The Fiat 500, An Icon Of Our Time
Some cars go down in history for their technological or styling innovations. Others deserve to be remembered for the role they have played in the daily life of an entire generation or an entire country. Few succeed in combining the two: technology and sentiment. They leave an indelible mark, becoming a sort of icon of their age.
The Nuova 500 is one of these. In a career lasting 18 years, from 1957 to 1975, exactly 3,893,294 were built, and it helped Italians and numerous other Europeans to satisfy a need for individual mobility that began to gain momentum from the early 1950s. The Nuova 500, even more than the 600 (1955), also brought the end of the post-war emergency period for motorisation and the automotive industry in Italy, and the start of the striving for comfort, albeit minimal and economical.
With the Nuova 500, the country of the ‘Poor but beautiful’ became, or tried to become, not quite as poor (and to a certain extent it succeeded), but above all, able to move around more freely.
The Nuova 500 also concluded the rebirth of Fiat and of its product range, after the devastation of the Second World War. Dante Giacosa, the ‘father’ of the Nuova 500, but also of the previous 500 Topolino and of numerous other models, said in his book ‘Progetti alla Fiat prima del computer’ (Design at Fiat before the computer), that when the 500 was launched on 4 July, 1957, Fiat “realised its programme of renewing its models, to replace those born before the Second World War”.
At two-year intervals, the 1400, 1900, 1100, Nuova 500 and their derivatives were launched on the international market. In just 10 years, Fiat had conceived and begun manufacture of four completely new basic models that had their roots in the technological culture that had grown up in its own offices and laboratories.
Writing about the launch of the Nuova 500, Dante Giacosa revealed that the term ‘Big little car’ was also coined at Mirafiori, but the pragmatic engineer commented that “people just called it the 500”. Fifty years after that summer of 1957, in an age when television is even available on mobile phones, with shots and reports from all over the universe, it is entertaining to read that “the launch was held in great style. National television installed itself in the Mirafiori workshop on a boiling hot evening in July, and even I was invited for a live interview on the assembly line.”
Eighteen years after that “boiling hot evening in July”, during which time almost 3.9 million cars were built, another very hot day dawned – 4 August, 1975 – the day on which the ‘last’ car, at least of the 1957-75 Nuova Fiat 500 series, was built, not at Mirafiori but at the SicilFiat plant in Termini Imerese (Palermo).