The Little Car that Could: A History of the Fiat 500 for Students in Mechanic School
When the phrase ‘Italian car’ comes to mind, people often think of the heavy hitters like Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati, but some of the most iconic vehicles in Italian automotive design are actually (and literally) on the smaller side of things.
The Fiat 500—also known as the cinquecento—is one of Italy’s most famous classic cars. Built in an age when small passenger cars dominated the market, the Fiat 500 was a smash hit among families and young consumers alike. Its chic styling and miniscule size led it to a nearly 20-year reign as one of Italy’s most popular cars, but don’t let its small stature fool you—this little car has more than a few surprises hidden in its fun-size design.
If you’re interested in starting a career as an automotive mechanic, read on to find out the history behind one of Italy’s most iconic cars.
Exploring the Early Beginnings of the Original Fiat ‘Cinquecento’
The history of the Fiat 500 began nearly fifty years before it came off production lines, with the founding of the only automotive company in Italy at the time, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT) in 1899. Although its first car, the Fiat 3 ½ HP–yes, as in, 3 ½ horsepower—was essentially a motorized carriage, it nevertheless provided the first steps for a company which would become the largest auto manufacturer in Italy only 10 years later.
In the years following World War II, Italian consumers needed a car that was affordable, reliable, and small enough to navigate narrow city streets while still being able to fit a growing family. Designed by Dante Giacosa, the first Fiat 500 was launched in July of 1957.
The Fiat 500 quickly became Italy’s preferred ‘car of the people’ due to its fair price, low maintenance costs, and fuel economy. Additional features such as rear-hinge doors and a fabric roof capable of folding all the way to the rear gave the 500 a chic, smart appearance which attracted younger buyers, and the car proved to be wildly successful, selling around 4 million units in its original production run between 1957 and 1975.
Auto Mechanics Might Be Interested in What’s Under the Hood of the Fiat 500
At around nine feet long, and with a rear 479 cc two-cylinder engine, the original Fiat 500 may not seem all that impressive to students in auto mechanic training—13 horsepower and a top speed of 85 km/h seem small in comparison to the average car on the road today, which boasts a whole lot more horsepower.
Although the original Fiat 500 wasn’t seeking to break any speed records, it had enough horsepower to meet the demands of its consumers. The subsequent Normale and Economica models had a boosted output of 15 HP each, and the racy 500 Sport—complete with a red racing stripe—was capable of reaching just over 20 horsepower. Later editions like the luxury 500L Lusso and the last Nouva 500 model the Rinnovata helped keep a reliable pace at a steady 18 HP each. Obviously, the Fiat 500 has come a long way since its earlier days. The current incarnation of the Fiat 500 has a maximum of 135 HP, and features a 1.4L 1-4 Turbo engine—more than twice the original volume!
The Fiat 500 Today May Be More Familiar to Students in Auto Mechanic Training
Fiat decided to bring back this classic car in 2007, with the release of the revamped Fiat 500. This new incarnation came with a few modern advancements you may become very familiar with when you become an auto mechanic, including shifting the the rear-mounted engine to the front, front-wheel drive, GPS navigation, and a gearshift lever.
Despite its 50-year hiatus, the Fiat 500 never truly went out of style. The Fiat 500 has even made its way into the art world, and recently entered the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, due to its embodiment of economic and efficient mid-century design.
Are you interested in a career that involves working on cars of all kinds?
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