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Fiat 500

Published: 21st Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rust is a worry, as with all Fiats; the floor is the biggest problem along with the sills Rust is a worry, as with all Fiats; the floor is the biggest problem along with the sills
Check the front for damage and filler bodges. Most panels are fairly easy to obtain and not expensive Check the front for damage and filler bodges. Most panels are fairly easy to obtain and not expensive
This Abarth cabin has been slightly modded and looks neat and tidy. Switchgear is starting to become scarce This Abarth cabin has been slightly modded and looks neat and tidy. Switchgear is starting to become scarce
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What is a Fiat 500?

It’s a motorised mouse! Launched back in 1957, the Nouva (or ‘New’) Fiat 500 was the work of Dante Giacosa, a brilliant car designer of the calibre of Sir Alec Issigonis.

The Fiat was conceived in the wake of the 50’s Suez petrol crisis as a proper car in miniature. Not only did it provide economy motoring but the baby Fiat, became a national icon, surviving for eighteen years. Today good ones are coveted, and in Italian cities where anti pollution laws have banned most oldies from their centres, Latin sentiment has resulted in some legal cheating, exempting 500s from the regs.

History

The Nouva 500 was the true replacement for the much loved original Fiat 500 (officially, the bigger 600D succeeded it in 1955), dating from the late 1930s and also designed by Giacosa. This was a minute, front-engined, water-cooled design with a roll down canvass roof and a rear perch rather than a proper back seat.

The new 500 retained the canvass roof and seating configuration, but was powered by a throbbing, aft-mounted air-cooled twin mated to a synchromesh-free, fourspeed gearbox. The new 500 was a slow seller to start with, but design tweaks including a smaller canvass roof and proper rear window, and the luxury of rear back seats soon transformed the car’s fortunes. The range was expanded with the Giardiniera estate, with the engine turned on its side beneath the rear luggage deck.

By the mid 1960s the 500 was facelifted with a bigger windscreen, and in saloon form, front, rather than ‘suicide’ hinged doors (retained by the estate until the bitter end). The engine grew from 479cc to 599cc, instruments were changed and a less spartan L version was launched.

Meanwhile, tuners like Abarth breathed on the 500 with some outrageous upgrades, making it a surprisingly quick car and it became a real giant killer on the race track.

Driving

With independent suspension and entertaining handling, these cars are great fun. Get the revs up and their throbby little engines will punt them surprisingly quickly, the brakes are good enough to slow them down again. There’s plenty of room in the front, and once you’ve adapted to life in the slow lane, you’ ll be surprised at how good a 500 is over long distances. But it’s real forte is as a city slicker where its compactness and nimble nature make it a great classic commuter.

Prices

A few hundred buys a pile of Italian rust. Spend fifteen hundred and you have a running restoration. Double that for a decent example. People ask 5k plus for A1 or breathed on versions. And get it.

What To Look For

  • Jimmy Di Carlo of Hampshire-based 500 restorers Italcorsa (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/01252-613335) knows these cars inside out. He reckons floor rot is a big 500 killer. Lift the carpets and pay particular attention to seams and edges. Acid damage from the battery can murder the front panel, inner wing rot is common, and check inside the wheel arches while you are at it.
  • Door bottoms corrode as do bonnets. Other rot areas include front suspension hanging points. Watch for bulging front leaf springs – indicating rot that could cause them to snap.
  • You can by new pattern panels, but Jimmy reckons these are often poorly pressed, ditto new chrome parts, which discolour quickly. Getting body bits for the earlier, ‘suicide door’ versions is becoming “a nightmare.”
  • Mechanically, Jimmy thinks the 650cc engine from the later 126 is better than the old 500 unit. With a stronger block and 70mph-ish performance potential, it’s a worthy mod. He says shell bearings can be an issue, so listen for excessive clattering. Tired timing chains aren’t uncommon, but as for converting heads for unleaded fuel, he thinks this is unnecessary. Evidence of regular oil changes is a sign of good maintenance.
  • The later 126 engine comes with a synchromesh gearbox, which is easier to use than the old car’s dog ‘box, but not quite as strong (thanks to thinner gear teeth). Watch for cars that jump out of gear and listen for undue noise although they are never silent.
  • Interiors are as basic as they come and tough, but new parts, such as switchgear, can be a fiddle to find.

Verdict

Fiat’s baby proves that good things do come in small packages. A nice one is easy to fix, great to use and more fun per square inch than any Ferrari. Abarths are simply a joy.



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