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History of the Fiat small car - From the Topolino to the Fiat 600 and Seicento to the new Panda - the small cars have a long and successful tradition at Fiat

From the Topolino to the Fiat 600 and Seicento to the new Panda

The small cars have a long and successful tradition at Fiat

Fiat and small cars are inextricably linked. An affinity that has dimensions of automotive history. Finally, the ancestral gallery of the new Fiat Panda with the Topolino (Fiat 500), the Fiat 600, the Fiat 127, the Fiat Cinquecento, the Fiat Seicento and last but not least also the first generation of the Fiat Panda small cars, which in their time not only were groundbreaking in terms of concept and technology and made a career, but instead mobilized entire generations as affordable family cars in their day. Since 1955 alone, the year in which the Fiat 600 was presented, Fiat has sold around 15.5 million vehicles in the small car segment in Europe.

The story of the small car from Fiat begins in 1933. A story closely linked to one name: Dante Giocosa. The 28-year-old engineer and designer of special and military vehicles accepted Senator Agnelli's offer to design a small and economical car, the price of which was supposed to be the real sensation: 5,000 lire.

Giacosa, whose great passion was aircraft and their engines, christened the project “Zero A”. “Zero” was reminiscent of the first mass-produced Fiat and “A” stood for “Aviazione”, aviation. In February 1934, after only a year of development, the first prototype "Zero A" was tested. With success, "Zero A" goes into series production. A five-storey plant is being built in Lingotto with a test track on the roof, where Fiat's first small car will roll off the assembly line.

Two years later, in June 1936, the time had come. Giacosa presents the astonished experts with the Fiat 500 - at that time the smallest car in the world. With it, Fiat heralds the long tradition of small cars and christened its first mini model "500" because of its displacement. The little one is 3.21 meters long and weighs 535 kilograms. Its four-cylinder in-line engine with 569 cubic centimeters works under the hood at the front and mobilizes 13 hp at 4,000 revolutions of the crankshaft.

The first Fiat 500 reached a top speed of 85 kilometers per hour, had four forward gears plus one reverse gear, with only third and fourth gears being synchronized. The advanced technology includes independent suspension, and the gearshift lever is unusually positioned between the driver and front passenger seats. The trolley has sliding windows on the side and enough space in the back for the children or luggage. He inspires and moves Italians. It is popularly named "Topolino" - the little mouse - because of its likeable appearance. Over 122,000 Topolino will be produced by 1948.

The triumphant advance of the Fiat 500 was associated with improved or new models of the Italian small car. The Fiat 500 B was followed by the Fiat 500 C in 1949. It had "American" bumpers, a first, still very simple heating device and rolled off the production lines a total of 367,370 times until 1955, the year production was discontinued.

In the same year, at the Geneva Motor Show, the Fiat 600 celebrates its world premiere. Also a small car, but with a self-supporting body, rear engine (633 cubic centimeters, 22 hp), independent suspension and a smart design, it brings new technology and comfort elements into this class. More than 950,000 units of the Fiat 600 with a top speed of 100 km / h were produced by 1960.

In the summer of 1957, the successor to the Topolino was presented, which was also developed under the leadership of Dante Giacosa: the Fiat "Nuova 500". That small car that is supposed to finally motorize the Italian people. Its price: 465,000 lire. His concept: two-seater with a self-supporting body, four independently suspended wheels and again a 500cc engine, which is now housed in the rear. The air-cooled two-cylinder develops 13 hp from a displacement of exactly 479 cubic centimeters, reaches a top speed of 85 kilometers per hour and is satisfied with 4.4 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers.

When Fiat presented another version with a more powerful engine at the Turin Motor Show in 1960, the triumphal procession of one of the most successful small cars in the history of the automobile began. The "Nuova 500" now has 16.5 hp and reaches a top speed of 90 km / h. In addition, the equipment with lighting and direction indicators on the steering wheel, hub covers on the wheels, retractable windows and a small upholstered sofa are richer and more comfortable.

The Nuova 500 continues the tradition of the Topolino, conquers the hearts of motorists in Italy and, with a price of 490,000 lire, is also affordable for the little man. The success of the Fiat small car remains true to him, too. By the time he left in 1975, 3.7 million units of the small car classic had rolled off the assembly line.

