La fiat 500 nella sua prima veste

First Version of New Fiat 500

Production : 1957/1960

The nuova 500 was officially released on July,2 1957 at the Turin Sporting Club(Circolo sporting di Torino), which had always been Fiat’s showcase for these kind of events.

The name Nuova 500 was meant to underline the direct relationship with the latest release of the Turin’s production house: the older 500 “Topolino”. Its cost was 490.000 Lire; about 13 salaries of an ordinary worker.

In the final version the engine (project’s number ‘’110’’) had a cylinder capacity of 479 cc and a power equal to 13 HP.

The frame finishes as well as the internal trims were very simple and there was just enough room for two people plus the luggage.The launch of the 500 is remembered as a big failure for multiple reasons.

Fiat’s Nuova 500 was meant for the people who at that time were still driving a scooter or an old Topolino. Unfortunately, 490.000 Lire was a too expensive price for them, especially when considering the limited space and the plainness of the trims and finishes.

The very first series was realized accordingly to the motto of its genius designer Dante Giacosa: “I hate waste”. It was a symbol of economics and rational construction.

The chromium plating, very popular at the time, were also plain and simple; the wheels had no hubcaps and the bolts were visible. The paint was creamy yellow, the lights were embedded without a frame and the bodywork did not present any decorative chromed profile.

The same trend reappeared on the interiors: here too the focus seemed to be on being economical.

The Nuova 500 had a simple painted metal instrument panel, at the centre of which was positioned the control switch for the turn signals with the relative operating tell-tale. Below this were the engine ignition key and the lights regulation function.

On the sides of the key were two toggle switches: the one on the left controlled the dashboard’s lights while the one on the right controlled the windshield wipers: this last switch could assume three different positions: the third and lowest position caused the resetting of the switches.

Still in the central position and below the instrument panel was a metallic, flat-shaped storage compartment below which was the hand throttle, constituted of a simple round sling.

The other controls were:

– release device of the front bonnet (round sling, positioned on the left-bottom side of the instrument panel);

– also on the sides and below the dashboard were two toggle switches that controlled the butterfly valves needed to let the fresh air inside the vehicle.

– At the driver’s seat was a goblet-shaped steering wheel on which was situated the horn.

– The round-shaped speedometer (Scale: Max 100 Km/h) was contained in a small, yet elegant plastic container with a little anti-glare screen.

During the year 1958 Fiat decided to change the colour of the plastic of the speedometer, the steering wheel and the gear lever knob. The older neutral/beige was replaced by a white/grey. Also the horn button changed colour and became black.

In the first series the upholstery of the seats and of the doors was definitely of mediocre quality and badly applied. At the end of the short list of optionals we find two rigid plastic sun visors.

We can therefore say that the Nuova 500 showed some serious weaknesses in its setting: the transparent key for the control of the turn signals was difficult to use and the regulation of the lights through the key light board was also complex and uncomfortable (6 positions: sidelights only, neutral, drive with lights off, drive with sidelights, drive with low beam headlights, drive with high beam) ; furthermore the finishes presented a lot of problems too (visible screws, imperfections in the painting and in the welding).

The washing system was missing, as was the ashtray, but more importantly the windows were non-movable.

The only openings were the two small lateral deflectors (in the very first version they could not even be blocked) that could compromise the proper holding and control of the steering wheel when completely open.

Another element that would later be corrected, which contributed to the initial failure of the Nuova 500 was the vehicle’s roof. In order to reduce the costs of production and to discourage the transportation of passengers (which would have compromised the future big success of the Fiat 600), they decided for a soft-top folding roof (comprising of the rear window), made of transparent plastic. Because of this peculiarity, the car has been certified as ‘’Transformable’’. The same name will then be used for the cars built after the release of the model “Openable Roof”.

There is a lot to say about the engine too.

Its biggest limitation was in the low power and limited speed. Italians considered 85 km/h an unacceptable speed. Indeed, one of the first measures that Fiat decided to take to reposition the Nuova 500 was to improve the engine’s performance. The power raised to 15 HP (November 1957) and later (in 1959) to 16.5 HP.

The rectangular fuel tank was positioned at the centre of the front bonnet. Also inside the front bonnet were the battery (which lacked a covering lid, contrarily to the Fiat 600), the spare wheel, the brake fluid reservoir, the fuses and a jute bag containing the tools needed for the car’s maintenance: 1 fixed spanner wrench 8×10; 1 fixed spanner wrench 12×14; 1 fixed spanner wrench 17×19; one universal clamp; a pin punch; a screwdriver; a spark-plug wrench; a round crank for the fastening of the wheels to the freehub; a jack.

The not-so-warm welcome of the audience and the press to the Nuova 500 (Quattroruote published an article eloquently titled “Nobody is going back”), put Fiat in a difficult position. Only three months later they launched a new version of it called “Normal”.