A SHORT HISTORY OF THE FIAT 500
A pace only marginally quicker than a professional racing cyclist, snail like acceleration, awkward to work on because of its diminutive size, replacement parts that are breathtakingly expensive.
BUT, aesthetically pleasing lines with universal appeal, frugal fuel consumption and a roomy two seater office with basic but adequate instrumentation.
This is the FIAT 500 produced in Italy from 1936 until 1955. Very quickly and affectionately known as ‘il Topolino’ or little mouse it was arguably the most popular, best-loved mass-produced small car at the time.
A small car was envisaged by FIAT as early as 1919, but although catalogues were produced the car never materialised. In 1934 Senator Agnelli the head of FIAT visualised a small mass produced ‘peoples car’ selling for 5,000 lire and capable of carrying two people comfortable together with 50Kg (110 lbs) of luggage.
The task was put in the hands of 29 years old Dante Giocosa an aeronaughtical engineer who’s career with FIAT started in 1928. His work would cover the mechanical content of the car – engine, transmission and chassis. Rudolfo Schaffer, FIAT’s resident coachwork engineer was to design the body at the same time and the two units, when bolted together were to produce a very strong structure.
The production car eventually cost nearer 8,000 lire but remained in production from 1936 until 1955. There are three recognised types as listed below.
500 1936-1948 The front mounted engine has four cylinders in-line in a two bearing wear resistant cast iron block. The cylinder head is in aluminium. The engine 569 cc Two side valves per cylinder operated from a single camshaft. Maximum speed is 85 kph (53 mph) and average fuel consumption is 6 litres per 100km (46.8 mpg) 12-volt electrics. The channel section chassis has holes for lightness. Front suspension is independent by transverse spring and wishbone. Rear suspension was originally quarter elliptic cantilever leaf springs and radius arms (see fig. 1) but was changed after 46,000 chassis were produced to semi elliptic springs and the chassis was lengthened to take them. (See fig.2)
500B 1948-1949 This development of the Topolino was introduced at the 1948 Geneva show. The engine, still of 569 cc was entirely new and had overhead valves. Details to the floor, a new steering wheel, brakes, suspension and electrical equipment were all improved. The only external difference is the new bonnet lock. Maximum speed was increased to 95 kph (59 mph) and fuel consumption improved to 5 litres per 100 km (56 mpg) 12-volt electrics.
500C 1949-1955 Introduced in 1949 at the Geneva show the ‘C’ version had an entirely new body shape with a separate spare wheel compartment at the rear. Mechanical details were substantially modified and a new heating / demisting system was the first fitted as standard by FIAT. Performance and fuel consumption were as the 500B. 12-volt electrics.
N.B. As revisions progressed, the original 500 became known as the 500A.