In 1955, Fiat decided to ditch the big bulky look in place of something more sophisticated. Something more Italian, so to speak. Thus, the Fiat 600 was born. It was much smaller than the Topolino it was replacing, and much better looking.
The lines were smooth, the headlights were perfectly round, and the body was wonderfully quirky. It was so successful, that it spun off a number of different variants—including the Jolly—before it was off the market completely in 1969.
But in the 600’s long, successful run, something wonderful came from that chassis. It wasn’t just some variant, it was a completely new idea altogether. On July 4, 1957, the Fiat 500 was born. And it was a hit.
Still gleaming from the success of the 600, Fiat launched the Nuovo (New) 500 in Italy and Europe with a 2-cylinder engine, 13 horsepower (!), and a whole lot of other quirky features including a cloth roof and suicide doors.
For nearly 20 years, the 500 was one of the most beloved cars in Europe, and racked up astounding sales, plenty of variants, and even a few tuner specials (e.g. Abarth).
But even the 500 wasn’t invincible. In 1975, the new 126 was proving to be a major selling point, and Fiat decided to retire the 500 nameplate, at least for a little while.
In 2007, 50 years after the original 500 hit the market, Fiat revived the much-loved hatchback in Italy and Europe, and in 2011, for the United States under the watchful eye of Sergio Marchionne and the new Chrysler-Fiat alliance.
Today Americans still have a bit of a love affair with the Fiat 500 (whether we want to admit it or not), and the once Italian icon now has its roots planted firmly on American soil. And it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.