Classics – Fiat 500, old and new

With their origins 50 years apart we bring together old and new icons – the Fiat 500

By Shahzad Sheikh

Fiat 500 old meets new

The new Fiat 500 has been doing rather well since it was relaunched in 2007. Just five years later it’s clocked up countless accolades including 2008 European Car of the Year, 2009 World Car Design of the Year and first place in Germany’s 2011 J D Power & Associates ‘Vehicle Owner Satisfaction Study’. Just recently it clocked up a production milestone – between them, the factories in Poland and Mexico have already churned out a million of these little cuties.

Frankly though, we say ‘little’, and parked next to almost any car in Dubai, it certainly appears the smallest car out there, but just take a look at these pictures. Compared to its illustrious forebear, the new Fiat 500 is massive!

Fiat 500 old meets new

[Read our road test review of this 2012 500C car by clicking here]

You may find the Nuova Cinquecento (New 500 as it was first dubbed at launch in 1957) hilariously tiny and quite possibly some novelty item or circus prop rather than a real and actual car, but be in no doubt this was a very serious little motor indeed. It was designed (much like the British Mini) as utilitarian transportation for the masses, it mobilised Italy in the 1960s.

And like its equally famous British counterpart, it was available in several variants over its production years which actually numbered a total of 20 and saw four million of the tiny transporters leave the factory. Visit Italy even today, and it won’t be long before you’ll trip over them running about very much in daily use even 35 years after production discontinued.

Fiat 500 old meets new

Johnny Breinholt’s 1969 Fiat 500 featured here, is not a daily driver, however, but a much cherished and cared-for example that’s been uprated to look like a Giannini edition, with the performance suitably enhanced (it’s a 700cc two-cylinder motor, compared to the 479cc of the original). Giannini was and remains a tuning outfit specialising in Fiats, and in the 1960s its little 500s would take on the Abarth 500s in motor racing – valiantly losing in most cases.

[Read more on Johnny B’s Fiat 500 and an air-cooled rear-engined American car by clicking here]

Fiat 500 old meets new

Back to the 479cc flat-twin in the regular original 500, it was designed to carry four passengers, believe it or not. Horsepower was only around 20bhp if that, and as mentioned the air-cooled engine was stuck in the back. Whilst performance wasn’t exactly scintillating, it barely sniffed at the fuel you put in it achieving 5.4L/100km. Having said that, the car weighs just 500kg, and could cruise at around 88kph.

By contrast the 2012 Fiat 500C in these pictures features a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine putting out 100bhp and can get up to 182kph. Fuel economy is only slightly worst at 7.0L/100km and acceleration to 100kph is 10.5, which might not sound like much but then the base 1960s car will run out of puff just shy of 100kph!

Fiat 500 old meets new

So just how much has the new car grown – well our exclusively picture-in-picture merged 500s give you an indication of the size differential, but if you want stats the original car is 2.97m long, 1.32m wide and the same again in height with a 1.84m wheelbase. The new car has a wheelbase of 2.3m, is 3.55m long, 1.63 wide and 1.49 high. It’s also nearly twice the weight of the original – though 980kg is still extremely light by the standard of most modern cars.

So how is it that such a tiny little car actually came about in the mid-50s (it was even smaller than its predecessor the Topolino which was 3.22m long)? Introduced 10 years after the end of the second World War, Europe was still trying to recover from the devastation, life was all about being as thrifty as possible, but the nation had to get moving again nonetheless.

Fiat 500 old meets new

Germany had found its own solution with the Volkswagen Beetle – also an air-cooled rear-engined car, although quite a bit bigger than the Fiat 500. The Italian ‘people’s car’ was designed by Dante Giacosa who also designed the Topolino and also a single-seat racer – the Cisitalia D46 (1946) featuring a space frame chassis with light alloy body panels – so Giacosa certainly knew a thing or two about lightness.

He is also responsible for the 1969 Fiat 128, additionally built as a Zastava in Serbia and a Seat in Spain. In Sir Lanka it was produced by the Upali Motor Company until 1978 and is still made in Egypt by the Nasr car company. But we can forgive Giacosa for this one, just because the little 500 is so brilliant!

Fiat 500 old meets new

Not only is it irresistibly adorable – admit it you just want to sweep it up in your arms and cuddle it – but it was found to be eminently practical and the simple mechanics meant it was tough and easy to fix – usually with a large hammer (just threaten the poor little thing and it’ll probably start right up!).

Its durability was proven in July 1958 when seven Fiat 500s took part in the gruelling 3300km Leige-Brescia-Liege Rally over dirt tracks in the Dolomites, for cars up to 500cc. Only 13 of the 29 cars that started, finished the rally. All seven Fiat 500s did, taking first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, ninth and 13th places.

Fiat 500 old meets new

In 2007 a 1969 Fiat 500 became the smallest car to circumnavigate the world doing 32,000 road kilometres in just 99 days, driven by Lang Kidby and his wife Bev from Australia. Similarly in 2005 a 1973 Cinq went from Italy to China across 16,000km in 100 days.

So it’s not only huggable, but incredibly capable and virtually indestructible, which may explain why so many are still running around today, and continuing to conquer the planet.

Fiat 500 old meets new

The new Fiat 500, of course is a sportier more niche-market proposition (despite its impressive production volumes) aimed more at appealing to the style-conscious and served up in vastly configurable and customisable offerings, so that owners can personalise and make their own statement with the car. Not unlike the philosophy BMW has successfully executed with the modern Mini which, let’s be honest, is the strategy Fiat are carefully copying.

Fiat’s 21st century 500 is a faithful successor to the 1950s trend-setter, proving to be highly desirable, and laugh-a-minute fun to drive, as well projecting almost the same lovability of the classic. Set against the context of the today’s carscape the new 500 stands out as quirky, unusual and dripping with personality.

Fiat 500 old meets new


Having said that, the tiddly grand-daddy with its barely comprehensible dimensions, laughable mechanics and performance, as well as its crude construction, is an utter scene-stealer easily leaving its younger sibling on the sideline. In Mushrif park where we shot these cars together, kids, adults, and just about everyone just swarmed over Johnny’s car everywhere we stopped, with the newer car firmly taking second billing.

It may be small, but it has massive presence. Fortunately it doesn’t have a massive price tag. You can pick up a decent one of these in Italy for 3000 Euro or less (under $4000 or AED15k) or around 1500 Euro for scruffy car ($2k or AED 7000). And even a nice example or a sporty Abarth version will only set you back about 5000 Euro ($6500 or AED24k). There was even a pretty good looking 1972 Fiat 500 recently for sale in Dubai advertised for AED 40,000 ($11k), but that wasn’t Johnny’s car, he’s NEVER selling that one.


Fiat 500 old meets new

One response to “Classics – Fiat 500, old and new”

  1. suhail says:

    Hi hello can u less the prise? And the both 40 or only 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *