 180,000 sold in its first three years.

1958

1958 Fiat 500 Sport - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1958 Fiat 500 Sport - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • A Sport model launches with a bored block from the base 500 power plant. With just under 500 cc of displacement, the 500 Sport makes 21 hp and can hit a 65 mph top speed.
  • Two-tone livery featuring a red stripe along the body sides and longitudinal roof grooves set the Sport edition apart.

1960

1960 Fiat 500 Giardiniera - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1960 Fiat 500 Giardiniera - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • The Fiat 500 D hits the streets using the Sport model engine and essentially the same styling as initial Nuovas.
  • A 2-door estate model, the 500 Giardiniera is released with an extra 4” in length. The engine is mounted on its side to create a flat, cargo loading space.
  • The Giardiniera goes on to become the longest running 500 model with over 327,000 vehicles produced.

1964

Fiat Abarth 695 SS - ClassicarGarage on YouTube.com
Fiat Abarth 695 SS - ClassicarGarage on YouTube.com
  • In partnership with Italian racing company Abarth, the 695 SS is released. Of 1,000 produced over seven years, only 150 are believed to still be in existence.
  • Upgrades to the carburetor, block, exhaust, valve springs, pistons, and camshaft yield 37 hp and a top speed of 87 mph. As a result, the engine cover needs to remain open for additional cooling.

1965

1965 Fiat 500 F - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1965 Fiat 500 F - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • Mechanically similar to the 500 D, the 500 F or Berlina is immediately distinguished from previous iterations by its conventional doors with hinges mounted on the front edge.

1967

1967 Fiat 500 L - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1967 Fiat 500 L - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • The Lusso, or Fiat 500 L, maintains the 500 F mechanicals, but picks up a higher end interior plus additional chrome trim and a new hubcap design.
  • Up to now, the 500 dashboard has been painted metal with a round instrument binnacle. The Lusso replaces metal with a black, anti-glare plastic and the gauges receive a trapezoidal surround.
  • Outside, bias ply tires are replaced with radials.

1971

1971 Fiat 500 R - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1971 Fiat 500 R - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • The 500 R (Rinnovata) becomes the final incarnation of the original Fiat 500 sporting a 594 cc version of the venerable air-cooled, 2-cyliner engine.
  • Changes are minor but include removing the fuel gauge leaving just a low fuel indicator light.
  • While the 500 R was sold alongside the new Fiat 126 for two years, sales ultimately flat-lined and the Fiat 500 was retired in 1976.
  • The original Fiat 500 sold nearly 4 million units between 1957 and 1971.

The Second-Generation Fiat 500

2007

2007 Fiat 500 - sonantti on YouTube.com
2007 Fiat 500 - sonantti on YouTube.com
  • 50 years after the original Fiat 500 was launched, it returns with retro styling that hews closely to its forebear.
  • Still a two-door coupe, the engine and driven wheels are now up front.
  • The new 500 is substantially bigger in every dimension. Almost two feet longer, it is one foot wider, 6 inches taller, and over 1,000 pounds heavier.
  • An initial 1.4-liter (1400 cc) inline-4 produces 104 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque.
  • CAR Magazine names the new Fiat 500 Car of the Year upon its reintroduction.
  • Enthusiasts rejoice at the availability of a 5-speed manual along with a 6-speed automatic.

2008

2008 Fiat 500 - Clarus MotorPark on YouTube.com
2008 Fiat 500 - Clarus MotorPark on YouTube.com
  • The Abarth name returns with a turbocharged version of Fiat’s FIRE 4-pot making 133 horses. It features a lowered suspension, special wheels, and aluminum pedals.
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2009

2009 Fiat 500 C - Carbuyer on YouTube.com
2009 Fiat 500 C - Carbuyer on YouTube.com
  • A convertible known as the Fiat 500 C is introduced using a fixed-profile. In this configuration, the doorframes, roof pillars, and side windows are retained. While the cloth top is retractable, the chassis rigidity is improved and the side airbags can still be used.
  • The power-operated top can be retracted into three positions – over the front seats, over all four seats, or stacked and folded behind the rear headrests.

2010

2010 Fiat 500 - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2010 Fiat 500 - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • Landing on American shores for the first time since its global debut in 2007, the new Fiat 500 is offered in Pop, Lounge, and Sport trims.
  • Equipped with Fiat’s 1.4-liter, MultiAir FIRE 4-cylinder engine, it makes 100 horsepower and 97 lb-ft of torque. This motor receives the 2010 International Engine of the Year award from the UKi Media & Events’ Automotive Magazines.

