Lucire Lucire home page / Fashion / / Volante: travel features and news / Living / Lucire: Insider blog
News headlines / Lucire Reader Forum / Subscribe to the print editions of Lucire
Lucire Community 
Lucire feedback 
Subscribe to the Lucire Insider feed
Subscribe to Lucire

living: autocade

Fiat 500: roaming holidayFiat 500: roaming holiday

The Fiat 500 is Lucire’s Car to Be Seen in for 2008, as the year’s most classless car, appealing to every segment, says Jack Yan


Fiat 500 in Lucire


AFTER WORLD WAR II, Italy was not exactly a nation on wheels. The automobile was an extravagance for rich folks. The scenes where young Michael Corleone in The Godfather goes back to the old country to marry his Italian wife, with the lone car cruising the countryside, were not far off the mark. Leg power was all the rage.
   Along came a chap called Dante Giacosa, who believed that Italians could be mobilized in the postwar years. Fiat, where he worked and was a favourite of the owning Agnelli family, had already put out a prewar car called the 500, nicknamed by the locals as Topolino—‘little mouse’, the name also given to a Walt Disney creation with black, round ears.
   Giacosa believed that a simple, new car in the 500 mould could modernize Italy and help get its people around. The nuova 500, as it was called at its 1957 launch, was small, rear-engined and had just enough space for four people who liked each other very much.
   It may be apocryphal as we found this fact on Wikipedia, but apparently years later some chap in the antipodes coined the bambina nickname and in New Zealand, the name stuck. It was never used officially in Italy.
   The 500 cemented the idea that Fiat does small cars well. Others followed, like the 127 and the Panda, but it was a while before Fiat resurrected the 500 idea.
   In the early 1990s, there was a nuova nuova 500, this time spelt out Cinquecento, a boxy little car made by Poles.
   Proud of having made this modern new car in Poland, Fiat gave one to the country’s most famous export, Pope John Paul II. His Holiness promptly sold it and held on to his bmw.
   Meanwhile, Volkswagen had resurrected the KdF-Wagen with the New Beetle and managed to avoid mentioning the war, while bmw resurrected the Mini and managed to avoid mentioning The Italian Job.
   Fiat must have been watching and wondering why it didn’t follow suit. Take an idea from the past but make it thoroughly modern, cute and classless.
   This is where the greatest gains are to be made, after all. You can make a car that’s for the masses but the rich would never touch it out of snobbery. But a car priced for the masses that’s as cute as a button—there, you might just see success. Launch it as people panic about fuel prices and you’re even more on to a winner.
   Dante Giacosa might still be thrilled at the much bigger and pricier nuova nuova nuova 500, launched in New Zealand this year—because regardless of the 1957 model’s aims, it was stylishly designed. So is this.
   Even after the 500 had long mobilized everyday Italians, it continued to sell reasonably well until the 1970s because it had style.
   But unlike the 1957 model, which finally ended production in estate form in 1977, the 500 can be driven by the Sloane Ranger and the budget-minded motorist and neither will seem out of place. We think if one made it to the Vatican this time, it wouldn’t be sold off. As more 500s hit the streets, they will bring a smile to people’s faces when parked together.
   Which is why the Fiat 500 is Lucire’s eighth Car to Be Seen in, the annual award we give to the most stylish car that you need to be seen in during the year.
   It’s not given lightly: the 500 follows in the footsteps of Audis, Aston Martins and the Tesla Roadster, which we were admittedly premature in awarding.
   There is no real logic to choosing many of these cars. In Europe, a Fiat Panda costs less than a 500, and has more room. The Volkswagen Golf costs less than a New Beetle.
   Logic would dictate that we would go for the most practical, value-for-money car. But logic has not sold cars since General Motors decided to beat Henry Ford by offering different colours. If we were dead practical, the original Hyundai Pony and the Soviet Lada would have cleaned up years ago, and no one would be trading up.
   Having said this, the 500 does not sacrifice room too badly (it’s shorter than the Mini but has similar interior space), it is well engineered with clever details ranging from the glass roof to the art nouveau typeface on its speedometer, and it can be driven healthily in the urban setting, where one should be seen.
   In the age of $2-plus-per-litre petrol prices, little cars make sense, and little cars with style stir the heart as well.
   We like it far more than the New Beetle, and in the cuteness stakes, it’s even with the Mini. It depends on what you like: the Mini, of course, conveys Britishness despite Germans doing the design; the Fiat sings about la bella Italia with each turn of the wheel. It has a friendliness lacking on the New Beetle so many years on, and just present on the Mini. It helps, too, that the Mini is more expensive, hampered by the high value of sterling.
   It’s not unnecessarily retro, either. The interior does not scream of spartanness as the 1957 model’s, and while the shape is a nod to the past, it’s not as though someone Xeroxed the old plans and scaled them up. It’s a pleasant evolution, totally fitting the mood of the late 2000s.
   While you’d expect straight lines to be more in vogue by looking at those horrid Japanese rooms-on-wheels, the 500 is unashamedly roundish, yet it speaks to the fashionable audience by going against fashion. Or, perhaps one can say the 500 is ahead of the, ahem, curve. No matter: the proportions are right and the first few that we’ve seen turn heads. We probably commented more on the yellow 500 at the Fashion & Wheels charity show at Gazley–Tory in Wellington in April than on the fashions themselves.
   The 500 is about individuality, which is what almost all of its buyers want it to express.
   If it is a fashion item, then it is unlikely to date rapidly, like so many things the Italians do well. It has a heritage, unlike the Ford Ka or Toyota Yaris. It sells on those preconceived notions of sunny days reliving a Roman Holiday. Italy has its first Car to Be Seen in award. •


Jack Yan is founding publisher of Lucire.


Add to | Digg it | Add to Facebook


But unlike the 1957 model, which finally ended production in estate form in 1977, the 500 can be driven by the Sloane Ranger and the budget-minded motorist and neither will seem out of place



Off-site links


Get more information about the Fiat 500 on Autocade
Fiat New Zealand

Related articles
Lucire 2007 | The Global Fashion Magazine

Finding the Car to Be Seen in 2008
It’s that time of year again: Lucire announces its nominees for the eighth annual Car to Be Seen in

Lucire 2007 | The Global Fashion Magazine

Fiat 500 at the London Eye
A video of the Fiat 500 UK launch at the London Eye