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Fiat 500

Published: 19th Sep 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Do you drive this great classic or are thinking of buying one? Here’s how to ensure that you get the best out of your car for years to come

Fiat’s 500 is so loved that the carmaker had to make a new mighty mouse to appease a new generation of motorists. Yet so wanted are originals that their values match the price of a new ‘13’ plate, as can restorations! However Tony Castle-Miller of Oxfordshire-based Middle Barton Garage says £2000s worth of care and improvements can make a nice car that can cope with today’s roads. Here’s some of his tips



Abarth and alternative tuning gear (head, cam, carbs, manifolds) is available and good for a reliable 35bhp for road use using 595cc barrels. Most sensible route to more power is to slot in a later unit from the air-cooled 126. The 22bhp 594 or 24bhp 650cc engine is better than the old 500 unit plus boasts a stronger block and 70mph-ish performance potential in standard tune but they are becoming scarce – bank on almost £2000.


It may be covered in shrouds but the Fiat air-cooled is nice and easy to work and a cinch to remove. Engine breather flaps can jam leading to both lack of pep and oil drinking – should be at ‘2 o’clock when engine is cold, 5 o’clock if hot; replace if defective. Tappets must be set with pistons at TDC and not usual method of ‘back’ of the cam lobe. Engines naturally run very hot so use good quality lube and consider an oil cooler.



Can be stretched to up to (Abarth tune) 595cc easily, above this the crank and rods need changing. Bigger sumps to aid lube and cooling are a wise fit. VW Beetle engines have been fitted (mainly to 600s) although requires VW rear suspension and hubs along with relocating the engine. Cogbox (0208 942 2580) may be able to help with the transmission.


Shell bearings can be an issue. Tired timing chains aren’t uncommon. When checking oil, allow for half a pint left in the crankcase. There’s no filter to renew; simply clear out the gunge manually. A real engine killer is blocked cooling vent located under the sump. Excessive leaks and hot running does break down the gaskets.



The steering is fitted with a cluster of rubber bushes which naturally perish over time and reduce the driving pleasure – a good 500 is a joy to punt around. It’s tedious and not cheap but ensuring all are as new improves the handling. More extreme is to fit the rack and pinion set up from a late 126; bulkhead needs beefing up to suit so a good overhauled basic set up maybe all that’s required.


The steering box is adjustable for a certain amount of wear and takes EP90 lube. Odd tyre wear points to tracking adjustment or wearing king pins, which while simple to remove require specialist tools to properly re-bush. Tyres are a small 3.5J but unless you want to pep up are adequate for normal road use although 125/135 sizes can be hard to obtain. MBG goes up to 13inch wheels with 145/70s to good effect.



The cylinder heads are gas-flowed with lightened but standard-sized valves; converting for unleaded fuel, usually unnecessary unless they are being removed anyway. Electronic ignition plus sports coil allows plug gaps (NGK work well) of up to 40thou and it gives a notable power increase on a stock engine.


If the head is removed, it’s advisable to replace the collapsible pushrod and oil drain tubes at the same time. With the head off hold the barrels down firmly if you need to turn the engine or they’ll move with the pistons. Plugs are shrouded and can be awkward to remove and easy to drop.



126 unit comes with a synchromesh gearbox, but not quite as strong thanks to thinner gear teeth. Watch for cars that jump out of gear and overly noisy. MBG fits final drive from later 126 BIS costing around £250 for longer legs; Abarth five-speed gears available but rare and very pricey.


It’s an easy unit to remove but a DIY strip means special tools. The driveshafts have gaiters which perish; on the inboard ends they carry an oil seals in a pip in the cover. On pre-diaphragm clutch equipped models lack of clearance in mechanism could lead to its pivot breaking.



Uprated adjustable dampers (AVO popular) and springs is first step. Abarth used to make stay bar straps to limit travel of transverse spring. MBG advises uprated spring and the centre stay (£120), sports rears and importantly, shorter dampers to suit, of which it sells specially made ones.


Front is practically all rubber bushed but kingpins require greasing every 1500 miles but they’re only £40 a side to replace. Treat transverse front spring with lubricant to stop it becoming noisy or rusting away. Watch for bulging of that front spring as it indicates rot that could cause it to snap if bad.



Believe it or not but front and even rear disc brake conversion kits are available. While units from say a 127 can be grafted on, dedicated kits are easier and cost effective – around £500. Middle Barton Garage says a lot of criticisms of ineffective brakes are due to worn drums and if in good order are ample for 35-40bhp.


If in good order and well serviced drum brake set up is satisfactory for the car’s performance and usage. They self adjust and the simple design means they usually work okay although lack of use can lead to the wheel cylinders seizing up and uneven braking. Brake fl uid should be changed every 36,000.



There’s a fair bit you can do to customise one, and pattern parts are available but often poorly made (especially stuff from the Far East), ditto chrome parts, which discolour quickly. Getting body bits for early, ‘suicide door’ versions is a problem. Many came with sunroof; useful too but it’s a known leaker; £50 to renew.


Floor rot kills this mighty mouse. Lift carpets and pay particular attention to seams and edges. Acid damage front the battery can murder the front. Door bottoms corrode as do bonnets. Other rot areas include suspension hanging points, spare wheel well and, inside, the padded knee bar under the dash.



Most folks upgrade trim during a restoration and carpet sets/rubber mats are available. Remember that the 500L boasted reclining seats which are worth opting for. RHD headlamps are quite scarce so snap up any you can fi nd. Period seat covers and roof and ‘boot’ racks set car off.


Interiors are basic and tough rather than fancy. New parts, such as switchgear, can be a fi ddle to fi nd. In contrast, the vinyl covering used on the door cards and seats couldn’t be simpler to repair or recover – uprate to an Abarth look if you like.

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