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Fiat 500 'Nuova'

Overview

Produced: 1957-1960
Types: Saloon,2 doors(Folding Top)
Fiat Nuova 500/500d/500F/500L

The phenominal success of the 1936-1955 FIAT 500 'Topolino', followed by the even more successful FIAT 600 series, prompted FIAT to offer a second style of FIAT 500 in the summer of 1957.  Again with economy and cheap motoring for the masses being the key factor, it was an attempt to seduce the multitude of moped riders to change from two wheels to four.  Innovative designer Dante Giocosa, who had been the major figure in the creation of the Topolino and the later FIAT 600, had been employed by FIAT since 1928 and was now involved in the design of the new generation of FIAT's.  Therefore, it was inevitable that the creation of FIAT's new baby car would be under his control.

The original FIAT 500 - the Topolino (Mouse) - had been powered by a water-cooled, 4 cylinder engine positioned in the front of a separate chassis with propshaft driven rear wheels.  The FIAT 600 series on the otherhand, had a water-cooled, 4 cylinder engine mounted in the rear of an integral body/chassis structure also driving the road wheels.

In the 1930's, prior to the birth of the Topolino, Giocosa had looked at air-cooled engines and rear engine configurations, but to avoid possible complications, he had decided to stay with the established layout of the FIAT range at that time. (i.e. petrol engine - propshaft - rear wheel drive).  But always adventurous with his designs and well aware of the success of air-cooled engines used in the Czechoslovakian Tatra and later in the German Volkswagen, he would now present a tiny, compact little car with a 479cc air-cooled, 2 cylinder, rear-mounted engine developing 13 bhp. This was the first air-cooled engine to be produced by FIAT and only the second rear engined car to be built by the Company - the first being the FIAT 600.  Following the general features and layout of the FIAT 600, it would have an integrated body/chassis assembly and to distinguish it from the original FIAT 500 Topolino it was given the title 'Nuova' or New FIAT 500.

The 1957 Nuova FIAT 500.

This introduced the stubby, but beautifully balanced and attractive body lines that are recognised by 500 enthusiasts today.  The body had two rear-hinged 'suicide' doors that were carried on from it's predecessors and as before, luggage put inside the car had to be loaded through the two doors with the appropriate seatback pivoted forward.  The minute front bonnet space was only suitable for a soft case or bag, due to the 21 litres (4.5 gallons) petrol tank, battery, brake fluid reservoir, a small tool-roll containing the jack and the spare wheel being shoe-horned into it.  Inside the car, there was no fuel reserve tap, but a warning light came on when the fuel level was down to approximately 3.5 litres (three quarters of a gallon).   As with the Topolino, there was no door window winding mechanism. The door windows were fixed, but had large swivelling quarter lights.  This resulted in 'hollow' doors, allowing extra inches of elbow room inside the cab.   Specifically designed as a two seater, the seats were of tubular design having seat and back squab supported by rubber straps that gave reasonable support and comfort over poor road surfaces. The luggage 'platform' behind the seats could be adapted with cushions to take two small children or one adult for a short journey.  Two short levers between the seats operated the choke control and the starter.  The extremely simple dashboard had only one dial set directly in front of the driver, this being a heavily hooded simple round speedometer, with mileage recorder. Incorporated in the dial were small warning light segments around the lower portion covering the parking lamp, dynamo charge, fuel contents and oil pressure.   Positioned centrally, high on the dashboard was a direction indicator switch and directly below was the key operated ignition and lights switch.  Either side of this were the panel lights switch and the windscreen wiper switch.  Below the dashboard either side were the ventilation control knobs that allowed air into the cab by means of two flexible pipes that were connected to two inlets, each having three horizontal slots, positioned under the headlamps.  On the nearside under the dashboard, was a bonnet release pull.  When starting from cold and allowing for clutch drag and thick cold engine oil, a manual, cable operated hand throttle in the form of a 'pull loop' situated centrally under the dashboard helped to keep the engine from stalling.  A starting handle was provided for emergencies.  As the engine reached operating temperature, the thermostat opened and an adequate amount of warm air was blown forward under the seats by a large fan attached to the side of the engine, making a dedicated internal heater unnecessary.  As on the Topolino convertible saloon, a full folding sunroof that extended from the windscreen to the rear waistline was fitted that incorporated a clear plastic rear window.  Like the Topolino, a single strap attached to the centre rear of the body held the roof when lowered. With the strap undone, the hood could be raised or lowered by the driver without leaving his seat.  Trim was sparse and there were no hubcaps fitted to the 12" diameter pressed metal wheels that were painted in a light colour. The four widely spaced wheel nuts stood out prominentaly.  Both front and rear brakes had finned brake drums.  All round independent suspension was fitted with telescopic shock absorbers aided by coil springs at the rear.  The electrical system was 12 volt.  The headlamps were almost flush fitted and the rear lights were oval.  Teardrop style side flashing indicators were fitted on the side of the front wings, ahead and slightly above the front wheel arches.  The original cars had three small ventilation slots in the front just below each headlamp, but later models would have large round sidelight/flasher units fitted instead and the large teardrop shaped flasher unit would be replaced by a much smaller round flashing indicator.   A very small but shapely dummy grille combined with the FIAT badge, had a slim tapering bright strip horizontally each side and narrow chromed bumpers were fitted front and rear.

