FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) scored not only a big hit when they first brought out their 500 in 1957 (in Italy “Nuova Cinquecento or “Cinquina”, in Australia “Bambina”) but, with the first truly-affordable-car-for-families, revolutionized Italian social life.
The Vespa scooter had increased mobility after the war (and also allowed courting couples to escape the observation of their elders, thus modernizing behaviour) but the arrival of the Cinquina changed family life itself, enabling flexibility of transport through the peninsula. For example, it was not unusual for Sicilian emigrant workers in Milan to travel regularly the one-thousand plus kilometres to their native island to visit relatives during the summer holidays – and all on a (initially 479 cc) rear-mounted engine, 1.84 metre wheel-base, non-synchromesh gear-box and, of course, no air conditioning!
For this change in Italian social habits we have to thank Dante Giacosa, born 1905 and who died at the age of 91 in 1996, the pioneering car designer who created the first “popular” car in Italy: the FIAT Topolino back in 1936 to provide a national equivalent to the Volkswagen of Germany and who went on to design the first 500.
The Cinquina went through four models series. I’m sure non-technical readers won’t want to have all the intricate details of the changes so I’ll just summarise the main points and differences.
The Nuova (New) 500 series was manufactured between 1957 and 1960. It has two features eventually dropped in later models: one, suicide doors (or “coach doors”, as car-makers prefer to call them since they are hinged from the back), two, a convertible sun roof which folds all the way to the back of the vehicle and is facilitated by a frame.
One of my students in my English class at the paint factory owns a 500 from this series. Brilliantly red in its original colour, the Nuova 500 was used for her wedding; the rear-hinged doors allowing much greater ease of entering and exiting from the car and showing off the bride and her dress to perfection (as the photographs on her office wall demonstrate). The extended sun-roof, too creates, a spectacularly visual marriage which later series cannot quite capture.
Incidentally, my student’s car has also been awarded the “Targa d’oro” by a meticulous committee from the FIAT 500 club – to which we also belong – who judge a vintage car on the genuiness of its parts and the authenticity of its restoration.
The 500 club is very sociable and meets up regularly in our area for rallies, run-abouts or just show-offs. Only two weeks ago the club members ran their cinquinas up on Lucca’s wonderfully wide walls and drove round them in a concours d’elegance!
The D series was built between 1960 and 1965 and looks very similar to the Nuova except that it has a more powerful 499cc engine and a shorter sun-roof which doesn’t fold up all the way to the back. Interestingly, this was the first model to be assembled in the Antipodes where it first got its local name “Bambina”.
The K series is an estate version of the D and was also made between 1960 and 1975. In Bagni di Lucca a Giardiniera was recently re-sprayed from grey to navy blue by its misguided owner. Although the new colour is OK, it is not original and, therefore, has somewhat affected the car’s vintage value. I should be surprised if it will be awarded a “Targa d’oro” now.
The F, or Berlina, series was built between 1965 and 1973 and is the one our very own Cinquina belongs to. We’ve had our FIAT 500 (1968 vintage) since Christmas 2008 and it’s taken us to the most wonderful places– in 2009 to Sardegna and in 2012 to Corsica. After these valiant efforts it needed a bit of maintenance. Fortunately, I found a good carrozzeria in Bagni di Lucca who helped a lot. Here are some pictures, taken yesterday, of our lovely and loveable car after it went in for some re-spraying, welding and general over-hauling last month. Doesn’t it look delicious!
If you’re interested in using their services the carrozzeria has now moved to the first right turn on the big bend that leads from Ghivizzano to Pian di Coreglia and thence, left at the first crossroads. The details are as follows:
|Via Nazionale, 78
55025 Piano di Coreglia – Ghivizzano (Lu)
|Piano di Coreglia – Ghivizzano|
|Lucca / Tuscany|
|tel.+39 0583 86698|
|fax +39 0583 86698|
|cell.3463996940 – 3475146058|
Series after ours include the Fiat 500 L or Lusso (1968–1975) and the R or Rinnovata (1972–1975) which had an updated 594 cc engine and fully-synchromesh gearbox. But by this time the Cinquina’s production days were numbered. FIAT brought out the new 126, not so popular in Italy as the 500 but once a staple in the eastern block countries, and the last 500’s of the old breed rolled off the production line in 1975.
But the 500 lived again in a reincarnation of the boxy 500 of the 1970’s and, more recently, in the Fiat 500 (Type 312) first produced in 2007 in which designer Roberto Giolito pays homage to the great Dante Giacosa’s original design, harking back to a rear-mounted engine and a retro-design, evocative of the car that changed Italy’s way-of-life and epitomising its rebirth after the deprivations of the war: the wonderful “Cinquina”.