Other small cars from Fiat took on his role with similar success, but under different circumstances. Like the Fiat 126, of which around five million units were built in various versions from 1972 to 1985. Or from 1992 the Fiat Cinquecento. Developed in Italy, built in Poland and at home on the European markets, it redefines the successful small car concept of the Italian automobile manufacturer and with great success. A total of 1.2 million units of the angular city car roll off the production lines at the Polish plant in Tichy. From 1998 the Fiat Seicento will also be produced in the plant near Kraków. As a new style city car, it combines compact exterior dimensions with plenty of space inside, modern technology with economy and also sets standards in its class when it comes to safety. A concept that is particularly valued by young people - mostly women - and is still relevant.

A concept that the new Fiat Panda also takes up and revives with new content that is innovative for the class. Like the first generation of the ultra-compact Fiat 23 years ago. Let's remember. When the panda, dressed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, celebrated its world premiere at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980, nobody had any idea what career the Fiat, which is only 3.41 meters short, could look forward to. Edged on the outside, reduced to the essentials on the inside and with four cylinders under the hood, it offers enough performance and space for the whole family. It is practical, agile, versatile and, above all, very economical. Properties with which it is received by buyers right from the start. Whether it's an entry-level vehicle or a second vehicle, the Panda, which weighs just 715 kilograms, is unbeatable for everyday use in city traffic. But it doesn't disappoint over land or on the motorway either - especially with the 29 kW (40 hp) four-cylinder engine.

While the Fiat Panda presented itself at the start as a “household appliance on wheels” (Giugiaro quote), it grew up over the years. As an “intelligent” car, it keeps pace with the times through constant further development - without changing its character. This is one of the keys to success.

The Fiat Panda started its first season in 1982 with two engines - one of which was a 30 hp two-cylinder with air cooling - and deliberately simple equipment (including hammock seats). Almost six years later, the smart front-wheel drive is fundamentally revised. With modern Fire engines with 750 and 1,000 cubic centimeters, new rear axles and upgraded interior fittings, the Panda is clearly growing up into its second youth. But that's not all. In addition to a diesel version (1986), the 1990 series was expanded to include the Panda Elettra - the first series-produced electric vehicle. The environmentally friendly small car is used in Turin as a "rental car" in city traffic.

From 1991 the Panda Selecta with its continuously variable automatic transmission offers gearshift comfort that is unusual for this class. At the same time, the super-compact front-wheel drive car is undergoing a facelift. It will last - nobody can guess at the time - until the end of production at the beginning of September 2003. In addition to a new radiator grille, a new steering wheel and a dashboard that deserves the name, traditionally upholstered seats, improved noise insulation and targeted technical precision work promise more comfort. The proven basic concept is of course retained.

The Fiat Panda also develops a spirit of adventure. In 1983 he was transformed into an off-road vehicle with the Panda 4x4. With selectable all-wheel drive and the powerful 1.0-liter Fire engine with 33 kW (45 PS), it proves itself in tough everyday life and in motorsport. In 1985 54 Panda 4x4s successfully took part in the Rome-Abidjan rally. Further starts follow: on the Australian safari, the long-distance Beijing-Paris trip and the infamous Paris-Dakar rally.

As a unique piece, the Fiat Panda even dares to go into the water. Expedition outfitter Volker Lapp is not only causing a stir with a conversion to a "swimming panda". The same applies to the 4x4 version converted by Lapp for use in the area, which was named “Hunting Car of the Year” in 1995.

At the end of its career, the panda can look back on a success story that impresses even in sober numbers. The smart front-wheel drive car has been produced in 60 different versions since 1980, offered in 31 countries and sold over four million times - over 350,000 of them in Germany alone, where it achieved unimagined popularity. Numbers that secure the “great box” a place in the Fiat Olympus.

A success story that the new Fiat Panda wants to continue. With a youthful, bold design, modern technology, innovative equipment features and that portion of individualism that characterized all small cars from Fiat - from the Topolino, to the Fiat 500 and the Fiat 126 to the Fiat Cinquecento.