In ’57 – when the Fiat 500 was released – motorcycles ruled Italian roads. Whether solo – or attached to a side-car – they were the way most people got from A to B. The Fiat 500 was set to change that. It was convenient and economical. Okay, so were motorbikes. But, the ‘500’ came with a roof … and a sun-roof, at that! By ’77 – twenty years later – Fiat had sold over 4,000,000 of them.
The 500’s performance stats were not shattering! It had a twin-cylinder, 499cc motor – producing 18bhp, in standard trim. Top speed was 60mph. Enter Carlo Abarth! His 695cc SS model pushed 90mph. The ‘Abarth’ featured flared wheel arches, oil cooler, and raised rear engine cover. They were there to prevent over-heating, and increase stability. A pleasant side-effect was that the Abarth acquitted itself well at the racetracks. The roadster, too, handled well. Complete with rear-mounted motor, it delivered a desirable 52mpg. It cruised at 55mph. It was best not to ask too much of it, though – due to the drum brakes, and non-synchromesh gearbox. A modification made to later models was the move from rear to front hinges for the doors. That was especially good news for those still on two wheels!
So far as comfort was concerned, the little Fiat was ‘utilitarian’. That said, ’68’s ‘500L’ came with reclining seats – and carpets. Not quite to Rolls-Royce standards … but then a Roller did not do 52mpg! The Fiat 500’s mission was to provide stress-free motoring, to as many people as possible. Mission accomplished, then … with petite and impressive aplomb!