2011

2011 Fiat 500 Gucci - OnlyCars on YouTube.com
2011 Fiat 500 Gucci - OnlyCars on YouTube.com
  • The 500 Abarth is launched stateside with a turbocharged version of the MultiAir mill producing 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of twist. Equipped with the “esseesse” package, Abarths are lowered on unique wheels with cross-drilled brake rotors at all four corners.
  • Both the Gucci and America editions are also released in 2011. Gucci models feature a green stripe around the car and Gucci green brake calipers. The 500 America, designed with Jennifer Lopez, is trimmed with stars & stripes graphics, red-edged rims, and an available metallic America Blue paint color.

2013

2013 Fiat 500e - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2013 Fiat 500e - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • An all-electric, Fiat 500e, is released using a permanent magnet, three-phase synchronous drive electric motor that produces 111 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque. The 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack delivers up to 100 miles of city range and can charge in under four hours with a 240-volt connection.
  • Extensive wind tunnel testing is used to reduce the coefficient of drag from 0.359 on standard 500s to 0.311 on the 500e. Aerodynamic improvements include a new front fascia design, liftgate spoiler, and under-vehicle belly pans.
  • To ease American consumer range-anxiety concerns and allow for longer travel distances, each 500e purchase includes use of a gas-powered rental vehicle for up to 12 days annually over a three-year span.
2013 Fiat 500L - What Car? on YouTube.com
2013 Fiat 500L - What Car? on YouTube.com
  • 2013 brings the 500 Turbo model with a turbocharged four-cylinder churning out 135 hp and 150 lb-ft. Special wheels, larger front brake rotors, red calipers, and an optional Beats by Dre audio system round out the features.
  • The 500 L also debuts in 2013 and becomes the first 4-door Fiat 500. Uniquely designed to offer excellent outward visibility, it has a high roof, tall greenhouse, and a double A-pillar configuration.
  • Mechanically similar to the standard 500, the 500 L is more than 20 inches longer and picks up about 6 inches of width and height. It also features a reconfigurable interior layout via a tri-level cargo floor plus a back row that slides, reclines, and folds/tumbles to maximize interior volume.

2014

2014 Fiat 500 1957 Edition - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2014 Fiat 500 1957 Edition - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • Harkening to the original, a 1957 Edition Fiat 500 lands with a choice of three exterior colors – Bianco (white), Verde Chiaro (light green), or Celeste (pastel blue). Special wheels are designed to mimic hubcaps, historic FIAT emblems are used throughout the roof is painted white.

2016

2016 Fiat 500 X - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2016 Fiat 500 X - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • 2016 ushers in a facelifted, albeit mechanically identical, Fiat 500. A redesigned grille is bookended with new headlights utilizing LED daytime running lights. Tail lamps also feature integrated LEDs and the interior sees revised controls and an updated steering wheel.
  • The Fiat 500 X joins the party in 2016 with all-wheel drive and four doors, effectively creating a tiny SUV.
  • Built on the Jeep Renegade platform, the 500 X is powered by a 160-horse version of the familiar 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged mill and comes standard with a 6-speed manual on the base Pop models.

2017

Fiat 500 at MoMA in New York - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
Fiat 500 at MoMA in New York - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • Marking the Fiat 500 60th anniversary is a celebration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and a production volume figure of 2 million, for the new 500.

2019

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2019 Fiat 500 Abarth - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
  • Due to sliding sales figures, production of the new Fiat 500 ends in North America for the 500, 500 C, 500e and Abarth models.

2020

2020 Fiat 500L - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

2020 Fiat 500L – media.stellantisnorthamerica.com |  Shop Fiat 500 on Carsforsale.com

  • In 2020, the 500 L is cut from production leaving only the Fiat 500 X in US showrooms for 2020 and 2021. There is no clear plan for the future of the Fiat 500 in America, but we hope to see it continue on in some way while retaining its small city-car design.

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Niel Stender
Niel Stender

Niel got his start in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer with SVT at Ford. He still has dreams of running figure eights on the wet pad in an S197 GT500. These days, when not fending off karate kicks from the 3 tiny humans that run his household, he can be found on St. Louis backroads pretending to be Ken Block in his 6-speed Mazda 6.

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