This week in 1957: The small car that made a big impression

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On a visit to the International Motor Show at

Earls Court
, The Engineer’s attention was grabbed by a diminutive vehicle that is perhaps second only to the Mini in the iconic small car stakes: the Fiat 500. The article reports that the Italian city car — attracting a ‘great deal of attention’ on its first appearance in the UK — was essentially a scaled-down version of the established rear-engined Fiat ‘600’. ‘It resembles the latter in most of its technical features,’ wrote the magazine, ‘but, instead of the water-cooled, four-cylinder engine of the type 600, it has a fan-cooled, vertical, twin-cylinder engine longitudinally mounted at the rear of the car. The general conception of the car, its body structure and such constructional details as the independent all-wheel suspension and the layout of the transmission, closely follow the well-known principles of the bigger type.’

Considered to be one of the world’s first city cars — the Mini wasn’t launched until 1959 — and measuring just 3m in length, The Engineer wrote that ‘being about 9in shorter than the type 600 the floor space is naturally somewhat restricted, but it offers reasonable seating comfort for people of normal size. Road holding and springing are quite good for a car of such short wheelbase, but the noise of the air-cooled engine, though reduced by reason of the soft fabric roof, causes a certain amount of displeasure.’

Designed by Dante Giacosa and marketed as a cheap and practical urban vehicle, a series of Fiat 500s were produced between l957 and 1977. It was revived in 2007, and is badged variously as the Fiat 500, the Cinquecento or simply, the 500.

Jon Excell