Fiat Nuova 500 1960 

Well, hello there, Hunchback! What? Not a hunchback? Then who are you, little one, who from afar resembles the homegrown Zaporozhets and yet looks so different up close? This little car is called the Fiat Nuova 500 – the “new” Fiat 500. And today we will find out why it is called new and how many different cars have been named Fiat 500.

The answers to these questions are not simple. In 1936, Fiat decided to produce a small city car – the first version of the Fiat 500, which was named Topolino. Without diving into the wonders of Italian naming conventions of that time, 500 is a reference to the 569cc engine, and Topolino means “little mouse,” better known as Mickey Mouse in this country. The classic front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car was produced until the war, and after the war, it shouldered the primary responsibility for the post-war private automobile reconstruction. By 1955, it became clear that the car was struggling and had become outdated. Ferdinand Porsche and his Beetle were right – the engine belonged behind the rear seat.

The task before the new car, like in all post-war European countries (as we have previously discussed in our article about Messerschmitt), was ambitious: to transition the population from mopeds and bicycles to four-wheel vehicles. Italians, despite the overall economic recovery in Europe in the second half of the 1950s, had less money for such an upgrade, so the solution had to be affordable. Moreover, the arrival of Vespas (scooters) by that time had created so much hype that reasons had to be found to switch to motor vehicles. Signore e signori, we are pleased to introduce to you the Fiat Nuova 500!
Tiny – that’s probably the first thing buyers thought about at the time. Its roof could be at the level of some contemporaries’ hoods – it was just 1.32 meters tall! The car measured 2.97 meters in length and the width remained the same at 1.32 meters, which did not contribute to the image of a spacious car.

So, recovering from the shock, we can seriously discuss the qualities of this microcar. The rear-mounted engine consisted of only two cylinders, produced 13 horsepower and had air-cooling. Given that there was a “bigger” model, the Fiat 600 – more powerful and slightly more expensive, the engineers in Turin soon had to increase the power of the engine to 16.5 horsepower – otherwise, the model would have simply failed in sales, it would have been easier to save up for the 600! The engine displacement, as before, was a nod to the model’s name: 0.479 liters in the early versions and 0.499 liters in the later ones. By 1972, the engine was made even larger – 594cc, but after that, the model only lasted for 3 more years.
Interestingly, although the Nuova featured women in advertisements, the gearbox was non-synchronized, meaning it did not have synchronizers. This meant that to drive this little car reasonably, you had to have the skill of double-clutching when shifting gears – a technique that nowadays only sports car drivers and drivers of old trucks possess. Additionally, the force required on the gear lever was quite substantial – it looks amusing in the advertisements of that time, I recommend searching for them on YouTube. So, the modern Matiz is still a paragon of luxury and friendliness compared to that.

On the outside, the car may look simple, but it has taste! Here you have charming round headlights, old-school hubcaps on the wheels and a roofline that extends forward and backward in almost equal proportions. In other words, the car brings about an involuntary smile, but not laughter. The absence of a radiator grille at the front is noticeable – that’s right, it’s not there! This particular trim level is not the richest in terms of chrome, but it still has enough of it.
Although the word “aerodynamics” was not common in the context of mass-produced affordable cars at that time, the aerodynamics of this microcar turned out to be quite acceptable: the coefficient of drag is 0.38, which was a good figure for those years.

Pay attention to the door handles: here they are located in the usual place for us, but in the early models, they were positioned on the front fenders. Yes, on the early versions of the car, before 1965, they had what are called “suicide doors” – doors that, like on a Rolls-Royce, open in the opposite direction, against the direction of travel. But the eccentricities didn’t end there: originally, the roof was made of stretched canvas from the windshield to the hood along the roof, similar to the 2CV, but during the first restyling, the roof became soft only up to the level of the rear seat.
Let’s start with the fact that I couldn’t call the interior ascetic – have you seen its color? How can that even be associated with the word ascetic? But in reality, besides meeting the needs of the poor to travel on four wheels, this car appealed to well-off people too! It created a whole cult around itself and became fashionable. For customers willing to spend more on higher trim levels, options for interior styling started to appear. However, apart from fancy upholstery, you couldn’t get any additional options.

The center of the interior is occupied by a giant two-spoke steering wheel – typical for the fashion of those times. To the right of it is the floor-mounted gear lever – thankfully, not on the steering column. Behind the wheel is the only means of indicating the car’s status – a speedometer with a few indicator lights that will tell you when it’s time to stop and turn off the engine. All other handles and the ignition switch are placed on a simple dashboard – there’s nothing interesting in it, except of course, the special charm of the daring 50s.
The front seats simply tilt forward, allowing you to access the rear row. More accurately, the rear row appeared after the restyling along with a more powerful engine – before that, there was just a shelf. Public outrage (it was fundamentally impractical, how do you transport children to school?) forced the Italians to reconsider their approach to the car’s layout and that was the right thing to do. But again, even in advertisements for the newly added rear seat, they either sat children or placed suitcases there – teasing a full-sized person like that was simply dangerous, they could get stuck inside forever. Especially since there is no space for your luggage under that body panel known as the hood: it houses the spare tire, the fuel tank, the jack and so on. But not your suitcase, no.

In its equipped state, the car weighed around 500 kg, which, combined with the engine power, gives us a specific power output of about 35 horsepower per ton. Not bad for the mid-century! The maximum speed, despite the optimistic speedometer, was around 80 km/h and the car consumed about 5 liters of fuel per 100 km.

The car became a true symbol of Italy, slightly less famous than the Vespa scooter. Unfortunately, poor underbody protection often led to corrosion and almost any somewhat serious accident resulted in serious bodywork issues. For these reasons, very few of them have survived to this day, especially outside of Italy. That’s why the specimen in the photos is even more valuable and hopefully, it won’t suffer the same fate as its brethren.

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