|Body style(s)||2-door coupé
|Engine(s)||479 cc Straight-2
499 cc Straight-2
594 cc Straight-2
|Wheelbase||1.84 metres (72.4 in)|
|Length||2.97 metres (116.9 in)|
|Width||1.32 metres (52.0 in)|
|Height||1.32 metres (52.0 in)|
|Curb weight||499 kg (1100 lb)|
To meet the demands of the post-war market which called for economy cars, the Fiat 500 was rear-engined on the pattern of the Volkswagen Beetle, just like its bigger brother, the 1955 Fiat 600. Several car makers followed this now nearly vanished design at the time and were quite successful, but only the Fiat 500 was used as the template for other car makers in Europe. The firms Neckar of Germany and Steyr-Puch in Austria each made cars that were legally based on the Fiat 500.
Despite its diminutive size, the 500 proved to be an enormously practical and popular vehicle throughout Europe. Besides the two-door coupé, it was also available as the “Giardiniera” station wagon; this variant featured the standard engine laid on its side, the wheelbase lengthened by 10 cm (4 in) which yielded a usable rear seat, a full-length sunroof, and larger brakes from the Fiat 600.
Production of the 500 ended in 1975, although its replacement, the Fiat 126, was launched two years earlier. The 126 was never as popular as its predecessor in Italy, but was (and still is) enormously popular in the former Eastern Bloc countries, where it is famed for mechanical durability and fuel economy.
There were six main models of Fiat 500 produced by Fiat themselves:
Nuova – (1957-1960)
The original 500, the Nuova, has a smaller engine than all newer models, at 479 cc and producing just 13 bhp. The original model also features a roof folding all the way back to the rear of the vehicle, like that of a Citroën 2CV rather than the later roof design which only folds half way back along the roof. The Nuova is one of three models featuring “suicide doors“. There is also a stylish Sport version of the Nuova, which features a distinctive red stripe and a more powerful engine, bored out to 499.5 cc from the original 479 cc engine and with a longer stroke, thus producing an impressive 21 bhp from the same original block.
D – (1960-1965)
Replacing the original Nuova in 1960, the D looks very similar to the Nuova, but there are two key differences. One is the engine size (the D features an uprated 499 cc engine producing 17 bhp as standard — this engine is used right through until the end of the L in 1973) and the other is the roof (the D roof does not fold back as far as the roof on the Nuova). The D also features “suicide doors“.
K or Giardiniera – (1960-1977)
The estate version of the Fiat 500 is the longest running model. The engine is laid under the floor of the boot to create a flat loading surface. The roof on this model also stretches all the way to the rear, not stopping above the driver and front passenger as it does in other models of the same period. The K also features “suicide doors” and is the only model to continue to sport this door type in to the 1970s.
F or Berlina – (1965-1972)
The F spans two periods of 500 production, the D and the L. As such, it is the most frequently misidentified model. Between 1965 and 1969 the F carried the same badging as the D and the two models are only distinguishable by their doors – the D has “suicide doors” and the F does not. Between 1969 and 1972 the F was sold alongside the Lusso model as a cheaper “base model” alternative. While the F and L are mechanically very similar, the key differences are the bumpers (the L has an extra chrome nudge bar) and the interior (the F interior is nearly identical to the original 1957 design while the L sports a much more modern look).
L or Lusso – (1968-1972)
The penultimate model, the main change for the L is a much modernised interior (including a renewed dashboard) which brought the Fiat 500 up to date. Greater comfort and style were provided in this new model for the new generation.
R or Rinnovata – (1972-1975)
The last incarnation of the Fiat 500 was the R model. It had a larger 594 cc engine, giving it a more usable power rating of 23 bhp, and contrary to many translations of the FIAT literature, came with a non-synchromesh “crash-box” transmission. This transmission was retained from the earlier ‘F’ model, unlike the floor-pan which was from either the ‘L’, or later, the new 126. It was also more comfortable, but more simply trimmed and equipped than before — the gas gauge was omitted and only the low fuel indicator remained. The 500 R was also a stop-gap for Fiat prior to the launch of the Fiat 126, and when the new 126 was launched sales of the old Fiat 500 R naturally plummeted. It sold alongside the Fiat 126 for another two years before Fiat finally retired the 500.
A classic Fiat 500 (wikipedia)