Specifications: 1957 'Nuova' FIAT 500
Engine: Rear mounted, 2 vertical in-line cylinders with overhead valves, air-cooled four-stroke of 479cc giving 13 bhp at 4,000 rpm.
Engine Lubrication: Pressure
Maximum Speed: 85 kph (53 mph)
Fuel Consumption: 4.5 litres per 100 km (50 mpg)
Gears: 4 speeds forward with 2nd, 3rd and 4th in constant mesh, plus reverse.
Final Drive Ratio: 5.125 to 1.
Brakes: Foot operated, self adjusting hydraulic drum brakes to all road wheels plus hand operated mechanical brake to rear wheels.
Suspension:  Front: Independent with lower transverse leaf spring and wishbones.  Rear: Independent with semi trailing arms and large coil springs.                                                                                         Telescopic shock absorbers to all wheels.
12 Volt electrical system.

Dimensions :
Length: 2970mm (9'9")
Width: 1320mm (4'4")
Height: 1325mm (4'4.13")

But things didn't go according to plan and the initial response was unbelievably poor.  After just a few weeks, the virtual lack of interest meant that the little car wasn't being accepted and it was necessary for FIAT to discover the cause and put it right with all haste in order for it to survive.  It had been created to appeal to the masses as a cheap form of transport and this included the two wheeled motorcyclist/moped riders that should have been overjoyed at the prospect of owning a four wheeled vehicle that would also protect them from the elements.   But it was considered by all to be too austere in its conception.  It was really only a two seater and the platform behind the seats was obviously there just for luggage.  There were no flashing idicators on the front, just those on the side of the front wings.  The windscreen wipers had no return/park facility when they were switched off.  There were no hubcaps and the body was devoid of any bright trim, save for the narrow bumpers, the FIAT badge in its small grille and the almost invisible flush fitting headlamp bezels.  But worst of all, it was priced at 465,000 lire, when 590,000 lire would buy a
FIAT 600, powered by a 633cc engine that gave a higher top speed, was better equipped and, most important, it was designed to seat four people.

It was to FIAT's credit that they identified and sorted the problem quickly by turning the Nuova 500 into a two car range in time for the 1957 Turin Motor Show only three months after the original launch.  Two cars were put on show, that FIAT called the 500 'Economica' and the 500 'Normale'.   Both had uprated engines and the rear platform had been converted into a homologated seat.

The Nuova FIAT 500 'Economica'
This was the original 500 with the 479cc engine output uprated to 15bhp.  The price was now 25,000 lire less than the original figure.  There was no modification to the trim, which remained basic and the wheels were still without hubcaps, but the rear luggage platform had been slightly padded and could therefore be referred to as two rear seats.  It had a full folding sunroof.
In 1959, the 'Economica' model was re-named 'Trasformable' and the full folding sunroof was retained.

The Nuova FIAT 500 'Normale'
Several modifications were carried out on the 'Normale' that included lights and indicator switches, mounted as stalks on the steering column, wind-down windows and interior door trim panels.  The rear platform had better padding for use as two rear seats.  A short folding sunroof was fitted over the front seats only.  Outside, there were bright trim strips along the waistline, larger headlamp bezels, hubcaps and a new 'Nuova 500' badge on the rear engine cover.  The engine was still 479cc, but the compression ratio was increased to 7:1 and the output was raised to 15 bhp.  A new carburettor and camshaft were fitted, raising the maximum speed to 90 kph (56 mph).  The 'Normale' was priced at 490,000 lire.

Dante Giocosa won the Golden Compass Award for the Nuova FIAT 500 in 1959.

Source: Reg J. Prosser

Engines

CapacityConfigModelBore/StrokeCR
479ccS2 OHV

Drivetrain and Suspension

DrivetrainSteeringFront SuspensionRear Suspension
R/R

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