The cars we loved.
Americans are instinctively always waiting for the next big thing, be it music, fashion, gadgets or cars. Were cars were concern trendy urbanites sapped up Miatas, New Beetles and later Mini Coopers as the ultimate fashion accessories. Next year they might draw their inspiration from Italy via Chrysler with the new Fiat 500. The 500 is a cute little super mini, a category that’s represented in America by the overpriced Smart cars sold at Mercedes dealerships.
The 500 began in 1957, as Europe was still recovering from the War and was in need of small efficient cars to navigate the narrow streets and alleys of its crowded cities. 500s were always cute two (or sometimes four passenger in a pinch) front wheel drive cars with tiny 2 and 4 cylinder engines. They were the first ‘city cars’ and as such established an early foothold on the European market. Since it’s beginnings many other competitors have emerged, but the 500 has retain its original form factor by resisting the urge to get larger as many cars do over time.
There have been at least six variants or the 500 over time, usually getting letter designations with each new generation. The last was the R or Rinnovata type built from 1972-1975. There was no further 500 models after 1975, until 2007, 50 years from the introduction of the original car, Fiat showed a new retro concept that retained much of the charm of the original car. The new Fiat Nuova 500 shares its chassis with Fords Ka and is powered by a series of petro and diesel engines ranging from 1.2 to 1.4 litres.
There are no less than eight models of the 500 available including a convertible, starting with a cutesy economy minded 68 hp 1.2 8V all the way to the Abarth editions, one making 200hp. The heaviest version of the 500 hardly weighs 2,000lb. giving all rim levels nible handling. The light weight combined with the power of the 1.4 litre engines in the Abarth editions makes for a formidable performance car. Recently Fiat announced the Fiat 500 Ferrari Dealers Edition (FDE), with 264 hp! The FDE has Ferrari like wheels, enhanced brakes, suspension and a body kit to distinguish it from the Abarth cars it is based on.
Fiat will be bringing the 500 to America to be sold as a Chrysler product. Chrysler, in dire need of new product , has high hopes for the 500. The 500 could be seen as a kind of a spiritual successor to the Neon, in such that it was a car that had hoped desperately to be the next big thing to urban trendsetters. Spotty quality issues eventually did the Neon in. Fortunately for the 500, it has the looks and a good quality record; however it will take some convincing for Americans. Our last experience with new Fiats was less than choice.
After all Fiat owns Ferrari, so who better to make a Ferrari edition of one of their econoboxes? Whatever version of the car ends up at Chrysler dealerships, it’s sure to be a hit with its target market of young trendy urbanites and those who are just young trendy urbanites at heart.