Production: 1960/1977

Fiat Giardiniera

Fiat Giardiniera

the very first Fiat small family car was the Topolino 500 C Belvedere, which stopped being produced in 1955. Later on, many studies were conducted to explore the possibility of an adjustment of the 600, but its 4 cylinder rear engine, which worked with a water cooling system, did not leave enough room for a bigger space for the luggage nor for an opening on the back. From the 600 came the Multipla (1956), the real ancestor of today’s compact minivan, destined to be used mainly as a taxi and for goods transportation. Its main limitation was the too revolutionary look that was not appreciated by the public, despite the undeniable comfort and the cheap price.

Even though the “family” cars were not very popular amongst the people because they recalled an image of commercial vehicles, Fiat thought the 500 (which finally reached its full success a few years after its release) would be a good starting point to create a small “station” for leisure time and work.

The 500 Giardiniera was initially introduced in the spring of 1960. Its brief story will end with the advent of the Autobianchi trademark, from 1968 until 1977 (for a total of more or less 330.000 units produced). In the same years Autobianchi also produced the Panoramica (1960/1970), a more elaborate version of the Giardiniera, although the platform remained the same. The shape reminds of an advanced version of the Bianchina. The main differences are in the opening mechanism of the doors, now hinged at the rear and not at the front, and with the rear hatch now hinged to the roof instead of the side, as opposite to the Giardiniera.

Before the release of the Giardiniera there had been other attempts to adapt the Nuova 500 to a

Francis Lombardi "Utility" 1959

Francis Lombardi “Utility” 1959

bigger load capacity: Francis Lombardi tried to extend the wheelbase of a 500 sedan, coming up with a new model that was very similar to what would then be the Giardiniera, but with the engine still in the vertical position; this solution didn’t leave enough room for a spacious rear compartment, nor for a proper rear hatch (Francis Lombardi, model “Utility”, 1959).

The sedan was provided with a too high rear engine that did not allow enough room for a bigger load. To solve this problem Giacosa had the brilliant idea to rotate the engine 90° to the right, thus obtaining a horizontal 2-cylinder engine (type 120). This solution had the advantage of a more compact engine, less developed in the vertical dimension and more on the horizontal. It’s because of this characteristic that it was soon nicknamed as “sole”.

Also important the changes in the ignition, the carburetion and the cooling systems.
The ignition mechanism was modified and placed next to the distribution; the new carburettor Weber 26 OC horizontal replaced the Weber 26 IMB 4 of the sedan.
There was a large trapdoor situated on the loading bed to access the engine and a smaller one for the small maintenance procedures and the oil top-up that could easily be reached without interfering with the load transported. The cooling system was re-designed completely and the intake grill typical of the sedan was eliminated.
Giacosa designed a system where the air would be brought inside the car through some side openings thanks to a fan connected to the dynamo. The air would then go through the double-shell conducts situated inside the rear axle to then reach the engine.
The fuel tank was initially situated in the middle of the front bonnet and was later replaced by the horizontally developed vessel F.

Mechanical changes:

Regarding the performance, the “sole” engine reached 17.5 HP at 4600 rpm. This allowed the Giardiniera to reach a speed of 95 Km/h (the same values of the traditional vertical cylinder 110).
The suspensions system was also subjected to a series of significant changes: it was equipped with a new leaf spring on the front chassis but most importantly with new springs and new strengthened shock absorbers on the rear chassis: these changes were made in order to allow the car to carry a heavier load. For the same reason the braking system was also strengthened with the introduction of the brakes used for the 600, which required a new design for the wheels as well.

The body: the main issue derived from the elimination of the intake grill typical of the sedan was the aspiration of the air. To solve this problem two side grilles were placed behind the rear windows. These were initially made of aluminium (Fiat 1960/1967) and later of black plastic (Autobianchi 1968/1977). Thanks to this important revisitation it was possible to introduce a third side door that included part of the roof, which considerably improved the accessibility to the loading bed.

The Giardiniera measured 3.185 m in total, about 21 cm longer than the sedan; Fiat declared the Giardiniera was certified to carry 4 people plus 50 kg in the luggage compartment, or in alternative a payload of 200 Kg (with the back seats down). In the 4 seats version the luggage compartment behind the back measured 0,25 m3 while its total volume with the back seats down was 1m3 bigger. The loading bed was situated about 60 cm from the ground.
The Giardiniera distinguished itself for the better use of the space available and for the back seats for the passengers.

Exterior, The Giardiniera also presented new long-shaped taillights, a new plate-light and a new rear-view mirror on the left front pillar. The swing doors will remain the same until 1977 when the Giardiniera stopped being produced, because of an exception in the Italian law (1964) that benefited commercial vehicles regarding the opening direction of the doors.
The 500 Giardiniera will then be subjected to the same changes the 500 F and R went through. So, it will have new aluminium mouldings on the sides and on the front bonnet.
Its most noticeable distinctive traits were the chromed wheel caps, of different shape than the ones on the sedan, and the presence of the rear-view window, which became mandatory in Italy with a law of 1976, although it was already obligatory for the vehicles certified for the transportation of both goods and people.
Typical of the Giardiniera is also the long soft-top roof.

The interior remained pretty much the same as in the sedan: same dashboard, same commands and same carpet; the dashboard evolved in the same way as did the models sedan D and F. In 1968, simultaneously with the transition to Autobianchi, the steering wheel and the speedometer started to be realized in black plastic. These same elements will later be used also in the production of the R in 1972.
The Giardiniera introduced the windshield wiper one year earlier than the other cars. This element won’t be incremented in the D until 1961.
In 1961 were added the ashtray and the sun visors.
In 1964 was introduced the automatic return function of the windshield wiper and two years later the structures of the seats was changed; they became spring seats while before they were realized with straps. The air conditioning system was considerably improved by the introduction of two openings situated in the back part of the tunnel to let out the hot air. The back seats windows, which used to be power operated became compass opening windows.

Peculiarities of the Giardiniera produced by Autobianchi were the turn signals, smaller than they were on the sedan.Giardiniera commerciale
The Giardiniera was also available in the commercial version, made exclusively of metal and with only two seats; there was no back window and the roof was made of a metal sheet crossed by four diagonal ribs. This version was really successful amongst workmen and retailers.

In March 1980 its official heir was introduced to the public: the Fiat Panda.

NB: It is important to take some space here to clarify the confusion regarding the transition of the Giardiniera from Fiat to Autobianchi. Because the Autobianchi was a brand created by Fiat, for a while it also produced the Fiat 600 Multipla and the 500 F/L without them having to change their trademark (which remained “Fiat”). However, in March 1968 the two production houses changed their lists for the Giardiniera.
Autobianchi presented its Giardiniera at Geneva. It had a new dashboard and the steering wheel was black, but the biggest change was the official Autobianchi logo on the front. From this moment the Giardiniera Autobianchi officially left Fiat.
This whole process has been documented on many issues of the magazine “Quattroruote” during 1968, for the first time on the March issue (147/68) where the transition to Autobianchi became official with the presentation of the pictures of the new radiator grille and the new dashboard; the same issue dedicated to an Autobianchi advertisement the two central pages (120 and 121). The ad (which showed an evident typographic mistake concerning the cylinder capacity: 549) showed the two “stations” next to each other (Bianchina Panoramica and 500 Giardiniera), now with the same trademark. More detailed information about the transition was provided on the Quattroruote special “All the cars of 1968”. From May 1968 until 1977, Quattroruote included the 500 Giardiniera in the Autobianchi catalogue.
Price: 565.000 (1960) / 575.000 (1968) / 1.720.000 (1977)